Juba, South Sudan, 24 June 2014 – “Sustainable peace can only come about if the children and youth of South Sudan are respected and have an opportunity to develop,” states Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO, Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Forest Whitaker, Special Envoy for UNESCO, at the end of a joint visit in South Sudan.

During their joint visit, they spoke with one voice about the importance of education, reconciliation and peace building as well as the protection of children affected by armed conflict.

Irina Bokova, Leila Zerrougui and Forest Whitaker met with the President of South Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit. During their meeting, the President reiterated his commitment to prioritize education as a cornerstone of recovery from the on-going conflict and sustainable peace.

“Knowledge is the strongest safeguard against violence, against conflict,” said Irina Bokova. “South Sudan is facing a strenuous task to overcome the challenges of illiteracy and girls’ education. I am encouraged by the personal commitment of the President to make education a top priority. We need this leadership for education to enable the children and youth of South Sudan to build their own nation.”

During the meeting, Special Representative Leila Zerrougui emphasized the conflict’s devastating impact on children.

“The President assured us that the country’s national security forces would vacate any school used for military purposes,” said Leila Zerrougui.

“He also committed to work with the United Nations to fully implement the Action Plan to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by the Sudan People’s Liberation Army.”

South Sudan is one of eight countries involved in the campaign Children, not Soldiers, launched in March 2014 by the Special Representative and UNICEF.

The campaign aims to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children by Government security forces listed by the Secretary-General. During the visit, Forest Whitaker formally announced his support for the campaign.

Commenting on his exchanges with the President on the activities developed by his foundation, The Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative, to foster peace and reconciliation through a mix of peace education, vocational training and technology in South Sudan, UNESCO Special Envoy Forest Whitaker expressed his satisfaction that “President Kiir has warmly welcomed the launch of the Youth Peacemaker Network in the Equatorias Region.

The delegation met with youth displaced by the conflict and now living in a camp under the protection of the UN in Juba. Young people told them about how they are coping with the effects of the conflict and their aspirations for the future.

In the camp, the Forest Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative support youth empowerment through peace-building activities.

Among these, the “Cinema for Peace” program was very successful among the young public. It consists of film screenings on peace, prevention of conflict and reconciliation, followed by debates featuring interactive exchanges and role-playing to sensitize audiences to the values and principles underlying a culture of peace and non-violence.

“Throughout all the difficulties that the youth are facing because of the conflict in South Sudan, their willingness to engage inspires me and let me know that there is hope for tomorrow. Through their intentions a new South Sudan will arise.”