Youth delegates at the 56th GA session

Youth delegates at the 56th GA session

Interviews with Youth Delegates to the 56th session of the General Assembly, October 2001

In order to increase the influence of young people in decision-making processes, the United Nations has long been encouraging their member countries to send youth delegates as part of their delegations to the General Assembly. The delegates are democratically selected delegates of the youth of their home countries. They take an active part in the discussions as well as giving a statement in the Third Committee of the General Assembly, which discusses social, humanitarian and cultural issues.

The youth delegates of 2001 included delegates from Australia, Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Norway and Sweden. Below are some of their views.

KirstenKirsten Hagon, 23, Australia
Kirsten is a solicitor, working mainly in projects, resources and environment law. She is affiliated with the United Nations Youth Association of Australia (UNYA).

How were you selected to be a youth delegate for Australia?
The Youth Representative position is open to all Australians aged 18 to 24, and is advertised nationally. The United Nations Youth Association (UNYA) is responsible for selecting the Youth Representative. Applicants were required to submit a curriculum vitae and answer a number of questions concerning advocacy experience, prior work with NGOs, and knowledge of the United Nations and International Affairs. Those short-listed were then interviewed by the State UNYA executive. These interviews were video taped and the video interviews of the top applicants were forwarded to the national executive. The UNYA national executive, along with delegates of another youth NGO, and the last two Youth delegates reviewed these interviews and chose the Youth Representative.

What are your duties as a youth delegate?
Acting as consultant on youth opinion within the delegation, working with the other youth delegates for greater youth participation in the United Nations System, delivering a statement to the Third Committee on the Social Item with specific reference to youth, negotiating the youth resolution on behalf of Australia (including developing possible amendments to the text and then working to have these approved by Australia so I may suggest them during informal consultations), assistance with drafting resolutions, attending informal consultations and plenary debates, and in this capacity taking notes, writing reports and where required, suggesting amendments to draft resolutions, representing Australia at functions and receptions

What can the UN learn from youth involvement?
The youth delegates who come to the UN bring with them enthusiasm and idealism and an enormous desire for swift and concrete action. Our presence provides an active reminder of a positive change that has already occurred and can also provide a positive and reinvigorating energy to many who may have become tired and cynical about the work they do. The presence of young people at the United Nations means that Youth issues are not forgotten and gives us the opportunity to demonstrate that young people have a lot to offer and are worth taking seriously.

What will you take home from your experience as a youth delegate?
In my time here O have felt an amazing sense of empowerment through realising that a young person such as myself can provide useful input and can have a positive effect in some way. I also feel I have a far greater understanding of the UN system as well as an amazing respect for those who work within that system and the skills required to reach global consensus. I also understand more of the problems facing the UN and the flaws of the system, yet am even more convinced of its importance.

Do you think you can achieve more on an international level than national level?
Work on both a national and international level is important. If looking specifically at the issue of youth participation, it may be possible to have a greater/more obvious effect on a national level, but by working on an international level we have the ability to provide other young people around the world with a voice.

What more do you think the UN can/ should do for youth participation?
Youth involvement in the UN system appears to be on a largely an ad hoc basis. This is a matter which should be included in the Secretary General’s report as a clear policy on youth participation throughout the UN system would be invaluable. Each agency or division of the secretariat could have a youth officer to co-ordinate consultations with young people and youth organisations. It would also be valuable for an additional intern placement to be created within the Youth Unit for someone who has a youth advocacy/youth NGO background. In order to mainstream youth participation in the UN system, it should be UN policy to have parallel youth fora and to encourage member states to include young people in their official delegations to regional and topic specific summits, conferences and other meetings. There also needs to be further work done to promote the concept of youth participation and more Member States need to include Youth delegates in their delegations to the General Assembly as well as regional and issue specific fora. It is also clear that people cannot participate fully without the necessary skills and knowledge. This includes a better understanding of the UN, hence Member States need to make a concerted effort to provide more education about the UN, its role, functions and processes.


Jeppe Nybo Jorgesen, 24, Denmark
Jeppe is a history and political science student in Aarhus, and also a lieutenant of the Danish firebrigade. He is a member of the Danish Youth Council.

How were you selected to be a youth delegate for your country?
The Danish Youth Council is an umbrella organisation with about 72 member organisations, each working on children and youth issues. First I had to write an application to my own youth organisation – The Danish Red Cross Youth – who then, accepting me, had to motivate my candidature. I then wrote another application to the Danish Youth Council, which was sent together with the motivated candidature. The International Committee of the DYC went through the 13 applications and made the decision, which was reaffirmed by the Board.

What are your duties as a Youth delgate?
The duties have to be divided between the duties of the Youth Council and the Danish delegation. The delegation consists of Members of Parliament and NGOs – there is one delegate representing disabled people, another delegate representing women’s issues and I representing youth. Within the delegation I am supposed to participate in the meetings they arrange and give a speech in the Third Committee of the General Assembly. The time schedule is very tense and does not allow me to do a lot of lobbying work for the Youth Council. This job is in conflict with the duties I am expected to fulfil for the Youth Council, which want me to change things concerning youth matters and come up with results. The speech in the Third Committee should be provocative, I am supposed to do lobbying work within the United Nations as well as within the delegation. 

What can the United Nations learn from youth involvement?
Jeppe: It is difficult to say. (Maybe the United Nations knows but does not really follow up on youth involvement. Only a few member states have sent youth delegates for the last years.) I think that the United Nations and the governments know why we have been chosen as delegates. Thus, our presence is not so much about telling them what to do but reminding them what should be done.

What will you take home from your experience as a youth delegate?
A lot of knowledge about the United Nations. I have attended a United Nations Meeting on social development earlier this year. Being inside the United Nations is completely different. I got to know a lot about the United Nations and its pace. I will use my experience at home to lobby for youth issues. On the other hand, because I got to know how things are dealt with in the United Nations, I got an understanding why things are often so slow, although we often don’t appreciate it.

Do you think you can achieve more on an international level than on a national level?
I think you can’t choose one or the other. They have to work together in synergy. I think the Danish Youth Council has pretty much influence in Denmark. The Danish Government listens a lot to NGOs in general. But we would discuss different issues in Denmark than here in New York, as we try to achieve different goals. One of the mayor things we are trying to achieve here is to remember that we are in a special situation to go here. We should not forget about our situation in our home countries, and it is important to solve the problems in our countries, however we have a responsibility to raise our voice for all young people in the world, of whom some do have no influence at all. In those countries, youth makes up a great part of society. I feel the responsibility to achieve something on their behalf while I am here.

What more do you think the United Nations can or should do for youth participation?
I think the question needs to be answered according to one’s interest. I think a lot can be done for young people in poor countries. It is important that every country should send Youth delegates. Personally, youth issues should play a more important part when dealing with development matters.  There is a lot of information on the impact of development programs on certain groups of society, but they have never made a report focusing on the impact on youth nor on the role youth plays in the process. The United Nations could improve their work in that field, i.e. do research on youth matters.


Anne Beathe Kristeansen, 27, Norway
Representative of LNU (the Norwegian Council of Youth Organizations) and president of the Norwegian Center Youth (a political youth party)


How were you selected to be a youth delegate?
The youth delegate is chosen from several applicants by the LNU (the Norwegian Youth Council). Although the Ministry of foreign affairs pays the costs, the youth of Norway gets to choose their representative, which I think is very essential!

What are your duties?
My main duty is to give a statement in the general debate of the Third Committee on behalf of my country. I get to write it myself, but the Ministry must of course approve it, because I represent the official views of Norway. That means, that a certain amount of negotiation between the Ministry and the youth delegate is required. I would have loved to go further and be more radical on certain issues than what is “appropriate” in the diplomatic terms. Also, I give input on resolutions that concern young people. I gave my opinions to the Ministry, and usually they would agree to forward those opinions in the discussions on the resolutions.

What can the United Nations learn from Youth involvement?
Mainly we can present a fresh new way of thinking and of working. Hopefully, we can transmit a sense of “urgency.” I mean, we are idealistic and we want action. Perhaps we can remind the diplomats of how important it is that their work progresses as fast as possible into actions that benefit the people out there.

What will you take home from your experience as a youth delegate?
I’ve learned that it is possible to work with the system, even from back home in Norway. It is important that the members of the organization that I lead feel they can actually influence global politics! Now I have learned a lot about how the system works and where the channels are. Also, I realize that it is really not all that difficult to influence the national policies by lobbying national politicians and diplomats.

Do you think you can achieve more on an international level than national level?
You achieve different things on the national and the international level. And they work together! But I believe there is a whole lot that youth can do by working nationally to change and influence an official national view on whatever subject. When you have managed to get a good national position on some important subject, it is important to raise the voice in international fora like the UN.

What more do you think the United Nations should do for youth participation?
All countries should have youth delegates in their delegations. Maybe the UN can help countries with scarce resources to facilitate that. Besides, if the UN works closely with youth organizations and youth gatherings on the global and the regional level, they can increase the legitimacy of the voice of the youth. They can constitute a channel of communication to the top-diplomatic level, and help us to empower ourselves. And generally – I think it is really important the UN-system dares to open up much more for NGOs – including youth organizations. There must be more openness, easier access and easier texts. As a youth delegate I have truly felt that I can make a contribution, small but still important!


LydiaLydia El Afi, 23, Netherlands
Lydia is a member of the International Advisory Committee of the Dutch National Youth Council ‘ Association 31’ and chosen to represent youth in the delegation of the Netherlands.

How where you selected to be a youth delegate?
I was selected by Association 31which is an umbrella organisation of approximately 30 youth organisations in the Netherlands. I had to undergo a selection process: I was asked to write a statement on an issue important to me and to write a concise paper on three subjects related to the UN and youth.  Finally, I was invited to defend my statement and express my expectations for the duties of Youth Delegate.

What are your duties?
As the Netherlands youth delegate I am responsible for representing youth in the Netherlands, but also youth elsewhere. The main objectives of the youth delegate to the General Assembly of the United Nations is to promote youth participation within the UN system and to raise awareness among member states on the value of having youth included in the delegation. Raising awareness not only among member states but also among young people in the Netherlands. After completing my duties in the General Assembly, I will be engaged in a school tour to disseminate information about the United Nations and youth participation within the UN system and in general.

What can the United Nations learn from Youth involvement?
Young people bring a new and refreshing perspective into the UN system. Hopefully, the UN takes the recommendations proposed by the youth delegates into account and encourages youth participation in all delegations.

What will you take home from your experiences as a youth delegate?
I have many stories to tell about how wonderful the Dutch mission has been, how wonderful the people I have met are, and how interesting the UN experience has been.

Do you think you can achieve more on an international level versus a national level?
There are several methods to achieve goals and the nature of the objective determines whether an issue should be dealt with either nationally or globally. The aim of the youth representative is to promote youth participation within the UN. This goal seems to lend itself to the international level. Young people in general have already achieved a lot on the national level and the next step is to be involved in decision-making processes on international level.

What more do you think the United Nations should do for youth participation?
The best way to encourage youth participation by member states is for each delegation to include a youth delegate to the General Assembly, and other important sessions of the United Nations. When the number of youth delegates increases, the impact of the actions undertaken by young people will be stronger. Young people have already proved themselves to be equal partners in many other decision-making processes; we need the chance to participate in the UN system to impact matters that concern the present and the future.


Mark Klamberg, 26, Sweden
Mark works for an NGO. Studied international law and political science in Lund, Sweden. Vice president of Young Liberals in Sweden.

How were you selected to be a youth delegate to the General Assembly?
I was elected by the National Council for Swedish Youth Organisations.

What are your duties as a youth delegate?
I promote youth participation in the United Nations system. After my visit to the General Assembly, I will visit Swedish schools to tell them about my experiences

What can the United Nations learn from youth involvement?
Hopefully new perspectives of what is important for young people.

What will you take home from your experience as a youth delegate?
New friends, impressions from the United Nations and New York.

Do you think you can achieve more on an international level than national level?
As a youth delegate your mandate to promote certain issues is very limited. The international system as such is slower then the national system. The actors have more different value system and there is no common arena (newspaper, TV and other media) for debate.

What more do you think the United Nations can or should do for youth participation?
The member countries should bring young persons in their delegations.