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Two members of the European Committee of the Regions this week shared their experience of peace-building on the island of Ireland with 180 young leaders from across the lines of conflict in Libya, as part of an initiative to encourage younger Libyans to develop community-building projects in their home cities.
The four-day event, which was held in Tunis on 2-5 April, is one of three workshops on peace-building. They are the latest result of a two-year effort by the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) to establish cooperation between Libyan cities and European cities and regions, and to pool international expertise, experience and good will to help provide crucial public services in Libyan cities. The workshops reflect a broad collective effort: the CoR has driven the political and institutional collaboration, the content was developed by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP), the workshops were organised by UNICEF, and the funder was the Italian government.
“Hope – that is the principal message from the island of Ireland,” said Arnold Hatch(UK/ECR), the president of Northern Ireland Local Government Association. “In our case, after decades of conflict, the removal of articles 2&3 of the Irish Constitution and some corruption in the form of smuggling, it has been possible to overcome issues by talking with all sides. It is hard work. But the hard work that brings peace is also work that makes our communities stronger and that makes life better for young people. Our communities are strong when civil society is strong, when there are sports clubs, youth clubs and cultural organisations that reach the young, when young people have an opportunity to learn, develop their skills, gain experience, and shape their world.”
Jerry Lundy (IE/ALDE), of Sligo County Council, said: “Peace is not just the absence of fighting. Peace has to be something positive. It needs to bring real changes to lives, it needs to inspire hope, and it needs action from all of us. Peace has to be built street by street and person by person. Peace needs local ownership and it needs leaders in each community, each generation, each group. Before I arrived in Tunis, I hoped that the young people on these workshops would become those leaders; I came away from Tunis feeling very hopeful.”
Bart Somers(BE/ALDE), mayor of Mechelen and winner of the World Mayor Prize 2016 for his work on integration, also took part via Skype. Benedetta Brighenti(IT/PES) had planned to travel to Tunis to share ideas from her community –Castelnuovo Rangone in Italy – but had to withdraw for reasons of health.
The 180 participants, who are aged 18-25, come from the Union of Libyan Youth, universities and civil-society networks and have been encouraged to think and develop ideas that could be applied in their communities. They came primarily from the eight cities with which the CoR has been working most closely – Tripoli, Benghazi, Ghariyan, Tobruk, Sebha, Sirte, Zintan, and Zliten – but also from other populous areas, such as Misrata and Jufra.
“The participation of young people is crucial for the development and stability of Libya,” said Mustafa Al Baroni, the mayor of Zintan, who – with the mayor of Tripoli, Abdelrauf Beitelmal – has been one of the driving forces behind the CoR’s cooperation with Libyan cities, under its ‘Nicosia initiative’. “These workshops will be a strong step in spreading peace and coexistence in Libya through increasing the ability and awareness of youth to address the needs of their communities.”
A specific youth initiative that has emerged through the ‘positive peace’ strand in the CoR’s Nicosia initiative is Radio Sirte, a local youth radio that should be launched later this month with funding from the European Endowment for Democracy. An early guest interviewee will be Karl-Heinz Lambertz, the president of the CoR.
The first peace-building workshop ran from 19-22 March. Speakers at the third, which will be held on 19-22 April, include Marcelle Hendrickx(NL/ALDE), who will present Tilburg’s experience of helping young people join in the social and economic life of the community.
“Young people in Libya represent over half of the population and are key to rebuilding the peaceful future of the country,” said Abdel-Rahman Ghandour, UNICEF Special Representative to Libya, when the workshops began.
The workshops were preceded in 2017 by a pilot project funded by the European Union.
The CoR’s Nicosia initiative has also produced trans-Mediterranean collaboration on fisheries, primary health care, water management, waste management, economic development, administrative capacity, and financial management and transparency.
The Italian government is also providing funding for a second project under the Nicosia initiative – a three-year project to develop a fisheries industry in Libya. The project was launched in March, with the mayors of Tripoli and Benghazi visiting the region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, which has nurtured initial expert-level contacts into full-blown project.
If you are interested in participating in the Nicosia initiative, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org