I thank the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan for organizing today’s open debate and in particular His Royal Highness the Crown Prince for chairing the meeting and for his inspiring words. Italy aligns itself with the statement delivered by the European Union and wishes to add the following remarks in a national capacity.
Today’s open debate enables us to think more strategically about the role of youth in countering violent extremism. According to the latest statistics, the current youth population (people between the ages of 10 and 24) is the largest ever. 1.8 billion people. 600 thousand of them are girls. Most of those 1.8 billion live in developing countries. They are the world’s best hope for addressing in the long term our most pressing challenges, particularly how to counter violent extremism and promote peace.
As the Italian Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has stated repeatedly, the fight against violent extremism has to be waged at different levels: in terms of narrative, values, and financing. Which brings me to the second underlying theme of today’s debate. The importance of prevention. In the past decade extremist ideologies have increased their appeal to youth, through communication campaigns that target this specific demographic. It is both a moral obligation and a strategic investment for us to turn the tide. By countering the appeal of violent and extremist groups among young people, we will deny these groups access to their most valuable resource, pulling the rug out from under their feet.
So we should not be asking ourselves what role youth can have in countering violent extremism and promoting peace. We should be asking how young people themselves can be the heart of the solution. To this end, we have identified areas that we should be targeting.
First of all, Mr. President, education. The abduction of students and the targeting of schools and universities by violent and extremist groups are a clear sign of their weakness. Culture and education are their worst enemy. But at the same time, they are our best allies to promote tolerance, inclusiveness and open-mindedness. In the wake of the horrific attack on the Garissa Campus in Kenya, Minister Gentiloni paid an official visit to Nairobi to renew our full support for Kenya in that hour of tragedy, to pay respect to the victims, and to signal that the fight against terrorism and the protection of the right to education are a shared value. As a tangible proof of our friendship, we have offered scholarships to students of the Garissa campus to signal that assuring access to quality education, regardless of the circumstances, is our best counterattack on violent extremism.
Second, human rights and justice. To promote peaceful, inclusive and just societies, we must defend and support the shared values under attack. Human rights must be restored to the center of the agenda. In this respect, we must not underestimate the preventive power of justice by upholding rule of law and accountability.
Third, socio-economic development. Unfulfilled expectations. Unemployment. Underemployment. Inequality. All these factors have the potential to drive idle and dissatisfied young people down the pathway to radical, violent ideologies. In defining the post-2015 agenda, we must be mindful of the positive impact that a universal, innovative, easily-communicated agenda will have on youth living in developing countries.
Fourth private/public partnerships, including media. The proactive involvement of civil society is essential to our success. Governments and the international community have to provide an enabling environment and lead with projects. But a joint effort is needed to “fill in” the framework. Social media has a special role to play in countering the narrative proposed by violent extremist groups. This makes it vital to address this issue in the Framework of Analysis, which Italy supports. Social media can have both a negative and a positive effect. It can aggravate the risk of atrocity crimes, by spreading hate speech and inciting people to commit such crimes. But it can also curb messages of intolerance, hatred, and violence. The new Framework provides analytical tools for detecting early warning signs through the examination of the socio-economic conditions affecting young people.
Lastly, empowerment. Sometimes the problem is not the message but the messenger. Empowerment of youth and youth-oriented organizations is essential to promoting positive role models, responding to violence, and delegitimizing extremist messages. And a priority should be placed on empowering those 600 million young women.
It is in this light that Italy proudly supports the “Change the World Model United Nations.” Every year our Mission organizes a public event that brings together young people from all over the world to discuss the three main pillars of the UN: international peace and security; human rights; and development. One month ago, more than 1500 young people from over 90 countries met at the General Assembly to discuss how to make the world a safer, better place. By promoting this event, we are planting a seed for the future. It is up to us to assure that this seed has the proper international environment in which to grow and develop. Thank you.