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International Peace Forum Urges Community-based Solutions, Youth Engagement to Counter Violent Extremism

by Emiko Perea

Values-based Peacebuilding Sessions at 2021 Global Peace Convention Examine the Roots of Extremism and Strategies for Resolving Conflict

“Youth are being more and more understood as needed  at the forefront for efforts against violent extremism. They are the ones experiencing hate and violent extremism in their societies,” said Isabella Caravaggio, Program Analyst for Prevention of Violent Extremism UNDP, during the Values-based Peacebuilding Track from the 2021 Global Peace Convention on August 6-15.

Violent extremism and human rights violations in large parts of the world are often traced to identity-based conflict centered on race, ethnicity, and religion. To prevent further violence and divisions in the communities, panelists noted that peacebuilders needed to connect with leaders of the communities and faith leaders to develop peacebuilding projects to educate young people and bridge the gap between groups in conflict.

In recent years, violent extremists have recruited vulnerable young people many in countries. “People are joining violent extremist organizations not because they believe in the ideology, but because they didn't see any other opportunities to develop their own education or to have their own livelihood,” said Arriza Nocum, Founder and Executive Director for KRIS for Peace, “so they chose this path of violence.”

Noraida Chio, a Senior Program Officer at the Asia Foundation in the Philippines, enumerated many significant and successful projects initiated in Mindanao, which has been embroiled in political violence, identity-based conflict, and ethnic and religious divisions for decades. “We found that the key influencers to prevent radicalization were actually mothers,” she said. “Strengthening the ability of mothers to work with their children to choose nonviolence, was seen as one very effective way to curb the youth from choosing extremism.”

Violent extremism is especially a problem during electoral campaigns in African countries. Electoral misinformation incites violence and threatens the stability of the democratic process. “The fear that comes from these violent attacks is a way of stopping people from coming out to vote,” said Sentell Barnes, Program Director for International Republican Institute

To counter this, organizations such as International Republican Institute share the best practices of democracy and work in elections in multiple countries to strengthen the electoral process. “If you can suppress the vote,”  Barnes said, “you can pretty much dictate who wins the election. A lot of this is about suppressing the votes with a harsh impact on the way that people see democracy.” 

Cultivating peace

Despite the prominent presence of violence and identity-based conflict, panelists advanced a hopeful message of achieving peace in areas of conflict. “We saw that peace was possible because we saw it in our home. We felt it in our home. My parents cultivated a home in which Islam and Christianity coexisted,” said Nocum.

Based on her experience of living in a home with a Catholic dad and a Muslim mom, Nocum knew that Islam and Christianity can exist peacefully together. This experience inspired Nocum’s family to start KRIS for Peace to educate and empower youth as peacebuilders to create harmony amongst different groups. 

The KRIS for Peace’s first initiative was the library project, which resulted in Muslim and Christian children forging bonds. Panelists listed other examples of programs and initiatives bringing together people from conflicting groups. In another instance, Yussef Paglas, a community youth leader, mentioned that a Catholic-based organization worked with Paglas’s local community to help provide housing in a predominately Muslim area. Catholics and Muslims set aside their differences to help each other, which gave further evidence that it is possible to create peace between groups in conflict.

Yussef also spoke of when many armed young men attacked Paglas’s town. Shortly after that, police forces and elected officials from the town connected young people to the organization called “Action against Drug and Terrorism” to prevent an event like that from happening again. Panelists encouraged young people to participate in peacebuilding programs to teach them about the context of conflicts and to inspire them to create peace in their communities.

 “When you have young people who are ready to sacrifice for the common good, for the greater good, for the whole society, then there is a hope for the future.”  --Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, Chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, Kenya.

Isabella Caravaggio gave an example of young people utilizing social media platforms in creative ways to spread a message of peace. She said that the United Nations Development Program’s United Creatives program supported young leaders and creators in Sri Lanka and the Maldives to create digital campaigns to tackle hate speech, give positive messages, and create change.

The Values-based Peacebuilding Track gave focus on creating peace based on shared values throughout its nine sessions. The sessions covered Strengthening Social Cohesion, Community Peacebuilding, Interreligious Peacebuilding, Empowering Youth, Global Ethics in Community Peacebuilding, Preventing Violent Extremism, Countering Violence and Misinformation during the Electoral process, Digital Citizenship and Media Literacy Tools, and Cohesion and Solidarity.

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