On 10 June 2016, approximately 120 young leaders, aged 30 years and below, from the different regions of the world gathered at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, Switzerland to raise their voices in regards to different human rights issues and to develop a series of recommendations to be presented in the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council (HRC). This was certainly an historic event, as it was the first time that youth got to formally convene for the HRC and have access to a platform that allowed them to discuss key human rights issues of importance to their lives. Additionally, as the HRC is one of the most important international mechanisms for promoting and protecting human rights from all over the globe, participants developed the youth forum formal declaration that will be presented during the HRC to UN Member States.
The opening remarks were an introduction of the purpose and objectives of the forum and the panelists shared their hopes for the forum and highlighted the importance of youth participation in UN Mechanisms. Panelists included: World YWCA Interim General Secretary, Sara Llort; Chief of Women’s Human Rights and Gender Section OHCHR, Veronica Birga; Youth Voice Representative, Jennifer Gemos and the virtual participation, in the form of a video message, from United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi.
Kicking off with a lot of energy and enthusiasm, the interactive sessions consisted of an intergenerational dialogue with young people and policy and decision makers in order to determine how youth can engage with the HRC as well as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Panelists included Ambassador Keith M. Harper from the U.S. Mission, Catherine Godin, Deputy Permanent Representative of Canada, Mark Matthews, Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative of UK. A sequence questions were from youth champions Mutua Kobia from Kenya, Vanessa Anyoti from Tanzania and Noemi Gruetter from Switzerland.
Thanks to the use of technology, other young people that weren’t able to attend the forum participated in the online consultation’s that provided input into the declaration and in the inter-generational dialogue by addressing their questions to the experts, in the form of video messages sent previously. This allowed for a broader engagement of youth from various from other parts of the world including Bangladesh, Myanmar, Honduras and South Africa.
Following that, an interactive session was held by experts Safir Syed from Office Of The United Nations High Commissioner For Human Rights (OHCHR) and Chandra – Mouli Venkatraman from the World Health Organization (WHO), on how to engage with the HRC and the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) procedure for civil society, tailored specifically towards youth organisations. Chandra – Mouli stressed that “stepping into the world of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is a time in which youth cannot be left behind.”
Participants then divided into working groups on the different themes that will be covered during the 32nd session of the HRC, where youth focus was provided on;
- Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) & HIV
- Employment, Entrepreneurship & Economic Empowerment
- Gender & Diversity
- Innovation & Education
- Countering Violent extremism
- And Youth as Agents of Change
Each participant actively contributed by providing inputs for the final outcome document with recommendations to include in the declaration on the how young people wish to engage with the HRC.
As a result of these activities, the first steps towards a youth HRC platform will be established in Geneva, where young people can meaningfully and effectively interact and engage with the HRC. In this manner, young women and young men will be supported in claiming their space and in influencing the debates and decisions made at HRC.
The World YWCA wishes to thank YWCA-YMCA Switzerland, Norrag, Permanent Missions of U.S. , UK, Canada, Switzerland and Netherlands in Geneva, UNAIDS, UNOG and UNFPA for their support and contributions.