25 July 2011
General Assembly
GA/11117

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-fifth General Assembly

Plenary

110th Meeting (AM & PM)


At Summit Meeting Coined by Youth Representative as ‘International Tahrir Square’,


Secretary-General Says Failure to Invest in Young People ‘A False Economy’

 


Assembly President Urges Strong Outcome at End of Two-Day Meeting; Panels Call

For Youth Participation in Democratic ‘Common Market’, Supported by National Plans


With young people leading the charge for social change around the world, reinvigorated investments in youth were more critical than ever before, said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today as he opened a High-level Meeting referred to, by one young delegate from Egypt, as a sort of “international Tahrir Square”.


“You may be, and I may be, the leaders of today.  But it will be they who will stand here, who will lead this world tomorrow,” said Mr. Ban in his opening remarks to the two-day meeting, entitled, “Youth:  Dialogue and Mutual Understanding”.  The world had already begun to change, he said, pointing — as many speakers did in the course of the day — to the sweeping social changes that young people had sparked throughout the Middle East and North Africa.  “Those fires have travelled far”, he said, since the uprisings first began.


“Too often, young people lack the education, freedom and opportunities they deserve,” stressed the Secretary-General.  The majority of the more than 1 billion young people around the world lived in developing countries, he said, and many faced challenges including drug abuse, violence and unemployment rates three to six times that of adults.  But the world had begun to change, with youth leaders increasingly leading the call for peace, dialogue and higher standards of living.


Young people were now tackling some of humanity’s most difficult issues, including discrimination and social stigma, an unrelenting HIV epidemic, and sustainable development — “the defining issue of our time”, he said.  Often, they understood more clearly than older people that transcending religious and cultural differences was critical to reaching the world’s shared goals.  The conviction that had led young people to demand change from their Governments and their elders had also made the International Year of Youth — launched by the General Assembly in August 2010 and slated to close next month — a momentous time for young people.


“Failing to invest in our youth is a false economy,” warned Mr. Ban, adding that engaging meaningfully with young people would pay great dividends for all.  He urged Member States, not only to expand opportunities for young people, but to seriously consider the ways in which youth were being heard at the highest levels.


Joseph Deiss, President of the Assembly, echoed the Secretary-General’s concerns that millions of young people the world over faced serious challenges, including poverty, natural disasters, minimal access to social services and a lack of development opportunities.  “We need to create the conditions to engage young people to fulfil their right to flourish,” he stressed.  With more than 500 youth representatives present at the meeting, and some 100 youth organizations contributing to the negotiations leading up to it, the current high-level gathering represented a unique opportunity to meet that goal.


In recent months, he said, the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa had shown the extent to which young people were “key players” in society and to which they could mobilize for change.  Youth were often more creative and better innovators than older people, he added.  They were frequently open to embracing sustainable development and alternative lifestyles, and, as enthusiastic users of technology, they were engaged in global discussions through social networking.


“I have every confidence that you will take up all opportunities for dialogue,” he told Member States, calling on them to adopt an outcome document that was “commensurate with the challenge”.  He also urged Governments to firmly root their national youth programmes in the values of the International Year of Youth — namely, respect, openness and curiosity.


During the day’s two interactive round tables, each of which tackled a specific theme, speakers ranging from national youth delegates to private-sector leaders to representatives of United Nations system agencies voiced comments and concerns relevant to the development of young people.  Participants during the morning session discussed the strengthening of international cooperation, with many delegates agreeing that the “global village” created by the new technologies had re-shaped the aspirations of the world’s youth.  In that vein, the Minister of Youth and Sports of Morocco called for youth participation in a democratic “common market”, supported by national programmes.


Other delegates and panellists called for States to strengthen their support for such programmes and for the integration of civil society youth groups into international policy, which they felt would encourage youth and mobilize a powerful response to the problems of poverty, discrimination and unemployment, among others.  Meanwhile, one youth delegate from Egypt called the High-level Meeting a kind of “international Tahrir Square”, referring to the public square in Cairo where Egypt’s recent popular uprising had begun.


The second round table, held during the afternoon, heard more than 40 speakers discuss specific challenges — and related opportunities — that stood in the way of youth development.  Panellists and delegates considered the vast potential of the world’s 81 million unemployed young people, with many noting that they stood at a critical crossroads.  They could either be seen as a danger and a problem to be addressed, or as an unprecedented asset “brimming with energy” and fresh ideas.


However, said a representative from Guatemala, “opportunities do not come of their own accord”.  To that end, panellist and United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, noting that poverty, low-quality education and the lack of youth capacity were interrelated, called for cross-cutting, holistic youth policies at the national level.  Other panellists detailed priority action areas, such as direct State funding to support youth organizations and non-formal education.


The day began with a moment of silence marking last week’s tragic event in Norway, after which the Assembly was addressed by that country’s representative.


The High-level Meeting will reconvene in plenary at 10 a.m. tomorrow, 26 July, for its second and final day.


Background


The General Assembly met today to open a High-level Meeting on Youth.  Pursuant to its resolution A/RES/65/267 (2011), the meeting’s overarching theme would be “Youth:  Dialogue and Mutual Understanding”.  The two-day meeting would comprise several plenary sessions and two consecutive informal, interactive round tables, chaired by Member States, on specific themes.


According to a concept paper by Assembly President Joseph Deiss, the first round table, to be held this morning, will address the theme “Strengthening international cooperation regarding youth and enhancing dialogue, mutual understanding and active youth participation as indispensable elements towards social integration, full employment and the eradication of poverty”.  It is expected to explore common youth challenges beyond national borders, as well as successes, challenges and lessons learned from existing channels for dialogue and mutual understanding, according to a concept paper released prior to the meeting.


Other goals for the morning round table will be to identify key priorities for increased investments relating to youth and to highlight mechanisms for enhancing young people’s active participation.


A second concept paper explains that the second round table, to be held this afternoon, will address the theme “Challenges to youth development and opportunities for poverty eradication, employment and sustainable development”.  The meeting will enable a discussion on challenges and obstacles hindering youth development, and will underscore opportunities that promote and sustain secure and healthy lives, higher standards of living including an environment of quality, and access to education and employment.


Opening Remarks


JOSEPH DEISS, President of the General Assembly, observed there were more than 1 billion young people around the world today, with most living in developing countries.  Many faced serious challenges including poverty and natural disasters such as drought, and suffered from an absence of social services and a lack of development opportunities.


In light of a growing awareness of the central role of young people in today’s world, in December 2009 the Assembly decided to observe an International Year of Youth between August 2010 and August 2011, with the theme “mutual understanding and dialogue”.  Its central focus was peace and human rights, he said, as well as solidarity between cultures, religions, etc.  Young people must be thought of as key stakeholders in those areas going forward.


In recent months, popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa had shown “the extent to which young people are key players in our society, and to which they can be mobilized for change”.  Young people were often more creative, more open and better innovators than older people.  They were enthusiastic users of technology and were engaged in global discussions through social networking.  They were frequently more open to sustainable greener, more alternative lifestyles.


“We need to create the conditions to engage young people to fulfil their right to flourish,” he stressed, adding that today’s meeting marked a unique opportunity to meet that goal.  But in order for the work of the meeting — and of the International Year itself — to be effective, it was necessary to leave behind a legacy in the form of a strong outcome document that was “commensurate with the challenge”.


More than 500 young people from around the globe were present at the meeting today, he said, and more than 100 youth organizations had contributed to the negotiations leading up to it.  It was necessary, therefore, to strengthen partnerships with them and to build new channels for communication and information sharing — especially with youth stakeholders.


“I have every confidence that you will take up all opportunities for dialogue,” he told Member States.  He called on them to root their national youth programmes in the values of the International Year — namely, respect, openness and curiosity — in order to maximize their success.


United Nations Secretary-General BAN KI-MOON recalled his meetings with young people around the world, including in Brazil’s favela slums and in South Sudan, the world’s newest country.  “Too often, young people lack the education, freedom and opportunities they deserve,” he said, noting that most of the more than 1 billion young people around the world lived in developing countries and many faced significant challenges.  Youth unemployment levels were three to six times that of adults, he said, and informal, low-wage and insecure work was common — especially among young women, indigenous youth and those with disabilities.  Not all were able to escape drugs or violence, he added.


But the world had begun to change, he said.  “Increasingly, young people are saying to their elders and to their Governments:  ‘This is not the world we want.’”  That conviction, he added, was part of what had made the International Year of Youth — launched by the General Assembly in August 2010 and slated to close next month — a momentous time for young people.


In Tunisia, which had initiated the International Year, young people were at the centre of sweeping social changes that had spread across the Middle East and North Africa; there, a young street vendor had famously lit himself on fire to protest the privations and indignities of his life.  “The fires he lit led to the downfall of two autocrats”, in Tunisia and Egypt, said Mr. Ban, adding, “those fires have travelled far since then”.


Young people today were bringing their energy and courage to some of humanity’s most difficult issues, he continued.  They were standing up for the rights of those who suffered discrimination based on gender, race and sexual orientation, and they were working to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS and leading the charge to halt environmental degradation and adopt a green model of development.  Often, added the Secretary-General, young people understood more clearly that transcending religious and cultural differences was critical to reaching the world’s shared goals.


For all those reasons, he stressed, the international community must work to expand the horizons of opportunities for young people and to fulfil their legitimate demands for dignity and decent work.  “Failing to invest in our youth is a false economy,” he warned, adding that such an investment would “pay great dividends for all”.


For its part, the United Nations was making great efforts to involve youth in its negotiating and decision-making processes.  But had decision-makers gone far enough, he asked, directing the youth gathered in the General Assembly Hall to respond.  They called back to him that efforts had not gone far enough.  “We can and must do more for our young people,” he replied.


“You”, Mr. Ban told the Assembly, “may be, and I may be, the leaders of today.  But it will be they [youth] who will stand here, who will lead this world tomorrow.”


At next year’s Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, one of the most important meetings in history, the international community would aim to make sustainable development “the defining issue of our time”, he said.  It was critical that young people be actively engaged as world leaders sought to address the needs of the world’s citizens through that broad framework.  He urged Governments to review the ways in which their young people were being heard.  By including young people in national delegations to United Nations meetings, Governments not only helped youth to gain a better understanding of the complexities of negotiations, but also gained insights into the needs and views of youth themselves.


“We live in a changing and volatile world”, in which the famine in Somalia was only the latest test, he said.  But young people were willing and able to take ownership of their own future and of the world’s cherished ideals.  Only with youth “in the vanguard” could those ideals be protected and our common goals met.


ALEK WEK, international supermodel, humanitarian and author, said she left a small village in South Sudan at the age of 12, fleeing the civil war, and moved to London, where she did not see her mother for two years.  She remembered her childhood in Sudan as wonderful.  Her father said that “if you believe in something, you have to follow it all the way through”, so she very much appreciated the opportunity to speak today.  “The children are not tomorrow’s future, but they truly are now,” she said.  Young people made the world what it was.


She said that the people had voted in South Sudan and had really united.  That was a start.  She hoped to be able to educate children to come together there and help the national effort.  She told the story of an 18-year-old she had seen on her return trip to South Sudan who could not further her own education but had been teaching small children under a tree.  It was important, not only to educate children, but to truly take them on board.  In conclusion, she celebrated the independence of South Sudan, saying, “Now we can begin to rebuild.”


ROMULO DANTAS, Secretary for Youth Empowerment at the World Alliance of the Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCAs), invited participants to visit his old street in Sao Paolo, Brazil, in a very violent neighbourhood.  Friends of his looked at international efforts and dismissed them as “just talk” that would not get them jobs.  Other friends were not sure if they would live to the end of the day.  Others had contracted HIV because they could not speak of their sexual natures and get advice about their lives.  In all countries, one found more such marginalized young people.  A hostile world had been created for them.


It was time to call on the international community to tackle their problems and to coordinate the efforts of all those involved in youth issues.  A real and effective dialogue was crucial.  Some things had improved; the world was more prosperous for his generation.  The young people were here to propose moving towards mutual respect, with the participation of youth organizations.  Such organizations knew how to use resources most effectively and democratically to make young people into strong decision-makers for the future.  “Let us work together for the full implementation of the programme of action on youth.”  He called for international structures to be made more receptive to the participation of young people and to invest in youth programmes at the national and international level.


His story had ended differently from those of most of his friends, he said, because of the YMCA where he had learned how to be a leader, had acquired self-esteem and learned how to serve his community.  He had come to understand that he was not a subject, but a citizen.  All the youth organizations here today represented some 100 million young people, which was a powerful force for the future.


Panel I


The first panel, entitled “Strengthening international cooperation regarding youth and enhancing dialogue, mutual understanding and active youth participation as indispensable elements toward social integration, full employment and the eradication of poverty”, was co-chaired by Miguel Angel Carreon Sanchez, Director of the National Institute of Youth of Mexico, and Ajay Maken, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports of India.


Panellists included, from the United Nations, Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), and Geeta Rao Gupta, Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Representing civil society were Falko Mohrs, European Youth Forum (from Germany) and Leila Yasmin Mucarsel, from Argentina, of the CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation.


Introducing the panellists, Mr. SANCHEZ called on delegates to focus on encouraging dialogue, nationally and internationally, and identifying key priorities for investments and programmes at all levels.  The International Year showed the concern of the international community to protect the rights and garner the participation of youth around the world.  The more than 1.5 billion youth represented a great asset.  One out of three persons in Latin America and the Caribbean was under 25, which represented both great opportunities and great challenges.


It was crucial that cross-cutting programmes be instituted for their welfare and participation, he said.  It was also vital to offer youth all opportunities for education and proper training to enable them to reach their potential in employment and citizenship.  Vulnerable groups and women must be particularly targeted.  International cooperation must be increased for that purpose and to improve the quality of life for all in the future.


Mr. MAKEN, noting that youth constituted nearly 18 per cent of the global population, of which 87 per cent lived in developing countries, said that in India nearly 70 of the population was under 35, which meant the country had the largest youth population in the world.  National programmes for youth aspired to instil an abiding adherence to secular values, with a commitment to national integration, non-violence and social justice.  Those core values were essential for encouraging sustainable dialogue and mutual understanding among various segments of society.


Globalization and information technology had created new possibilities for youth, he said, but the opportunities were provided equally.  All youth must be able to acquire skills and benefit from crossing borders, if necessary.  Describing India’s training programmes, he called on participants to use today’s forum to share best practices and common challenges.


In the discussion that followed those statements, during which high-level representatives made comments and asked questions from the floor, broad agreement emerged that the “global village” created by the new technologies must be taken into account.  Indeed, that had re-shaped the aspirations of young people around the world, the Minister of Youth and Sports from Morocco said, describing national programmes and expressing hope that the young people in his region would be able to interact with all the youth of the region in a democratic “common market”.


Following those comments, panellists made brief statements.  Mr. OSOTIMEHIN said that development efforts needed to include the active engagement of young people to succeed.  He said that adolescent girls and young women, most at risk of missing out on opportunities, should receive the greatest focus.  In some African countries, 85 per cent of the population was young, but that majority did not receive the resources it needed.  Every young person should have access to reproductive health and services, as well as to educational opportunities and training.  They also must have access to adequate family planning tools.  In addition, he called on the international community to make young people the entrepreneurs of the green economy, as had happened in South Asia.


Ms. RAO GUPTA said that today’s High-level Meeting had been a long time in coming and that young people’s needs must be addressed as a high priority.  She urged attention to adolescents, who had unique needs and challenges that must be distinguished from the older groups.  Yet, that age group was largely invisible in policy decisions.  Adolescents must also be guaranteed their fundamental human rights.  In order to spur action, youth ministries must not shoulder the burden alone and youth’s needs must be mainstreamed throughout Government structures.  In addition, gaps in data must be filled, and education and training must be fitted to the needs of the labour market.  Moreover, young people must be engaged in the formulation of programmes and policies, and laws and policies must create an enabling environment for youth.


Mr. MOHRS noted that the world was facing many crises that could frustrate young people, but could also mobilize them if they were engaged.  However, to do so, they needed free speech, other freedoms and education.  Civil society youth groups were ready to help shape training to ensure that it fit the job market and to work against increased marginalization and discrimination.  If the High-level Meeting was able to integrate such groups into international efforts, the crises confronting the world would become much less discouraging to youth and instead mobilize them for a powerful response.


Ms. MUCARSEL said that young people had the greatest opportunity ever to contribute to their countries’ development, but the question was how to take advantage of that opportunity.  There were governmental structures for youth, but youth unemployment was increasing and gaps persisted in training and reproductive health services.  International cooperation must be used to increase resources for those purposes and to empower youth organizations.  The participation of young people at the international level also was crucial.  Specific mechanisms must be found to engage young people at all levels, and relevant social policies must be better integrated.  Guaranteeing the human rights of young people was critical.


In a second round of comments from the floor following those remarks, speakers representing countries and civil society organizations described national programmes and affirmed the importance of young people in fostering development and reform worldwide through international cooperation.  The special challenges of young women, youths with disabilities and HIV/AIDS and indigenous and unemployed youth were also highlighted in that context.


The 33-year-old Mayor of Geneva said it was difficult for States to better utilize the energies of youth, but on the local level, youth could be given more decision-making power and employment.  Cities across the world could unite for that purpose.  A youth representative from Egypt called the meeting a kind of international Tahrir Square and said that it was important to use new technology to help young people gain a voice in international decision-making.


Representatives of Switzerland, United States, Mozambique, Suriname, South Africa and Zimbabwe also participated in that discussion.


Panel II


The second panel, entitled “Challenges to youth development and opportunities for poverty eradication, employment and sustainable development”, was co-chaired by Clement Kofi Humado, Minister of Youth and Sports of Ghana, and Jean Asselborn, Deputy Prime Minister of Luxembourg.


Panellists included, from the United Nations, Irina Bokova, Director-General of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.  Representing civil society were Ahmed al-Hindawi, of the Jordan-based organization Leaders of Tomorrow, and Monique Coleman, a United Nations Youth Champion from the United States.


Following a brief introduction of the panellists, Mr. HUMADO issued an opening statement on behalf of African States, saying that, as a result of the global downturn, the situation of youth in Africa and elsewhere around the world had worsened.  Many young people now were “desperate and poor”, and concerted efforts were needed on the part of States to create new employment and empowerment opportunities for them.  In Ghana, a massive national youth employment programme was working to train some 400,000 young people, in areas such as industry, business and public service.  But funding remained a critical challenge.  He called on the panellists to address that particular issue in their presentations.


Mr. ASSELBORN said his Government was finalizing a national action plan for youth, with the top priority of supporting young people in the transition between school and work.  Since the beginning of the financial crisis, he said, unemployment for youth had increased by 7 per cent.  Gender equality was still lacking, and employment conditions were sometimes poor.  Luxembourg was also working beyond its borders, paying particular attention to educational and vocational training in its development projects in Cape Verde, Senegal, Viet Nam and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  In Cape Verde, for example, the country’s first and only hotel training school had been inaugurated just days ago with Luxembourg’s support.


Many high-level representatives, participating from the floor throughout the afternoon, stressed the need to re-think the current policies and systems that affected youth, and to launch robust new initiatives aimed at empowering youth.  Delegates considered the vast potential of the world’s 81 million unemployed young people, with many noting that those youths stood at a critical fork in the road.  One private-sector representative, an executive at the MasterCard Foundation, said that what many called a “moment of great peril” was really a “moment of great promise”; unemployed youth could either be seen as a danger and a problem to be addressed or as an unprecedented asset.


However, noted a representative of Guatemala, “opportunities do not come of their own accord”.  To that end, many speakers urged world leaders to implement policies to empower youth; with a genuine role in decision-making, they said, young people would be able to lift themselves out of the cycle of poverty.  Several concrete proposals and examples emerged.  The representative of India said his country had recently lowered the voting age to 18, and the age to stand in local elections to 21, while the representative of the United States said her country had recently elaborated its first-ever youth policy framework.  Still others called for the creation of a United Nations system agency dedicated to youth.  Meanwhile, one young delegate from Indonesia noted that, while some progress had been made in involving youth in decision-making, young leaders were often being “heard but not listened to”.  It was essential to go further, he said.


Several other key issues that emerged had revolved around the particular vulnerabilities of young people in conflict States and their unique needs in post-conflict situations.  “Youth pays the primary price when peace is absent,” said Armenia’s representative.  As a society emerging from conflict, she said, Armenia knew that the role of youth in stirring dialogue in societies torn by conflict could not be underestimated.  In that context, said the representative of one Kenyan non-governmental organization, improving the lives of girls and women in particular had a “ripple effect” that could break the cycle of poverty.


The four panellists also made brief statements throughout the discussion.  Ms. BOKOVA said that, while young people were “brimming with energy”, they were deeply affected by inequalities in opportunity, unemployment, social exclusion, violence, armed conflict and poverty.  Real political and social transformation was a long-term process, she said.  In that light, she highlighted three priority areas for investments relating to youth:  quality education; more effective articulation between youth public policies, youth institutions and new media, with the aim to channel the ideas and initiatives of youth into policy; and the staunch defence of fundamental values such as freedom of expression, gender equality, and the protection of human rights and human dignity.  “They know how to open doors and build new bridges”, she said, adding, “we need to nurture this creativity and commitment”.


Ms. COLEMAN said that it was critical to see young people as part of the community at large, and not as separate entities.  “Young people inherit our complexities, but the world is actually very simple,” she said.  New solutions were needed to reassess the global economy, in particular, to identify the ways that current systems inherently oppressed people.  By challenging those systems, young people could be the agents of change.  But all of society must be “open and willing” for such changes to take root.


During his statement, Mr. SHA said that “there has never been a better time to give our attention to youth”.  Young people accounted for a quarter of the global population, he said, and almost 9 out of 10 of the world’s youths lived in developing world.  Poverty, low-quality education and other challenges were interrelated and, therefore, required cross-cutting, holistic and multisectoral policies.  Youths should be viewed as assets and sources of new ideas, he stressed, urging participants to focus on concrete ideas and proposals to create an environment conducive to social change.  He particularly welcomed young people’s contributions to the upcoming Rio+20 Conference, he said.


The final panellist, Mr. AL-HINDAWI, said that one of the biggest challenges was the lack of participation of young people in decision-making.  He outlined three main messages.  First, addressing Governments, he stressed the need to think seriously about providing an enabling environment for youth participation, in particular, by building the capacity of youth organizations with direct State funding.  Addressing international organizations and the United Nations system, he said it was time to think seriously about establishing a specialized agency for youth issues.  Finally, he praised youth-led organizations for providing the critical space for democracy to exist at the grass-roots level.


Also taking part in the discussion was the Minister for Defence of Australia.


Representatives of Jordan, Japan, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Mauritania, Philippines, Mongolia, South Africa, Kenya, Argentina, Ghana, Belarus, Republic of Korea, Italy, Cuba, Haiti and Zambia also participated, as well as the Mayor of Geneva, acting as representative of Switzerland.


Also taking part were additional youth delegates from Belgium, Saudi Arabia and Suriname.


Representatives of civil society organizations from Fiji, India and Lebanon also spoke, as well as a private-sector representative from the Adobe Foundation.


Also addressing the Assembly were representatives of the International Labour Organization (ILO), the West Africa Regional Office of the United Nations Capital Development Fund and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).


The Permanent Observer Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations also participated.


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For information media • not an official record