CIF Students Meet with the UN Youth Champions for Disarmament

February 17, 2021
Masako Toki

Youth Join Forces for a World Free of Nuclear Weapons!

The Critical Issues Forum (CIF) continues to enhance its efforts to engage youth in disarmament and nonproliferation education activities virtually unimpeded by the global pandemic as we all navigate through this challenging situation. On January 29, 2021, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies hosted the CIF’s Second Speaker Series. The event featured the Youth Champions for Disarmament, an initiative undertaken by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs (UNODA).

Students, alumni, and experts meet on ZoomClick to view the video

The UNODA spearheads youth engagement in disarmament with the mission of strengthening international peace and security. By sharing this common mission, our center has nurtured a long-time partnership with the UNODA to promote disarmament and nonproliferation education, especially for younger generations. The Youth Champions for Disarmament were selected by the UNODA through a competitive and rigorous process. They are a diverse group of young people from around the world committed to disarmament as well as international peace and security. At the CIF Second Speaker Series, the Youth Champions shared their experiences and ideas for a world free of nuclear weapons. In addition, two CIF alumni shared the impact of the program on their lives including their education, career paths, current disarmament activism, and visions for the future.

The timing of the event could not have been more appropriate. The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) just entered into force on January 22nd and the United Nations celebrated the 75th anniversary of its first UN General Assembly Resolution that promotes disarmament on January 24th. In the context of these historical achievements, UNODA officials shared the role of the United Nations for disarmament and emphasized the importance of youth engagement in this endeavor.

The CIF Speaker Series is part of an outreach effort to promote disarmament and nonproliferation education to high school students globally. Over 100 mainly youth participants, joined the discussion from around the world, including the United States, Japan, and Russia.

After introductory remarks by Masako Toki, the CIF Project Manager, Jean du Preez, the Senior Program Manager for Education and Training at CNS welcomed participants and urged youth leaders to use their skills and passion to make a difference by mobilizing not only their own generation, but also older generations including politicians. He made an impassioned plea to the students to accomplish the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons in their lifetime.

CIF Alumni Testimonials

As part of a community with over a thousand CIF alumni, two recent alumnae shared their experiences. Suzuka Nakamura, a graduate of Kwassui High School in Nagasaki, was a participant in the 2018 CIF students conference in Monterey. She spoke about her current nuclear disarmament activities as a student at Sophia University in Tokyo. Since her graduation from high school, Suzuka has channeled her passion for a world free of nuclear weapons toward several youth-led projects. She highlighted one such project, titled “Giin-Watch,” an initiative that aims to hold Japanese parliamentarians accountable by questioning their stance on the TPNW. Along with her fellow young friends, Suzuka is actively promoting the TPNW by utilizing multiple platforms on social media.

CIF Alumna Suzuka Nakamura on Zoom“I was born and raised in Nagasaki. … I thought it would be difficult to talk with American and Russian students because both countries have nuclear weapons… I thought there would be a big difference between us, but that was not true. Through having conversations and knowing each other, I know that those students who joined the CIF also had a passion and eagerness to abolish nuclear weapons. Knowing we all share this same goal I was so encouraged.”
— Suzuka Nakamura, CIF alumna

Arielle Landau on ZoomArielle Landuau, a student of Middlebury College and an alumna of Choate Rosemary Hall, participated in the CIF conference in 2016. She articulated the powerful impact that the CIF conference had on her personal perspective. The sobering testimonials by Hibakusha – survivors of atomic bombings – left a deep impression on her. As a result of her dedication to disarmament, Arielle was designated a Youth Communicator for a World without Nuclear Weapons by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Along with other CIF participants, she had a chance to visit Nagasaki to participate in the Youth Forum. Through experiences such as these, Arielle fostered long lasting friendships with other CIF participants. She reflected on her relationships, “it’s amazing to be friends with people from not only the US, but Russia and Japan, who are passionate about the same issues that I am, no matter how far away we are geographically.”

“Hearing their [Hibakusha’s] story really changed my life and put everything we were doing into perspective because it showed the real human risk that was involved, and the importance of pursuing disarmament as young people.”
— Arielle Landau, CIF alumna

UNODA Presentation and Youth Champions Panel Discussion

Claudia Garcia on ZoomMs. Claudia Garcia, a Political Affairs Officer at the Weapons of Mass Destruction Branch of the UN Office for Disarmament Affairs, discussed the 75 years of international efforts toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Her presentation highlighted the three important multilateral treaties in the field of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation: the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test- Ban Treaty (CTBT), and the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear weapons (TPNW).

Ms. Soo Hyun Kim, serving as Youth Focal Point of the UNODA, discussed the importance of youth engagement in disarmament. She introduced UNODA’s initiative titled, “Youth4Disarmament” which launched in 2019 to connect geographically diverse young people with experts to learn about international security challenges and the work of the United Nations. The initiative also helps these young people to actively participate in disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.

She showed an educational video produced by the UNODA, which succinctly explained the intricacies of the disarmament process. This was the very first airing of their new video. The video aims to clear up complexities that often plague the field of disarmament and help make the topic accessible to students and educators.

Ms. Kim highlighted the important and positive contributions that young people can make in sustaining peace and security, which was reaffirmed by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution entitled “Youth, Disarmament and Non-Proliferation” adopted in December 2019.

Soo Hyun Kim on ZoomThree of ten Youth Champions for Disarmament, who were selected out of over 6,000 applicants by the UNODA, joined the CIF Speaker Series event. These Youth Champions are from around the world with diverse backgrounds, both geographically and in fields of study. The three Youth Champions who CIF had the honor of hosting were Christelle Barakat from Lebanon, Dilan Ezgi Koç from Turkey, and Kirsten Mosey from Canada. During the panel, they each shared why and how they became involved in disarmament issues, and their thoughts and perspectives on the challenge. They also illustrated their experience with the training programs, as well as their bright ideas for fellow young people to further engage in disarmament issues.

While all of these Youth Champions share a commitment to disarmament, the path that inspired each of them varies. Christelle’s passion is conflict resolution. She believes that nuclear weapons inhibit the peace required for sustainable development. She too believes that the future of peace starts with the younger generation. She is particularly impassioned by the Hibakusha, atomic bombing survivors. She is determined to preserve their legacy, as she believes that they have been, “the biggest gatekeepers against the occurrence of nuclear avalanches.”

Youth as an Ultimate Force for Change

Kirsten Mosey on ZoomKirsten Mosey advised CIF high school students to search for their passions early on. She knows that from passion comes action. When youth leaders discover their passion, it energizes their commitment and leads to successful outcomes. She also made a point to say that youth should never feel discredited. She urged them never to “think that there’s not a space for you [in this field] because there absolutely is.”

“…don’t discount yourself. Don’t think that there’s not a space for you because there absolutely is…. You really have to put yourself up for opportunities because you never know where they’ll lead.”
— Kirsten Mosey, Youth Champion

Christelle Barakat on ZoomResponding to the question, how young people can get involved with disarmament, Christelle Barakat shared words of encouragement. She gave her personal journey toward involvement while pressing the importance of learning. She reflected on some artwork that she saw in her neighborhood advocating the Black Lives Matter movement. It read, “not knowing is bad, not wishing to know is worse.” Adding to the slogan, she said, “knowing it, [and] not doing anything about it is probably the worst.” She urged high school students to do research and learn more about disarmament from the resources available to them. She inspired the fellow students to take actions as they acquire knowledge and skills for noble causes.

“Go examine your own country and your own communities. What are the main areas of disarmament that your country needs to focus on? What are the current initiatives taking place? What is the broader stance of the community regarding disarmament?”
— Christelle Barakat, Youth Champion

Dilan Ezgi Koç on ZoomDilan, echoing other speakers’ thoughts on the importance of youth advocacy, delineated ways that each of us can contribute to strengthening disarmament regimes. She made it clear that regardless of where we are, how old we are, or what occupation we have, each one of us can contribute to peace and security.

“Disarmament can be only effective if it properly engages with everyone. So, I think the solution starts with a change in understanding these issues and realizing each and every one of us can contribute to the disarmament regime regardless of how old we are, where we are from, or our occupations.”
— Dilan Ezgi Koç, Youth Champion

Making the World Safer and More Secure

This CIF event again demonstrated the importance of young people’s role in building a world free of nuclear weapons. As United Nations Secretary General António Guterres stated in the “Securing our common future: an agenda for disarmament” issued in May 2018, “We look to young people to be the ultimate force for change at the local, national and international levels, to make the world safer and more secure for all.”

The Youth Champions for Disarmament and CIF high school students are walking together on a path toward a more secure future, each in their own unique way.

The Critical Issues Forum is funded by the Tom and Sarah Pattison Fund and the SAGA Foundation.

Visit the website for more information about the Critical Issues Forum.

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