Al-Rafidain Conference 2023 | “The Youth are the Builders of Future and the Pioneers of Change”
25 February 2023
Remarks by Claudio Cordone, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance
Al-Najaf, 25 February 2023
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me at the outset to express my gratitude for the opportunity to address you at this conference today on behalf of the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Iraq Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert who sends her greetings and best wishes.
I am very pleased to see so many of you from Iraq and other countries coming together to discuss challenges and opportunities facing youth in Iraq and the region.
I wish to thank Al Rafidain Center for Dialogue for taking the initiative to organize this important event. I am particularly pleased to speak to you in this hall recently dedicated to the memory of Sergio Vieira de Mello.
Let me share with you some thoughts on the important role of youth in Iraq.
According to recent figures, young people constitute more than half (55%) of the population across the MENA region (OECD 2019). Iraq has one of the youngest populations in the world, with nearly 60 percent below 25 years of age. However, young people are important not only because of their numbers, but also because of their qualities.
We know that innovation and ambition are generally qualities of young people. And the highest proportion of young people live in unstable places around the globe. They hold an enormous potential for change. Some have used this potential to promote discriminatory ideologies and the use of violence against those who are different from them. But fortunately, the majority of the youth have strong values of tolerance and want to promote dialogue, social progress and peace.
The United Nations Security Council, in resolution 2250, adopted in 2015, recognized that “young people play an important and positive role in the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security”. A main pillar of this resolution is participation. The resolution urges Member States to give youth a greater voice in decision-making at all levels. It also calls on states to set up mechanisms that would enable young people to participate meaningfully in conflict resolution and peace processes.
Young people in Iraq, as it is the case in other countries, are often excluded from decisions making processes and political discussions. Like in the case of women, young people are not adequately represented within the decision-making levels of political parties and state institutions. They are also largely excluded from conflict-resolution processes and mechanisms. This should be remedied, by ensuring that youth, and women, can participate meaningfully in, and contribute to, the many political processes which are ongoing in Iraq.
At the same time, many youths in Iraq are rightly concerned about their job prospects. It is incumbent upon the government to adopt employment policies that provide sustainable economic opportunities, not just depending on oil revenues and expanding the public sector.
I believe that the government is committed to support the youth of this country. In May 2021, the Ministry of Youth with the UN’s support adopted the Youth Vision 2030. This is a multi-sectoral roadmap for empowering young people in Iraq and creating opportunities for them to promote their political, economic, social and health status.
Let me assure you that the United Nations remains committed to working with you to deliver on your ambitions, as set out in the UN Secretary-General’s “Youth 2030” strategy. Launched in 2018, Youth 2030 is a strategy that guides the UN's efforts to strengthen its work with young people across three pillars - peace and security, human rights and sustainable development. It seeks to address the needs and advance the rights of young people, and ensure their participation in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
We want young people to take the lead and come up with innovative and sustainable solutions to address the major challenges that Iraq is facing such as climate change. It is often said that you are the leaders of tomorrow, but in reality, you are leaders of today!
So keep on meeting, organizing and speaking up, believe in yourself and never quit. And, most importantly, unite, you have more in common than separates you. In Iraq, we have seen firsthand in 2019 the strength of the youth taking to the streets demanding basic rights and better opportunities.
We look forward to the outcomes of this Conference, specifically on the ways in which the UN could better support youth in Iraq and the region, in order to affirm your right to play a larger and more meaningful role in shaping the future of this country.
I wish you a constructive and fruitful discussion.
Deputy Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq for Political Affairs and Electoral Assistance