Youth and human rights receive special attention at UN Panel discussion

On 22 September 2016 at 12.00, Human Rights Council President H.E. Mr. Choi Kyong-lim chaired the panel on “Youth and Human Rights”.  The panel was approved through resolution / HRC / 32 / L.1 during the Council’s 32nd session on 30 June 2016.  The resolution was recommended by El Salvador on behalf of a core-group of Member States and it was approved by consensus.  The passage marked a historic achievement that recognized youth as subject partners for development, bearers of new ideals and catalysts of action.  The resolution provided for the convening of a panel whose aim was to identify the challenges, good practices and lessons learned in the exercise of human rights on the part of young people, as an important opportunity for the empowerment of their rights.
Ms. Kate Gilmore, United Nations deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights presented the opening statement while H.E. Ms. Anna Korka, Permanent Representative of Greece to the United Nations Office at Geneva, acted as moderator.  The panelists were:
– Ms. Virginia Bras Gomes, Member of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights;
– Ms. Johanna Nyman, President of the European Youth Forum;
– Mr. Simon-Pierre Escudero, Representative of the Asociación de Tierra de Jóvenes, El Salvador;
– Ms. Maria D’Onofrio, Representative of VIDES International; and

– Ms. Yvonne Matuturu, Head of the Social and Human Sciences Section, Multisectoral UNESCO Regional Office for Central Africa, Cameroon.

The panel began with a video statement made by Mr. Ahmad Alhendawi, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, who welcomed the adoption of the resolution as an important opportunity to address this theme to the Human Rights Council in a systematic and significant way.

H.E. Ms. Anna Korka then introduced Ms. Virginia Bras Gomes who spoke of the challenges facing youth, such as barriers to access the labor market, inadequate education in rural areas, lack of access to health services and gender inequalities. She highlighted some suggestions such as:

1. Legislation that promotes gender equality;
2. Long-term policies and identification of evaluation mechanisms;
3. Implementation of specific measures for youth-specific segments, e.g. persons with disabilities, migrants, indigenous minorities; and

4. Accessibility to goods and services (economic, informative)

The next panelist, Ms. Johanna Nyman, President of the European Youth Forum, noted that 500 million young people between 15 and 24 years of age live on less than 2 dollars a day and suffer discrimination not only on the basis of their age but also of disability, religion, and sexual orientation. She listed five action points:
1. A report identifying and analyzing the problems encountered by young people in accessing their rights;
2. The identification of a Special Procedures as Special Rapporteur;
3. The establishment of guidelines for the implementation of youth policies;
4. The invitation for all treaty bodies to realize a joint statement that emphasizes the indivisibility of human rights; and

5. The involvement of young people in consultations and giving attention to recommendations that the Member States should submit in the Universal Periodic Review.

The next statement was delivered by Mr. Simon-Pierre Escudero, Representative of the Asociación de Tierra de Jóvenes, an association founded by young people who act for the promotion of street children and adolescents in El Salvador.  He made a strong case for volunteerism, stating that volunteer work is a form of “EMPOWERMENT” that brings about positive change.  He recalled his path to El Salvador that involved volunteering for IIMA (International Institute of Mary Help of Christians), which allowed him to strengthen his knowledge of UN mechanisms that promote the rights of children living and/or working on the streets. He finished his statement with a quote from the 19th century educator and promoter of youth rights, John Bosco, whose words are still relevant today: “Do not delay in taking care of the young, otherwise they will delay in taking care of you.”

Ms. Maria D’Onofrio, Representative of VIDES International, an international network of volunteers association discussed the importance of involving youth in human rights-based policy making and interventions. The realization of economic, social and cultural rights is a necessary precondition for young people to become promoters of human rights and for their participation in political and civil life. Access to quality education is also one of the greatest challenges as well as active participation, which ensures that the opinion of young people is taken into account and that their participation is trans-formative of the status quo.

The last panelist to speak was Ms. Yvonne Matuturu, Head of the Social and Human Sciences Section, Multisectoral UNESCO Regional Office for Central Africa, Cameroon who focused her attention on the plight of youth in the African continent. The biggest challenges are connected to three factors: poverty, climate change and ethnic and religious conflicts. Many countries are in a situation of political change, in a process of democratization and young people are at risk of violence and murder, particularly during pre- and post-election periods. UNESCO considers youth as bearers of interest in knowledge in specific sectors, and she also emphasized the need for investments, policies and strategies to create a favorable environment for youth to be promoters of human rights, citizenship and change in African countries.

Following the panelist statements, over 25 Member States as well as Australia’s human rights institution and four NGOs made oral statements to the panelists. The Member States asked the panelists for best practices on integrating youth rights within existing legal frameworks.  The panelists were given the opportunity to provide responses to Member States’ questions and gave their concluding statements at the end of the three hour panel discussion.

The participation of Maria D’Onofrio and Simon – Pierre Escudero as panelists demonstrates the substantial contribution that IIMA and VIDES has provided to this important topic at the UN.  Over the past few years, IIMA and VIDES have been focusing on the central theme that empowering youth in the promotion and protection of human rights is not only good for them but also for society as a whole.

A summary report of the panel discussion will be prepared as a result of the meeting of the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will prepare a report on the debate that will submit to the Council for Human Rights in its 35th session (June 2017).