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Diplomacy in Action

Remarks to Law Students in Kathmandu

Ronan Farrow
Special Advisor, Office of Global Youth Issues
Kathmandu, Nepal
December 8, 2011


Thank you everyone for taking the time to come here. It’s one of the most exciting parts of my job when I actually get to sit and connect with young people and hear what your challenges are and hear what your aspirations and plans are, particularly in this group since you more than most are equipped to lead in your communities and have an understanding of what it means to pursue a democratic transition and to pursue the rule of law. (Inaudible) spend a lot of time in this job talking to stodgy old men in suits and talking to some young people who are (a) fun, but (b) I think have a vibrancy and an energy that you don’t see in other demographics. It is a real pleasure.

I think that, as it is across the world, Nepal is confronting problems that are true for everyone but uniquely true for young people. But also, I see in Nepali youth that I talk to a tremendous reservoir of energy, as I said, and commitment to resolving those challenges that gives me great confidence in the future of this country and in the future of all our shared challenges.

The challenges around the world mirror many of those here. We’ve seen over the last year, obviously, young people play a critical role in changing their political realities on the ground. Part of that is a positive story that we’re all inspired by. We’ve seen, obviously, in the Middle East and North Africa young people unseat corrupt dictatorships. We have seen the young people in recent years transform our social networking and our ability to connect with one another and communicate.

But we’ve also seen a moment of crisis that we all confront. We’ve been, for myself and for young people in my group of friends and family, the response to my being in my current job was not, “Oh, these are the issues you’re working on,” it was “Oh, you have a job?” And similarly, Nepali youth that I talk to have wrestled with the frustration of having the tools, often having the education but not having access to traditional jobs. And around the world we see that being the case. Half a billion people ages 15 to 19 are either out of work or working below the poverty line. And a majority of the world’s unemployed are youth.

Similarly, young people are often unable to make their voices heard in peaceful political processes. We’ve seen that revolutionary energy transform the face of the Middle East and North Africa, but it remains as yet uncertain whether that energy could be translated into a process to engage in peaceful, procuring*, organized democratic processes.

Right here in Nepal, the stakes are very clear. We have by some account 75 percent of the population under the age of 35. And young people are uniquely an object of both unemployment, and from the young Nepalis I’ve talked to, a frustration at being unable to make their voices heard in this critical moment in the country’s history where we have this road to a new constitution and hopefully a new era where all Nepalis can make their voices heard peacefully. But there is a long road to that. And in that battle, seeing individuals like yourself who are armed with the tools and the knowledge of the legal system, and the knowledge of basic and human rights principles, it’s something that gives me a great deal of hope.

Because when young people are jobless, when they are denied those basic human rights and access to institutions supported by peaceful rule of law and democratic institutions, we see them as not that reservoir of positive progress that I described, but as a destabilizing force around the world. Eighty-six percent of all outbreaks of new civil conflict around the world in recent decades have been in countries with a significant majority under the age of 30, such as Nepal.

That reality has been used by both our allies and our adversaries in the community of nations that believe in rule of law. Countries like Nepal have made strides towards peace, obviously, in recent memory and also in attracting the best and brightest to your institutions. And one of the reasons that I’m here is to discuss with my colleagues at the embassy ways in which to further that and to share knowledge between American institutions and Nepali institutions. And we have a variety of exchange programs that we’ll be happy to discuss today to further that goal.

But unfortunately, that reality is also being capitalized on by our adversaries and by those who would oppose peace and progress. I myself worked in Afghanistan and Pakistan for several years where you have exactly that cocktail of youth disenfranchisement, inability to make their voices heard (inaudible), and joblessness. That makes young people ripe targets for recruitment by extremist organizations, violent organizations that very often have sophisticated recruitment techniques that give young people who otherwise have no voice a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose.

Boys and young men very often are at the heart of those movements and women and girls are often both the most vulnerable victims of oppression and also (inaudible) of progress and economic growth.

President Obama stood before the world in 2009 in Cairo in a speech that some of you may be familiar with and said to young people of every faith in every nation, “You more than anyone have the power to transform this world.” And I believe that’s the case. Your efforts as champions of the rule of law and as individuals who understand what it is to build peaceful institutions in an emergent democracy cannot be underestimated. Your role will be the mark that transforms Nepal as it steps into this new era with a new constitution. And it will be, I think, a template that the world looks to as we see other emerging democracies profoundly affected by the world that their young populations play.

So what you’re doing and what you represent is tremendously important. I myself pursue the law because I believed in the strength of those institutions I’m talking about and the role of particularly young people in fostering the growth of democratic institutions. And I think the legal knowledge uniquely (inaudible) to pursue that, whether you’re just practicing law and increasing access to the legal services in your own community or whether you are part of the national process that builds the architecture for a peaceful and stable future.

And young people, more than any other type of legal practitioner, often have the fearlessness and the energy to build those institutions. I mean, obviously, Nepal right now starts with a fresh slate in the coming six months. And it will require that fearlessness and that risk taking and that commitment to making frustrated young voices heard in a peaceful way rather than in a destructive one.

So what we want to say to all of you, as the U.S. Government, is that we stand by you as you confront those challenges, that we see those challenges being faced by young people around the world, and that young Americans, both young American lawyers who are trying to increase access to services and build those institutions we’re discussing today and young Americans of every walk of life, are facing the same dilemmas, where they’re emerging from school and the traditional opportunities are not there, and where the world is full of young people who want to make their voices heard and don’t always have access to tools by which to do so in a peaceful manner.

So this is not a set of issues that is unique to your country, and we see it as one of the core goals of our foreign policy now, more than ever, to respond to those issues as they emerge around the world.

So the United States, over the last year, pulled together a task force from every corner of our government, every ministry, and looked at how we could make focusing on youth issues and the role of young people, particularly in countries that are at democratic turning points, as Nepal is, and foster those young people as positive change agents and really respond to their needs. That policy process resulted in a pledge, a pledge that the United States would focus on programs and initiatives and diplomatic conversations that put on the table the role of young people as economic actors, work to increase access to markets for young people, and foster young entrepreneurs, business owners, and workers.

It also resulted in a commitment to focus on young people as political change agents; and young people, both around the world and particularly in these settings where it is so crucial to make your voices heard in emerging instruments like your own constitution, ensuring that those young people have the tools to make their voices heard; and increasing our effort to bring to them mentorship programs, programs that educate them about their rights and their ability to participate in peaceful democratic processes, and programs that foster young people as civic leaders and advocates for their rights.

And it’s been my pleasure, in my time in this country, to talk to a great deal of young leaders, both politicians and civil society leaders, who are pursuing those very goals. Right here in Nepal, we are, I think, doing a tremendous job of living out those commitments. We have a wide range of programs out of the United States Embassy and the State Department and our USAID mission here that directly target the needs of young people. Some of you may have heard that we have launched an unprecedented Youth Advisory Council here in Kathmandu and drawing together young people from around the country to discuss some of these rule of law issues, among other issues that they confront. And I’m pleased to be able to announce that with that council, we are actually giving young people the opportunity to shape the programs that will target the problems they confront in their communities. And we will be allocating close to $30,000 (USD) to those programs that council members, young people themselves, will have input into.

We have a variety of programs, as I mentioned, on the USAID side, including our Education for Income Generation Program that provides young people with skills-based training to increase their participation in markets and their access to jobs. And we have a Young Parliamentarians Program that brings together young parliamentarians and political leaders from multiple parties to the same table and links them with experts in various subjects, with Unites States politicians, and engages them on subjects that are critical to their constituents. I had the pleasure of participating in one such session today with a group of young parliamentarians and was inspired to see the level of energy, and really left hopeful for this country’s political process.

But all of that said, we realize that we can and should be doing more, and that all of our initiatives have to be guided by the needs that you yourselves feel. And that’s why I think I’m happy to say you have strong allies in this United States Embassy who want to keep their heads together with yours and hear on a regular basis what young Nepalese say are challenges and how they feel we can be best standing by them as we confront those challenges.

And there are a number of institutions, as I said, like the Youth Advisory Council, that allow us to do that. But I hope today’s discussion can also be one setting in which we start a conversation, and I can hear what exactly you’re confronting and how you think that I can carry that message to the world and to our leaders in Washington.

So I really – I want to thank you for your time. I hope that we talk about here can lead to a deeper still and more extensive connection and partnership. And I hope that as we devise our new initiatives, following on some of those that have discussions today, they can as directly as possible address the needs that you feel in your communities.

I think that partnership between young people in every country and a shared commitment to addressing these issues for those like yourselves that uniquely have the skill set and the education and the understanding of what the challenges are will be one of the keys to unlocking global prosperity and stability. And I think that particularly if young lawyers in emerging democracies are able to link together, we stand a better chance of creating lasting, stable democratic institutions.

The challenge that we’ve seen in the Middle East, as I mentioned, and in North Africa, in this past year, is not a lack of energy or inability to transform. We know that young people can tear down and start anew. And indeed, young people have been instrumental in securing a clean slate and a new start here in Nepal. But as our Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has often remarked, it is not always the young revolutionaries that end up leading a country to a peaceful future.

So the challenge that we face around the world and in Nepal is: Can youthful revolutionary energy be translated into peaceful participation? And those who have the education and understand what rule of law is are the ones who are equipped, I think, to lead in that effort and to forward the message to the rest of their committees that that is indeed the next step, that regardless of frustrations or feelings of disenfranchisement, people need to commit to building institutions that we have.

So with that, I’ll turn over the floor to questions. But I would say that my conversations with students and particularly, I think, young lawyers like yourselves, have left me much more inspired for the future and ever more committed to standing by people like you and supporting you as you fulfill your aspirations.

Thank you. (Applause.)

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