The Youth Roundtable Session explored the opportunities and challenges that the Commonwealth faces in respect to international security and peacebuilding. It featured delegates from CPA Branches and representatives from a cross-section of Ghanaian youth, including Youth Parliaments, students and student leaders.
In her opening remarks, the Panel Chair, Rt Hon. Karen Bradley, MP (United Kingdom) outlined that the Commonwealth has a real role in global security and peacebuilding, reminding the audience that forces from many Commonwealth nations have been deployed in UN peacekeeping activities. She emphasised the importance of the need to stand together, learn from each other and work together in areas where there are security threats and risks in order to combat them.
The first panellist, Hon. Sharon Claydon, MP (Australia Federal) presented Australia’s approach to international security and peacekeeping, highlighting the country’s role, immense financial contributions and youth involvement in those processes.
She mentioned that Australia has been on a quest to apply diplomacy in a world where differences are settled through agreed roles and norms, not by power, brute force or the size of a country. She indicated that Australia has been active in the United Nations peacekeeping agenda since its inception and has focused on addressing the underlying issues contributing to conflict.
She revealed that Australia has been proud of its peacebuilding reform work with Angola in leading negotiations for a parallel UN Security Council and UN General Assembly Resolutions of shaping a sustainable peace agenda. She mentioned that Australia is expected to have a seat on the UN Peacebuilding Commission in 2025.
According to Hon. Sharon Claydon, although Australia is a small country as per its population size, which may be a constraint, it stands as one of the top 10 donors to the UN Peacekeeping Commission Fund. Australia has been contributing to peacekeeping for more than 75 years, having been involved in 62 operations across the globe. She indicated that Australia’s commitment to this cause is why it is seeking a seat at the UN Security Council in 2029/2030. Recognising the essence of celebrating the Commonwealth Charter’s 10-year anniversary, she emphasised that Australia, just like other Commonwealth members, upholds democracy, good governance, the rule of law and human rights, which are seen as fundamental pillars.
Concerning the role of the Commonwealth in security and peacebuilding, she said that Australia has supported election monitoring in Zimbabwe by providing AUS$1.7 million to the Commonwealth Election Professionals Group to hold training programmes to boost the capacity of its members to hold free, fair and transparent elections.
Further, she looked at the centrality of the human rights agenda on peace and security and the work that Australia and other countries are doing on climate action. On the centrality of climate change on peace and security, she referenced Australia’s Foreign Minister, Senator Penny Wong, who she quoted as saying: “The first article of the United Nations Charter speaks to maintaining peace and security, but there cannot be security if the sea is closing in on you.” She added that this is why Pacific solidarity matters, where those in the region count on one another in mitigating against the profound impacts of climate change. In this regard, she mentioned that Australia is taking action, both at home and in the region, and added that a good example of Australia’s efforts has been its support for the Commonwealth Climate Access Finance Hub, providing AUS$4.5 million to the hub since 2018.
On the issue of human rights, Rt Hon. Karen Bradley congratulated Ghana for showing great leadership, given its recent abolition of the death penalty for both ordinary and military crimes. However, she indicated that there is no room for choice when it comes to human rights issues.
Referring to the assertion made at plenary that leaving people behind is not conducive to developing strong democracies, she mentioned that Australia ensures that it applies a gender lens in its work and that its human rights approaches are truly universal.
On the issue of youth involvement and youth perspectives on issues of international security and peacebuilding, she mentioned that her focus was on the fact that 1.2 billion of the world’s population is made up of people between 15 and 24 years, which the largest number of youths this planet has ever seen. Given that over half of the world’s population under 30 years live in the Asia-Pacific Region, Australia has shown particular leadership on youth engagement. Further, 90% of young people live in emerging economies in the Global South.
In a rapidly changing global security environment, the youth population face significant challenges, such as access to quality education, healthcare, employment, risks involved in conflicts or negotiating the consequences of conflict, and climate change. She bemoaned that despite the fact that young people disproportionately bear the brunt of conflicts – through forced displacement, climate change, risk of radicalisation – policymaking has been historically slow to pick up on youth perspectives or entirely ignored them.
Despite the many inroads and gains made in the last decade, such as the UN-led Youth Peace and Security Agenda, she said that it appeared, in her opinion, to have a narrow view – securitisation and youth involvement in violent extremism – instead of focusing on the productive potential of the youth in peacebuilding in the world.
According to Rt Hon. Karen Bradley, to ensure that the United Kingdom’s laws do not offend any of its international obligations towards human rights, it runs all its laws by a Human Rights Committee in the UK Parliament. Also, to ensure gender equity, it analyses every legislation with a gender lens.
She also indicated that young people understand better the changing nature of threats and climate change, hence the need for the inclusion of the perspectives of young people.
The second panellist, Hon. Kwame McCoy, MP (Guyana), iterated that the question of sustaining and building peace starts with individual countries, and related that Guyana’s strategy in dealing with the issue of security and peacebuilding is to ensure that it operates in a way that exhibits tolerance and respect for others, which helps cultivate a system that promotes peace.
As a country with diverse ethnic races, Guyana inherited strife fomented by colonial masters, but it has had to navigate those difficult times, with its people living in harmony now despite their differences. He indicated that some people profit when there is tension in society, hence the need to always keep their guard up.
He recounted a time when there was no democracy in Guyana, which led to many problems in the country. He, therefore, admonished that governments must be unwavering in their commitment to democracy.
As part of Guyana’s commitment to democracy, it has over the years been part of numerous peacebuilding initiatives. For instance, the country would send members of its police force to Haiti as part of a UN-backed programme to rescue the nation from the gangs that carry out violence and to pave the way for elections. He mentioned Guyana’s all-inclusive governance style, emphasising President Mohammed Irfaan Ali’s ‘One Guyana’ platform, which has a common objective of moving forward together as a country. On the issue of the involvement of young people, he indicated the need to have more such discussions and create dialogue to understand the various perspectives.
Touching on the issue of cybersecurity, Hon. Kwame McCoy noted that the way that young people use the internet is of concern, and to protect against cyberbullying, he advised individual countries to use the necessary organisations to guard against cyberbullying and other cyber-attacks.
He believed that governments must be mindful of resource allocations, regardless of resource constraints. He said governments must devise techniques to ensure resource equity. Nonetheless, if some required needs are not met, young people should be engaged in a dialogue to explain why they cannot be met so they do not feel disadvantaged. He also revealed that Guyana has a robust 5-year legislative agenda, and the government has been working with the mind that laws made must align with international treaties.
The third panellist, Mr George Amoh (Ghana National Peace Council), referenced the composition of the 13-member National Peace Council comprising members from the different religious faiths (Christian, Islamic, African traditional religious belief), traditional rulers, civil society groups and Presidential appointees. He indicated that the composition of the Council leaves no room for young people.
The role of the National Peace Council is to use non-violent ways to address conflict. He mentioned that the Council had trained over 1,000 traditional rulers in mediation. He noted the intervention made by the body when vigilantism was on the rise in Ghana. With Ghana being a multi-faith country, the National Peace Council has been instrumental in bringing harmony between the various religious faiths. He mentioned that the composition of the Council is an acceptance of the religious diversity in the country.
He advised on the need to encourage the building of strong infrastructure for peace in the Commonwealth and indicated that Ghana has such a model, with about 14 countries approaching Ghana to study its model.
Mr George Amoh concurred on the need to tap into the potential of young people to ensure peacebuilding. He indicated that poverty and unemployment are issues that concern the youth, and until they are addressed, young people will continue to lend support to the activities of insurgents or dissenters. Thus, it is important that the youth are involved in policy and decision-making at all levels.
He mentioned that if the future is for the youth, they must be included to play the role expected of them, and only when included can the future be assured by what we do today.
The Panel Chair reflected that things would be done more effectively if politicians learned to have discussions more privately instead of in the media.
An opportunity was given to participants at the Youth Roundtable to ask questions and a lively discussion followed with a number of comments and suggestions on the workshop topic. These included using young people as peace ambassadors, adopting the ‘bottom-up’ approach in dealing with youth issues and highlighting the absence of young people on the panel when the workshop was about young people.
Hon. Kwame McCoy addressed some of the concerns raised and indicated that young people must not always wait to be shown the direction to take but take the initiative on their own. He concurred that the ‘bottom-up’ approach is indeed necessary. However, it would only work if everyone worked together.
Hon. Sharon Claydon commended the youth for the passion exhibited in the discussion and encouraged them to continue agitating if they want a youth forum at the future Commonwealth Parliamentary Conferences that would be led by youth, formed by youth and for the youth.
Mr George Amoh indicated that the National Peace Council has started a project that has trained about 30 Peace Ambassadors and that young people would be invited to participate.
There was a proposal from the floor by Hon. Chimwemwe Chipungu, MP (Malawi) to include security and peacebuilding models in education as a way of empowering the youth.
Another round of questions saw the Ghanaian young delegates asking questions related to the Ghanaian social and political landscapes, which roused cheers and claps from the youth present.
A Ghanaian delegate asked what the Commonwealth is doing to tackle the perception of bias in the Commonwealth. Relatedly, another asked about the inequality among the countries of the world, citing the membership of bodies such as NATO and the UN Peace Council. In addition, there was a question as to whether the Commonwealth has a body that cautions members when their actions are in themselves threats.
Delegate, Hon. Vusimusi William Tshabalala, MPL (Free State), stated that the approach used in the session did not reflect the expectations of the young people, and noted that the time to deploy young people was now.
Hon. Sharon Claydon encouraged the youth participants to find good channels and to have honest conversations with their governments on the challenges facing them and noted that a recommendation would be made to the CPA on how to better involve young people.
Hon. Kwame McCoy also concurred that the panellists could not give answers to most of the issues raised; however, once the youth organise themselves and make their voices heard, they can seek solutions to the problems and issues that they raised.
Mr George Amoh mentioned that the National Peace Council has regional offices across Ghana and organises countrywide training sessions. He called on the youth to develop strong values and prepare themselves for their futures.
The Panel Chair acknowledged that the Youth Roundtable Session had been one of the liveliest at the 66th CPC.
The workshop delegates unanimously endorsed the following recommendation:
• Commonwealth Parliamentarians should champion peacebuilding initiatives, actively involve youth and collaborate across the Commonwealth network, in order to bolster the Commonwealth’s role in international security for a more peaceful, secure future.