Our Side-Event on Youth Empowerment.

On Tuesday,
March 11th, Room XXVII in Palais des Nations turned into a forum for
ideas and hope.
Empowerment through Human Rights” was the headline of the Side-Event IIMA and
VIDES International, with the Permanent Mission of Uruguay, organized during
the 25th session of the Human Rights Council. The event gave the
floor to young people.
Co-sponsored by
OHCHR and by 25 Permanent Missions, the Side-Event represented the last step on
a long road: the interaction with the reality for young people; the Side-Event
in June 2011 on “Young volunteers and Human Rights” and the event in June 2013
on “Youth Empowerment, which strategies?”; the ILO resolution adopted at the
101st International Labour Conference in June 2012; the Expert meeting on the
human rights of youth organized by the OHCHR in July 2013; IIMA and VIDES crowd
sourcing in Latin America to gather experiences directly on the field, and the
meetings with several Permanent Missions in Geneva to raise awareness about
youth and to promote the Side-Event and ask for sponsorship.

Prior to the
Side Event, in order to train the young people who took part in the panel, a
training course was held in IIMA Office in Geneva, enabling them to effectively
share their personal experiences from the field and to inform them of the
context in which they were speaking.
Thiago, of Belo
Horizonte, Brazil, is a Physiotherapist and is currently a 4th year student of
Medicine in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is a VIDES Volunteer and is the founder
and coordinator of Project “CONVIVIR: Brazil and Argentina” in Buenos-Aires,
which is based on the concept of humanizing medical students through
volunteerism, to provide broad experience of different practices with peoples. Laura,
a young girl from United States, had a service period first in Rwanda first and
then Uganda, working with orphans and children in difficult situations. Johny belongs
to the indigenous community of Bribri in Talamanca, a Province of Limon in
Costa Rica. He is a high school student, working as a farmer and is a volunteer
in the Costa Rican Red Cross. He defends the principles and values of Bribri
culture, promoting respect for and pride in the indigenous identity, especially
among young people, working with them to encourage involvement in social action
for the community to realize the rights of young people. Simon- Pierre Escudero
was raised in a small town in France. He spent 6 months as a volunteer in civil
service in socially disadvantaged areas of France. Following this, he spent
several months in Central America investigating the situation of children
living in the streets and indigenous peoples. From his research in the field
and an internship at the IIMA  and VIDES
Human Rights office in Geneva, a new NGO project was born. This newly formed
civil partnership aims to promote and protect the rights of children in street
H.E. Laura Dupuy, Ambassador of Uruguay and moderator of the event,
emphasised the essential role of young people as initiators of  progress in the society, as “vehicles of a
positive change”.
After the
speeches from the young panellists, two experts were asked to trace guidelines
for the debate as influential voices on the issue. Jorge Cardona, Professor of
International Law and member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child and of
the Commission of Experts of the Ibero-American Convention on the Rights of Youth,
made an overview of the situation so far. He stated that the youth have the
same rights as any other; there are no specific rights. However, he emphasized that
young people have a special situation, as young people, in terms of realising
their rights. “Young people have specific barriers to the enjoyment of their
rights. The question is should, barriers be put up because they are young
people? There are problems of violence, healthcare problems, the problems of
political participation and a social commitment”.
OHCHR Child and Youth Rights Advisor, discussed the great potential of young
people in our society: “Recently, we have seen international protest from young
people leading to significant changes in several places, yet their right to
peaceful protest is not always respected”.
Following this,
a debate was held. Most of the Permanent Missions attending the event took the
floor, expressing their appreciation for the aims of the event and reporting
about the actions taken by their Governments for the benefit of youth.
Austria took the
floor as first: “I wanted to talk about participation. Within the UN framework,
we recognise that this is a key point in promoting fairer societies, it is
important to highlight that states have to create a legal framework with
budgetary backing to ensure young people can participate. We have lowered the
voting age to 16, and are the only country in the EU to have done so, because
we wanted to have formal youth engagement in the political process. We also
have national and European projects on this issue”.
Italy underlined
the effects of economical crisis on youth, accentuating the role of young
people as a resource. While Guatemala stressed the accent on the efforts made
by the government in promoting the youth issue in the region, Maldives delegate
reaffirmed the need for an effective empowerment of young generations.
More than 55 per
cent of the population in Burkina Faso is young, whereas illiteracy rate is
very high: “The question is, how can we communicate the message to this group
that they do have a place in their country and that they can work on their
skills to be able to contribute to it?”, the Country delegate asked, wishing for
the adoption of international instruments to increase occasions for young
If Tunisia stated that their approach is not simply looking as youth as
a vulnerable group, but also from a point of view in which seeing their
potential for action, Morocco announced that after the events of the Arab
Spring, a meeting was held in Casablanca in 2012 with a view to creating a
consultative council for youth.
While the Ambassador of Paraguay was grateful because the panellists had
reminded him of his earlier years, the young delegate of Palestine didn’t hide
her enthusiasm: “It is a pleasure to see such a wonderful turnout and hear
inspiring presentations, we are proud to be sponsors. We cannot overstate the
importance of this issue. Youth are the main catalysts and changers in society;
yet often find their rights trampled upon and potential untapped. Rising
expectations from access to information and education has caused frustration in
the world youth. Initiatives such as this one should be multiplied, promoting
the youth in society for a human rights society”.
Finally, the
Ambassador of Costa Rica expressed the support of Costa Rican government to
youth issues: “No doubt there is a challenge when it comes to approaching this
issue of youth.I think the best way to empower youth is to fully implement the Convention
on the Rights of the Child and in teaching children about their rights. In this
way we can create empowered generations”.
It was a
constructive dialogue, through experiences sharing and new visions, in a
perfect mix of political and human aspect. “It is the first time we see so many
Permanent Missions involved and participating in a Side-Event”. Enthusiastic
words were going round and the event had a positive echo as a result: talking
about empowering youth through young people, addressing a distinguished
audience of States and Civil Society. Young people are the actors who can take
decisions and can push governments to take effective actions. During our
Side-Event, formal policy combined to daily life.
Whil this side event has been a goal
in itself, it is going to be also a starting point of the new process , a step
further towards a new point of view and new awareness.
Now it is time for action. While it
is good that some delegations have recently initiated youth issues in the Human
Rights Council, meaning that a seed has been planted.
Now it is time to think about what
is next, about the possible ways forward, shaping the coming progress, be it a
cross-regional statement, a panel on the issue or a resolution at HRC level.
The aim is to provide young people with all the necessary instruments to actively
participate in society.
Young people want their voice to be
heard, they want to leave their mark, and this point is illustrated by our
flyer, recognised as “the best flyer” at
the Council; and a flyer produced by one of our young volunteers.
“If you have no voice, SCREAM.
If you have no legs, RUN.
If you have no hope, INVENT.”

That we are young means we have the most to lose by standing idle.