Youth Champions for Securing our Common Future: A Peace Boat and United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs Initiative

Oct 18, 2019

"Please imagine what you treasure in your daily life, and ask yourself: does a nuclear weapon protect it? [Can] we can co-exist with such inhumane weapons?" These questions were posed by Murphy Yanoshima of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a partner organisation of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), on October 11, 2019 as part of the an onboard conference held in partnership with the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA) during Peace Boat’s two-day visit to New York City.

Part of UNODA’s “Youth4Disarmament” Initiative,  the “Youth Champions for Securing our Common Future” event invited approximately 75 youth between the ages of 18 and 30 with a keen interest in disarmament affairs to spend a day learning with UNODA officials, diplomats and representatives of civil society networks such as ICAN, the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA) and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. With over 60% of the world's population under 35 years of age, it is vital for youth to participate in decision-making related to humanitarian and environmental issues.

Participants began their day by visiting the UN’s Headquarters, where they attended a meeting of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security general debate. The Chair of the First Committee opened the meeting with a short address to welcome the participating youth. They then joined an event  “Building Empathy through learning from Atomic Bomb Survivors. ” Following words of welcome by United Nations High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Nakamitsu Izumi and Peace Boat’s Kawasaki Akira, the youth champions were witness to testimony by a Hibakusha who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and a screening of the film  “Pictures from a Hiroshima Schoolyard” with director Bryan Reichhardt.

After a packed morning at the United Nations, participants made their way to Peace Boat, where they joined an afternoon programme including panelist presentations and break-out discussion groups focusing on the three main pillars of the United Nations Secretary General’s agenda for disarmament: disarmament to save humanity, disarmament that saves lives, and disarmament for future generations. The afternoon event was officially opened by Thomas Markram, UNODA Director and Deputy to the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

In the subsequent panels, speakers unanimously declared that the best way for youth to support disarmament was through activism, education and spreading awareness. "Educate yourselves,” said panelist Chris King, Deputy Chief of  UNODA’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch. “It's really easy if you're interested in these issues to believe in nuclear disarmament. What is not easy is convincing those people who are not interested or who do not believe it's a problem." For King, collaboration between those with opposing views is critical. Swedish disarmament diplomat in New York’s EU delegation Rebecca Hallin called on attendees not only to speak, but to listen. "Otherwise [we won't] get anywhere. The only way to face these challenges that we see today is by doing it together".

The day’s programme concluded with two moving musical performances. Local New York performers vocalist Mijori and percussionist Ivan followed their performance of Marvin Gaye’s "Mercy, Mercy Me" with a call to reimagine our idea of power: "[My drum] is something I want to be armed with, not disarmed with. Music is a weapon for peace". Japanese musicians Insheart performed an English version of their song "Nagasaki," inspired by an atomic bomb survivor and dedicated to all those affected by nuclear weapons.

Throughout the afternoon, the Youth Champions came up with proposals for action which they can take in their own communities and beyond to take steps forward in disarmament, arms control and nonproliferation. Peace Boat looks forward to continuing to work together with participants and with the UNODA to further the Youth4Disarmament initiative and expand ways for young leaders to engage with and contribute to creating a peaceful, sustainable world.

View a full report of the event on the UNODA website here.

Article drafted by Nina M. Cataldo; photos by Martin Desbiolles of UNODA.