The youth population has been growing in staggering proportions across the developing world. The world is getting younger. Today, one in every four people is below the age of 25. From the Arab Spring to the 2008 elections in the United States, young people are active and engaged change-makers. Youth across the world have taken many steps towards creating movement to promote positive change in their communities. Yet history has revealed time and time again the propensity of youth towards violence. Young people have been manipulated by extremist factions to demonise an entire group of people and choose violence as their only option. Young people have been brainwashed, used as tools of violence, and left with futures ruined. Even today in Syria, Iraq, South Sudan, Myanmar, and Ukraine extremist groups attempt to brainwash and manipulate vulnerable youth. President Herbert Hoover once said “Older men declare war. But it is youth that must fight and die.” Can the pendulum shift? Is it possible for youth to declare peace and lead their communities towards non-violence and reconciliation? Do they have the credibility, the resources and the social capital to positively influence their society? In conflict zones across the world is it possible for youth to set the standards for new ways to engage in dialogue, non-violence and development? This research seeks to answer these questions by exploring the work of youth activists and movements in conflict zones across the world. The key question this research pursues can be summed up as; can youth play a pivotal role in conflict transformation and reconciliation? This research will also explore the challenges and victories of youth movements who are working towards positive change in war-torn communities. This ongoing research seeks to listen carefully to young voices in conflict zones across the world, to understand the capacity and challenges involved for youth when they take an active role in leading efforts for reconciliation and conflict transformation.






Reconciliation is defined by its Hebrew root word ‘Tikuum Olam’ which means a three-part process of HEAL, REPAIR AND TRANSFORM. In order to HEAL the impact of tribal or ethnic division, civil war and violence, a process of acknowledging the evils that have been committed is essential. History has proven that grievances ignored will eventually destroy the potential for a sustainable peace. Authentic reconciliation and healing is not possible without justice and equality. This is a fundamental requirement for reconciliation.

REPAIRING the structures involves ensuring that those wounds do not re-occur in today's society and ensuring resistance towards structural violence. TRANSFORMATION lies in the process of creating a national identity and a sense of belonging for all. An environment where no one is placed in a situation in which they feel they are ‘second class citizens’ because of their ethnicity, religion, gender, or socio-economic standing.

Can, and have, youth conflict zones contributed to this process of HEAL, REPAIR AND TRANSFORM? Are they bringing their communities together in a journey towards reconciliation?


Conflict Transformation


"The strategy behind the concept of Conflict Transformation is to comprehend and respond to the ebb and flow of social unrest, transforming it into life-enhancing opportunities to create constructive change. The ultimate goal of this process is to reduce violence, increase justice in direct interactions and social structures, and respond to real life problems in human relationships."

(Lederach, 14  )


Why focus on youth?


A few statistics regarding violence against youth in conflict zones

·         According to a UN report in 2002, since 1990, more than two million children have been killed because of armed conflict in the preceding decade, and more than six million have been disabled.





Restoration of right relationship. Reconciliation is expressed by Tikul Olam, meaning to heal, to repair, to transform.

To reconcile completely, to bring back a former state of harmony




The word is salima, meaning peace, safety, security, and freedom, and salaha, meaning to be righteous, to do right, settlement, compromise, restoration and reinstitution.


Our approach to Reconciliation:


James Gibson in an article about the truth and reconciliation movement in South Africa defines reconciliation in the following words.


We at Sri Lanka Unites do not believe that reconciliation can be achieved over night. It is a process that will take a generation to implement with an authentic commitment and perseverance.


“People of different ethnicities getting along better with each other that is, the decrease of ethnic animosities. This may mean that people come to interact with each other more (the breakdown of barriers across ethnic groups), communicate more in turn leading in to greater understanding and perhaps acceptance, resulting in the appreciation and exaltation of the value of ethnic diversity. It is this dimension of reconciliation – the extension of dignity and esteem to those of other races, ethnicities and cultures, through understanding trust and respect. - James Gibson


Sri Lanka doesn’t fall too far from this global reality


As research confirms, violence is the growing cause of death among youth. It is in fact the number one cause of death for youth around the world. Investing in youth to resist extremist notions, make wiser non-violent choices, and invest their energy in peace and reconciliation, is vital for change. If youth are not helped to direct their attention to positive ends they too will end up being prey to extremist groups who seek to utilize them for their own violent ends.


Reconciliation: A long-term journey


The process of Heal, Repair, and Transform is not an event or a goal, it is a lifestyle and a process. Reconciliation takes a generation and is a long-term journey. Youth have the capacity and life span to engage in the long run. Investing in a new generation that will be future leaders in their countries can help break the cycles of political deadlock, ethnocentric, adversarial, and competitive politics, and lead nations to true justice and reconciliation.


Not crippled by hate


Many youth in conflict zones grow up in a context where they inherit prejudice and hate. Yet, most of these inherited prejudices can be overcome by positive life experiences. For many of the older generation the negative experiences of the past have left them jaded and damaged by animosity. Youth movements that are working towards reconciliation and conflict transformation are working to bring down the walls between opposing ethnic groups. The longer society remains segregated and communities live apart from each other, the deeper the hatred and greater the chance for animosity to continue. Investing in the next generation will expand their world-view, challenge flawed perceptions, broad assumptions, and stereotypes. Increased interaction will help youth change their mindsets, have a broader world view and be willing to judge people for their character and potential- not by the community they belong to.


Open to alternate approaches


At an early age, youth can be just as easily molded towards violence, as they can be molded towards reconciliation. Reconciliation is hampered in a society where prejudices and misconceptions across ethnic, religious and tribal lines thrive. Therefore creating an environment where a new generation of leaders has an opportunity to interact, understand, and grow with communities that were once viewed as enemies helps expand their world view and thus open to alternate approaches to violence.

Truly grassroots in nature

  Violence is a manifestation of a deeper problem and needs to be addressed from the bottom up. Youth don’t find themselves in the the halls of political power. Changing policy or lobbying for political mandates for change is beyond their reach.  Youth activism is left with no option but a grassroots approach. The key is to influence a wide range of social factors and create upward momentum for change. This attribute of youth activism while a major challenge, also remains to be a powerful asset. The strength remains in its ability to refine society while striving for broader political change. Their influences begins outside conventional and political realms of leadership , yet helps address root causes and engages the broader society.




The importance of engaging youth for the sake representation is no longer a sufficient approach. Many disgruntled youth from across the world are falling prey to extremist rhetoric and are recruited for violence. The phenomena is prevalent in conflict zones across the world. The opportunity cost of not giving youth the required education and vocational opportunities, identity and purpose has slipped beyond a missed opportunity. Rather it seems to morph in to a liability. Therefore questioning a need for a radical alternate approach in dealing with youth seems a poignant question. Can youth play a pivotal role for reconciliation in conflict transformation ? We believe they can and they are… We strive towards an era where youth were a dismissed demographic to be ambassadors of sustainable peace.

Emerging out of decades of great adversity, and a culture of suspicion and divisiveness, the end of the war finally marks a window of opportunity for us to rebuild as one nation. Yet, we are still faced with a common threat - an inability to find a sustainable peace. We are standing on the cusp of a new era, where an all too familiar polarized society could be replaced with one that is determined to correct the wrongs of the previous generation; a society that comes together in the spirit of reconciliation.


As such, the defining question of today is, “how will the youth engage in reshaping the next decades and give leadership to positive changes that must take place?”


Sri Lanka Unites aims to do just that.


Our vision is, "to unite the youth of all ethnic and religious groups across Sri Lanka in a movement that promotes reconciliation, creating a peaceful and prosperous nation for future generations”. Our  mission “To be a symbol for, and an example of, the powerful potential of united Sri Lankans to work towards sustainable development, peace and prosperity”.


As young citizens of Sri Lanka, we now have a unique opportunity, and a strong responsibility, to turn a new page and write a new story. We must firmly resolve to promoting reconciliation among our fellow Sri Lankans.


Work Cited


Lederach, John Paul. The Little Book of Conflict Transformation. Intercourse, PA: Good, 2003. Print.

Philpott, Daniel. The Politics of past Evil: Religion, Reconciliation, and the Dilemmas of Transitional Justice. Notre Dame, Ind.: U of Notre Dame, 2006. Print.




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