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Pregs Govender

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Youth and Peacebuilding: Coherence Between Declarations and Action

I was privileged to address the most recent Commonwealth Ministers of Youth Meeting, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on 28 April 2008. The speech I gave was later used as the basis for an article which will be published in a book for the Commonwealth Ministers. Here is the article:

By Pregs Govender

Many wonderful commitments to world peace have been made to the young men and women, the girls and boys of our world by the 53 independent states that make up the Commonwealth, in the Declarations by their Heads of Government. If these commitments were effected, there would be significant change – the kind of change that we hope for, the kind of change that our vision inspires us towards.

Yet we often despair at the lack of change and wonder why things remain the same or get worse. The age we live in is one in which young women and men face economic and religious fundamentalisms; unemployment and other factors that exacerbate poverty; diseases such as HIV/ Aids; increasing militarisation, war and deepening violence. Some countries are now characterised as war economies in which the largest employer is the army. The consequences for youth and peace building, across our world, are devastating.


Martin Luther King observed that: “Injustice anywhere affects justice everywhere”. It also works the other way around – when good people refuse to be silent in the face of injustice anywhere in the world; they inspire others to do the same. Excellent commitments such as the Commonwealth Declarations are often unable to meet their human rights objectives because of the contradictions that exist between such commitments and the rights of capital or the interests of ruling elites. The country that hosted the last Commonwealth Minister’s meeting on Youth and Peace-building, for example, is also the country that several international reports (including those by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch) have exposed for human rights abuses. Recently Nobel Peace Laureate Desmond Tutu, said: ‘The systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government forces are among the most serious imaginable. Government security forces summarily remove their own citizens from their homes and families in the middle of the night, never to be heard from again. Torture and extrajudicial killings are widespread.’ However at the Commonwealth Minister’s meeting the impact of these abuses on young people was not discussed, so the Commonwealth was unable to use the experience of many of its countries to contribute to peace-building in the host country.


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