High-level Meeting Will Provide Historic Opportunity to Empower Persons with Disabilities, Commission for Social Development Told

11 February 2013

High-level Meeting Will Provide Historic Opportunity to Empower Persons with Disabilities, Commission for Social Development Told

11 February 2013
Economic and Social Council
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Commission for Social Development

Fifty-first Session

8th & 9th Meetings (AM & PM)

High-level Meeting Will Provide Historic Opportunity to Empower Persons

with Disabilities, Commission for Social Development Told


Following Special Rapporteur’s Briefing, Afternoon Panel Discusses Youth

The High-level General Assembly Meeting on Disability and Development — to be held in September — would provide an historic opportunity to chart the way towards a truly inclusive development agenda while empowering the world’s 1 billion disabled persons as both agents and beneficiaries of change, the Commission for Social Development heard today as it moved into week two of its fifty-first session.

Briefing the Commission, Shuaib Chalklen, Special Rapporteur on Disability, said that member States’ “rapid uptake” of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — catalyst of a 2006 shift towards viewing disabled persons as full, equal members of society — was an encouraging sign that Governments were paying attention to the issue.  The Convention had 155 signatories and 127 ratifications, while its Optional Protocol had 90 signatories and 76 ratifications and accessions.  Further, the outcome document of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development referred to disability in five thematic areas.

The next phase, he continued, was to ensure that disability was fully included in all internationally agreed development frameworks beyond 2015, and to ensure that commitments were carried out on the ground.  The High-level Meeting should have a broad and inclusive preparatory process, and prioritize the situation of persons with disabilities in Africa, where the challenge of advancing their interests were greatest.  He urged world leaders to address the gaps in translating commitment to disability rights into sound economic and social development policies.

Also today, the Commission launched its general discussion to review United Nations plans and programmes pertaining to various social groups — the elderly, the poor and young people among them — under the session’s theme, “Promoting empowerment of people in achieving poverty eradication, social integration and full employment and decent work for all”.  Delegation members, youth representatives and civil society advocates alike outlined their views on creating inclusive, productive societies — especially after the 2015 deadline for attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

Ireland’s representative, speaking for the European Union, said equality policies could support growth, and that growth was more sustainable where it was broad-based and inclusive.  In the case of each social group under discussion, policymaking must only happen with the active involvement of the groups themselves.

Mexico’s representative said that was especially true in preparatory work for the High-level Meeting on Disability.  More effort was needed in the informal work sector and on elaborating an international instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of older persons.

“Family plays a pivotal role for the welfare of special groups,” the representative of Bangladesh added, urging the strengthening of family values.  She said her country’s long cultural and religious tradition of looking after elders was eroding, and the vision of inclusiveness could only materialize when various societal groups were empowered.

In the afternoon, the Commission held a panel discussion on youth, which featured presentations by Susanne Fries-Gaier, Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations; Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Democratic Governance Director at the Bureau for Development Policy of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP); Jayathma Wickramanayake, 2012/2013 Sri Lankan Youth Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and the Commission for Sustainable Development; and Samuel Diaz Fernandez Littauer, Youth Representative of the Young Men’s Christian Association and the International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organizations.  Serving as Moderator was Diao Anna Sarr, Second Counsellor at the Permanent Mission of Senegal.

To frame their observations, panellists used as a touchstone the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth:  United Nations system coordination and collaboration related to youth.  They offered recommendations for addressing obstacles to young people’s participation in decision-making, improving United Nations programmes, and assessing progress in those fields.

Ms. Wickramanayake, emphasizing that young people did not simply “feed off the system”, said:  “We make national investments in products and outcomes.  We help around the world with our energy, our spirit and our will to make change.”  Young people understood the urgency of finding solutions to the crises created by previous generations, yet little had been done to enlist them in political parties and to afford them more opportunities to participate in decisions affecting their own lives.

Picking up that thread, Mr. Diaz said the United Nations itself continued to function on a system of unpaid internships.  “We refuse to inhabit a space now lost in the pages of lifeless documents,” he stressed, urging the Organization to pledge that it would step back into a “legacy of justice”.

Also speaking in the general debate today were representatives and senior officials from the Russian Federation, Costa Rica, Cuba, Italy, Dominican Republic, Zimbabwe, Germany, Sweden, China, Ecuador, Thailand, Argentina, Malta and Belarus.

The Permanent Observer of the Holy See also delivered a statement.

Youth delegates from Germany and Romania also spoke, as did representatives of the following non-governmental organizations:  the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, International Federation for Family Development and Alzheimer’s Disease International.

The Commission for Social Development will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 12 February, to continue its general discussion.


The Commission for Social Development met this morning to hear a briefing by the Special Rapporteur on Disability and to continue its general discussion.  (For more information, see Press Releases SOC/4799/Rev.1 of 4 February and SOC/4800 of 6 February.)

Briefing by Special Rapporteur

SHUAIB CHALKLEN, Special Rapporteur on Disability, made his fourth statement to the Commission, saying that he continued to raise awareness of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other instruments; to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in development programmes at the national, regional and international levels; to promote cooperation that was accessible to persons with disabilities; and to collaborate with all relevant stakeholders.  He added that he had visited Japan, Republic of Korea, Ethiopia and Qatar during the reporting period.

By way of background, he noted that the Convention now had 155 signatories and 127 ratifications while its Optional Protocol had 90 signatories and 76 ratifications and accessions.  That “rapid uptake” was an encouraging sign of the global attention that States paid to persons with disabilities, he said, pointing out that the outcome document from the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development included references to disability in five thematic areas.

The Fifth Conference of States Parties to the Convention had featured three round-table discussions on technology and accessibility, children with disabilities, and women with disabilities, he reported.  Furthermore, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) had launched its Global Partnership on Children with Disabilities on 14-15 September 2012, he said.  Regional initiatives included policy frameworks to strengthen resource allocation and institutional arrangements to create enabling conditions for disabled persons.

He said the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development in September 2013 would provide an historic opportunity to determine the way forward in the quest for inclusive development.  As the United Nations focal point on disability affairs, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs had promoted the mainstreaming of disability into international development by leading inter-departmental efforts across the Organization.  Among other things, it had organized an experts meeting on information and communications technology accessibility, as well as disaster reduction, preparedness and management.

In May 2012, he recalled, the United Nations Partnership to Promote the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — a joint effort by United Nations agencies, Governments, groups representing persons with disabilities and civil society around the world — had sent its first call for proposals and identified country programmes to be funded under the first round.  Such new initiatives showed the strong commitment to mainstreaming disability into development programmes, he said, urging involvement by all United Nations entities in developing and implementing regional strategies, and the establishment of institutional machineries with designated disability focal points.

Turning to other areas, he said the combined impacts of gender and disability had not gained enough attention, and violence against women with disabilities remained largely unaddressed.  States must take measures and actions to ensure greater awareness of that issue, and to develop the capacity required by justice systems.  As for Africa, he said that the African Union, alongside Finland and the United States, had pledged to support the mainstreaming of disability into the continent’s development under the Transatlantic Cooperation initiative that should lead to significant financial support.  Also, the African Disability Forum was a multi-stakeholder forum to facilitate new capacity-building programmes for disability stakeholders in Africa.

In closing, he recommended encouraging States to engage in the 2013 High-level Meeting on Disability, as well as its preparatory process, which would provide a unique opportunity for world leaders to recommit to the disability issue.  Participants should address gaps in translating commitment to disability rights into economic and social development policy, he said.  In designing, implementing and evaluating disaster reduction and preparedness frameworks, States and the United Nations should ensure that they took into full account the disability perspectives of more than 1 billion disabled persons.

They should also ensure that relevant data informed the formulation and implementation of policy, he continued, emphasizing that they should also support for such efforts as the United Nations Voluntary Fund on Disability.  He said that, going forward, the African Disability Forum would continue to play a role in his activities for the coming year, and a related workshop, on building the capacity of stakeholders, would be held.  He said that he planned to participate in the Tokyo International Conference on African Development in June, as well as to visit Latin American and Eastern European Member States.

During the ensuing interactive session, a number of delegations described national efforts to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities, and posed questions about accessibility and participation, within the United Nations system itself, in particular.

In that vein, the representative of Mexico stressed the need to involve more organizations representing persons with disabilities in decision-making, particularly in developing regions, and asked about progress made by United Nations agencies in promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in their work.

Similarly, the representative of the European Union delegation asked about synergies between the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and other international instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, while the representative of the Republic of Korea stressed that policy frameworks for the inclusion of persons with disabilities should be in place at all levels of Government.

Responding, the Special Rapporteur said that organizations representing persons with disabilities were as involved in United Nations processes as possible, and he was very pleased with the work of some of the agencies, in particular UNICEF, which had featured the situation of children with disabilities in its latest “State of the World’s Children” report.  Efforts were under way to make the offices of the United Nations and its agencies around the world more accessible to persons with disabilities.  “However, more can always be done at the regional and national levels,” he said, adding that he wished to see greater involvement by the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The Commission then resumed its general discussion.


JIM KELLY (Ireland), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the upcoming High-level Meeting of the General Assembly should provide further guidance on mainstreaming disability into development, including the emerging development agenda beyond 2015.  Women and children must be at the core of the Meeting’s efforts, as they were often at greater risk of violence, he said, emphasizing the need for measures to change the situation.  He suggested taking advantage of the International Labour Organization’s (ILO) Global Business and Disability Network, an excellent example of a public-private partnership and a concrete sign of employers’ commitment to the enjoyment of human rights by persons with disabilities.

On development objectives, he said that the European Union’s Equality Summit on “Promoting equality for growth”, held in Cyprus last November, had shown that equality policies could support growth, and that growth was more sustainable where it was broad-based, inclusive and offered opportunities to all.  It was in that vein that the specific attention that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities devoted to the rights of children with disabilities should be recalled.  Describing European Union policies on the promotion of youth well-being and employment, ageing and families, he said:  “We emphasize that in the case of each of the social groups under discussion […] policymaking must only happen with the active participation and involvement of the groups themselves.”

NIKOLAY RAKOVSKIY ( Russian Federation) said his Government had worked to bring national legislation into line with its international obligations, having ratified the Convention, among other efforts.  It was preparing a draft law to change social protections and, this year, was pilot-testing a project in three regions that would form the basis for the creation of national programmes for persons with disabilities.  Budgetary and extra-budgetary resources had made such efforts possible, he said, adding that his country was also indexing retirement and social benefits support of vulnerable groups, in addition to supporting social services.

He went on to say that the Government was providing home assistance through social medical services, and that more than 4,000 facilities for elderly and disabled persons were being created.  Furthermore, a way had been devised to forecast social discrepancies.  Going forward, the focus would be on regional programmes, enhancing the lives of the elderly and increasing their activities in society.  One State programme ensured accessibility and would pay greater attention to vulnerable groups, he said, adding that the State had approved a programme for improving employment through 2020.  Institutions for vulnerable groups were constantly developing, with an expanding scope through State structures.

CAROL V. ARCE ECHEVERRÍA ( Costa Rica) detailed her country’s progress, saying that holistic care for the elderly was a priority.  On health, Costa Rica had one of the region’s most modern geriatric hospitals, as well as universal social security coverage.  Its elder-care network aimed to extend social protections and build an inclusive society, she said, adding that the Government’s aim was to prevent the institutionalization of older persons.  A State council was responsible for designing and implementing the network, which had taken a hybrid approach to protecting the rights of older persons.

She went on to say that other efforts had provided responses geared towards the various needs of older persons.  Costa Rica had 41 local care networks, 20 of which were in communities requiring priority action.  There was also an urgent need to focus the commitment of both State and society on older persons, she stressed, citing the need for coordination with the private sector.  The President had shown resolve to ensure lasting change in the situation of older persons, notably through the Government’s commitment to the San Jose Charter, adopted at the third Regional Conference on Ageing.

VILMA THOMAS RAMIREZ ( Cuba) reasserted the importance of including disabilities on the post-2015 development agenda, and of helping the issue gain visibility, emphasizing the critical importance of seizing the “historic opportunity” presented by the upcoming High-level Meeting on Disability to draw attention to it.  Despite the major obstacle of the United States blockade, Cuba had made much progress in promoting the rights of persons with disabilities, particularly in medical, legal and related areas.  One important achievement had been the change from seeing persons with disabilities as objects to seeing them as subjects with rights.  In that regard, the 2012 Paralympic Games — in which 22 Cuban athletes had produced strong results — had raised the is profile of disability, she added.

She went on to say that her delegation wished to see a “decisive and systematic” inclusion of young people in decision-making, including in the economic sphere, as well as a redistribution of wealth.  Nationally, Cuba was committed to defending the rights of young people while promoting and creating better opportunities for them.  Regarding the Madrid International Plan on ageing, Cuba agreed that the international community must urgently ensure that human rights were respected in old age, and that older persons could benefit from development.  Participation was a determining factor in achieving that goal, she stressed, urging multidisciplinary and inter-sectoral efforts in that area.  National endeavours must also be aimed at strengthening the role of the family, the primary unit of society, and at ensuring that families were part of the social fabric.

FILIPPO CINTI ( Italy), associating himself with the European Union, said “there can be no sustainable development without the empowerment of persons with disabilities”.  Promoting their full and active participation in economic, social and cultural development was not only a moral imperative, but also a “smart choice”, he said.  With its ratification of the Convention, Italy had established a National Observatory on the status of persons with disabilities comprising members of national and regional public administrations, as well as representatives of national federations of persons with disabilities.

The Observatory had prepared its first report on the Convention’s implementation, which had been transmitted to the United Nations in November 2012, he continued, adding that there had been broad participation in the report’s drafting, including, first and foremost, that of associations of persons with disabilities.  Italy was also drafting its biennial action plan for the promotion of the rights and integration of persons with disabilities, he continued, adding that the same approach characterized the work of the Italian Development Cooperation.  It had adopted guidelines in 2010 to mainstream disability into its policies and activities, and a working group was promoting their implementation while drawing up an action plan to speed up the process, in cooperation with non-governmental organizations, foundations and research centres.

MAGINO CORPORÁN, Director, National Council for Disability of the Dominican Republic, associating himself with the Group of 77 and China, outlined the steps his country was taking to ensure the rights of youth, people with disabilities and the elderly.  The social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities was a high priority, with the President driving decisions on disability issues, in coordination with managers.  Further, the Office of the First Lady had created the Comprehensive Care Centre for Disability, which aimed to provide space for the care and rehabilitation of children in special conditions.

Turning to youth, he said the Youth and Employment Programme, Mobilization Strategy and Community Cohesion programme worked to integrate youth into dynamic participation spaces.  The 2010-2030 national development strategy contained goals for vulnerable groups, including older persons.  Programmes had been created to protect the elderly from abuse and provide legal assistance for retired people, including the television show Grandparents 911:  Emergency of Love, he said.  The objective was to achieve a stronger country, able to face the crisis of social development.

SAMIA ANJUM ( Bangladesh) said that women, the elderly, youth and disabled persons had always received special attention in her country.  Bangladesh had a long cultural and religious tradition of respecting elders, and the extended family structure provided an “umbrella” under which family members lived in the same household.  But, due to migration and other factors, that system was being eroded, leaving many elderly people vulnerable.  Against that backdrop, Bangladesh had created programmes, including an old age allowance, to help elderly people raise their status in the family and ensure their security, she said.

The retirement age for Government officials had been extended, while special priority had been given to the protection and care of persons with disabilities, she continued.  Noting that Bangladesh had been among the first countries to ratify the Convention, she said national legislation in place since 2001 was now being harmonized with it.  Mainstreaming youth into the overall development process was another priority and the Government had introduced a national service programme.  “Family plays a pivotal role for the welfare of special groups,” she said, urging the strengthening of family values.  She also called for international support to help create sustainable national programmes.

S.G. MHISHI, Director for Social Services, Ministry of Social Services, Labour and Social Welfare of Zimbabwe, associated himself with the Group of 77, the African Group and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).  He said his country had been promoting equal opportunities for persons with disabilities through its Disabled Persons Act of 1992.  Programmes under that Act included monthly cash transfers to persons with disabilities and their households, grants to institutions caring for such persons, and a revolving loan facility for the economic empowerment of persons with disabilities wishing to pursue viable income-generating projects.  In accordance with the Standard Rules on Equalization of Opportunities, the Ministry of Public Service had issued regulations with specific directives on, among other things, the employment of persons with disabilities and the provision of paid assistants for professionals with visual and hearing disabilities.

With regard to ageing, Zimbabwe had enacted its “long-overdue” Older Persons Act, in October 2012, he said.  That milestone achievement ensured that the country had the necessary legislative framework to address issues affecting older persons, he said, adding that it had been developed in consultation with older persons themselves through their membership in the Older Persons Board.  The Act also provided an array of means-tested services designed to allow access by older persons to income security, health assistance and other developmental services.  Zimbabwe agreed with the Secretary-General’s report that Africa generally lacked disaggregated data on the situation of older persons, he said, expressing recognition of the urgent need to institute compressive data collection, analysis and research on ageing, which would create the basis for policy and programme formulation.

ROBERT ROHDE ( Germany) associated himself with the European Union, before turning the floor over to two members of the German youth delegation.

The first speaker said participation was the way to build bridges between old and young, disabled or not, families and singles.  “It is more important that we look at what we have in common than what divides us,” he stressed.  “Let us support each other and use our synergies.”  Every generation’s duty should be to preserve the world in such a way as to ensure that future generations could live at least as well as the present ones, he said.  That meant the ability to live without being abused as a child soldier, without being a victim of genital mutilation, and having the possibility to choose one’s own destiny and the right freely to express one’s own opinion.  The German youth delegation expected “intense and transparent” communications and cooperation between the Secretary-General’s first-ever Special Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhindawi, and youth representatives and organizations, as well as young people in all Members States.

The second speaker called for comprehensive implementation of the Rio+20 outcome, with special attention to sustainable consumption, renewable energy and education on sustainable development.  “There is much work ahead of us and we should not forget that we have yet to reach the Millennium Development Goals,” she added.

ANNA GRALBERG, Deputy Director, Ministry of Health and Social Affairs of Sweden, reaffirmed her Government’s commitment to working with the United Nations World Programme of Action for Youth and its Supplement.  “Giving all young persons, regardless of gender, equal opportunities in education, employment and society is key, not only for their individual development, but also for a sustainable development of our societies,” she said, stressing the need to develop youth policy strategies.  Sweden attached great importance to the work carried out under the 2002 Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, she said, while emphasizing her country’s long history and deep commitment to advancing the rights of persons with disabilities.  The United Nations Partnership on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was a clear and promising example of concrete action by and within the United Nations system, she said, adding that Sweden had decided in 2012 to contribute $750,000 to the Partnership, and urging Member States, the private sector and other stakeholders also to join it.

WANG HAO ( China) highlighted the need to pay greater attention to the rights and interests of special groups, such as persons with disabilities, the elderly and youth, as social development faced grave challenges, the weak global economic recovery among them.  The Government of China had provided social security to all 85 million of its citizens with disabilities, and an additional 3,019 legal aid organizations had been created for them over the past five years, he said, noting that the agencies had serviced about 579,000 visits paid to those people.

Turning to the issue of the elderly, he recalled that in 2012, the national pension system had not only provided coverage to the employees of all enterprises, but had also steadily raised pensions for retirees over five consecutive years.  On youth, he noted that young people were very active in deliberations at various levels of people’s congresses and political consultative conferences.  Nearly 140,000 youth entrepreneurship projects had received microcredit last year, worth 12.26 billion yuan in total.  Also in 2012, China had started construction of 7 million subsidized housing units for low- and middle-income families as part of efforts to resolve housing difficulties.

DANIEL FIERRO ( Ecuador) said his Government’s efforts on youth were geared towards capacity-building and inclusion in the labour market.  Projects like “My First Job” offered training to enable university students to develop their skills and experience.  The promotion of technical education aimed to make the most of young people’s opportunities in the labour market.  Turning to elderly people, he said 69 per cent of them had received medical care over the last four months, an increase over recent years, and the Government was working to facilitate universal care.  In other efforts, Ecuador was consolidating efforts to promote intergenerational solidarity with young people.  It had created protection mechanisms to ensure that institutions avoided discriminatory actions.  The country had enjoyed some successes, including by enabling visits to more than 1 million households with disabled persons; providing technical aid; and ensuring that medical care was provided in more than 825,000 cases.  Labour legislation stipulated that an employer must ensure that 4 per cent of workers were persons with disabilities, he said, pointing out that 229,000 had been included in 2012.

CHONVIPAT CHANGTRAKUL ( Thailand) discussed national efforts to address the challenges facing vulnerable groups, reaffirming her Government’s commitment to creating a barrier-free society.  With that in mind, its efforts focused on empowering persons with disabilities to participate in all spheres of life.  Regionally, initiatives of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) focused on a multi-stakeholder dialogue and capacity-building programmes.  At the global level, Thailand advocated a disability-inclusive development agenda.  She went on to note that life expectancy in her country was improving, creating a higher proportion of elderly women.  To address the needs of the elderly, the Government was implementing the National Law on Ageing, which had five priority areas:  establishing a national savings fund; creating a multi-sectoral, long-term care system for urban and rural areas; addressing older people’s contributions to society; decentralizing from work to enhance access to services; and improving accessibility to all public facilities.

BLANCA LILIA GARCIA ( Mexico) said her country had reformed its federal laws to ensure that programmes for the poor and vulnerable became more cohesive.  As such, decentralized bodies working for the rights of persons with disabilities, older persons, youth and other specific groups fell under the Secretariat for Social Development.  The country supported an inclusive and sustainable development model that included those groups in its work, she said.  Calling for greater progress on an international instrument on the protection and promotion of the rights of older persons, she agreed with the Secretary-General’s recommendation to create a calendar of national measures, based on the shortcomings identified in implementing the Madrid international Plan of Action on Ageing.  Despite progress since the Convention’s entry into force, much remained to be done, she said, stressing that it was of particularly fundamental importance to ensure the full and effective participation of persons with disabilities in the preparatory work for the High-level Meeting on Disability, slated for September 2013, and to ensure that its outcome informed the post-2015 development agenda.

MARÍA CRISTINA PERCEVAL ( Argentina) said her country was growing and strengthening the promotion and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities, while participating in regional, as well as international efforts.  Its social inclusion policies were focused on ensuring respect for the rights of persons with disabilities, migrants and other vulnerable groups.  Argentina had incorporated the Convention into national legislation, created the Observatory on Disability, and was undergoing a process of “collective transformation” in that context.  Indeed, Argentina recognized disability as a human rights issue, she said, describing some specific national policies.  They included promoting accessibility in television, a programme of technology implementation for the health of persons with disabilities, and education programmes for students with disabilities.  There was a law on the democratization of political representation and electoral equality, a significant stride towards increasing the accessibility of the political process for persons with disabilities, she said.

CHRISTOPHER GRIMA ( Malta), associating himself with the European Union, said his country had drawn up an ageing strategy for 2013-2020, which accompanied other legislative changes and was based on the principle of intergenerational solidarity.  It addressed “active ageing” through an inter-ministerial approach that included actions to ensure the sustainability of the pension system.  Malta would continue its health-promotion initiatives, including the “Healthy Ageing” campaign for training professionals working with the elderly.  The Government had designated a ministerial post to address the interests of older persons, and in 2012, it had created the Commission for the Elderly to promote awareness of the importance of upholding the rights of elderly people.  To tackle the shortage of trained personnel in the field of ageing, the International Institute on Ageing had organized four programmes, in which 21 people — from Cameroon, Egypt, India, Morocco, Saint Lucia, Tunisia and Turkey — had participated, he said.

YURY ABRAZEVICH, Director for Multilateral Diplomacy of Belarus, said his Government paid special attention to young people’s participation in social and economic life.  The question of youth and policy was a “question of the future” for all States.  The efforts of Belarus focused on combating youth unemployment, maintaining healthy lifestyles, promoting social protections, and creating opportunities for youth cooperation.   Belarus had more than 200 youth organizations, he pointed out.

A youth representative then took the floor, saying that young people in his country rallied around the ideas of volunteerism and independence.  Youth organizations were training young people to be responsible, active members of society, and they, in turn, were taking part in national economic development through cooperation with youth groups and international organizations.  They were participating in youth exchanges, camps and efforts to promote the human rights of journalists, he said, adding that they were also taking part in projects designed to improve opportunities, he said.  For example, Belarus had created youth parliaments, with support from UNICEF, to involve young people in social life and train future political leaders.  Promoting such participation in global efforts should be given “pride of place” at the United Nations, he said.

A youth delegate from Romania said that while young people were among the most vulnerable groups today, youth empowerment was under way.  He highlighted the example of two Romanian girls who had started a business with the aim of hiring people with disabilities to create bags, wallets and pens from recycled materials.  The endeavour also had the purpose of promoting social integration, entrepreneurship and environmental protection.  Empowerment must be complemented by improved education and better equipping young people with the skills they would need for their future, he said.  Non-formal education was also of key importance, and non-governmental organizations were providing strong and creative leadership in that area.

A second youth delegate, focusing on employment, pointed out that the last “World Report of the United Nations on Youth” (2011) noted that young people would be the last to be hired and the first to be fired in the current context.  Young people in training often did not receive a minimum wage, she said, encouraging Member States to offer them “real chances” and an opportunity to choose training over an underpaid job.  Young people were the most appropriate actors to create viable solutions for themselves, she stressed, urging Member States to develop a favourable environment for them while leaving them room to make themselves heard.  She further encouraged Member States to include young people in their delegations to the United Nations, emphasizing that solutions to problems could be found if youth were considered not as part of the problem, but as part of the solution.

FRANCIS ASSISI CHULLIKATT, Permanent Observer of the Holy See, said that the number of unemployed, and that fact that 456 million people with jobs still lived on less than $1.25 a day, were stark reminders of the persistence of extreme poverty.  Work educated individuals to take responsibility for their actions and engaged people in a spirit of creativity and service to society.  As a fundamental right, work related to the right of property, and, most importantly, was indissoluble from the inherent right of founding and supporting a family.  Welcoming the recognition in the Secretary-General’s report of the family as the backbone of intergenerational solidarity and social cohesion, he said it bore the primary responsibility for the development, education and socialization of children.

He went on to express the Holy See’s firm commitment to promoting both respect for parents’ rights and responsibilities, and the integral personal development of youth.  He also vigorously reaffirmed the equal dignity of older persons, while rejecting the notion of valuing them by their economic contributions to society.  In fact, their inherent dignity, human and professional experience, knowledge and wisdom made of intergenerational solidarity a two-way street for younger generations in search of guidance and stability, he emphasized.  In the end, it was the family that cared for the elderly and furnished the material, personal, educational, societal and spiritual support to young people in their transition to adulthood.

ALAIN FRANCO, International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics, said that, among other recent activities, the Association had developed a world membership database and an intensive course on ageing, in addition to training young geriatricians.  The Association also promoted the elaboration of a United Nations convention on the rights of older persons and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur.  In addition, it advocated for the greater integration of older persons into the labour market through policies embracing the potential of an ageing workforce.  Integration would empower individuals, lead to a more active older population and benefit both employees and employers, he said, adding that it must overcome such barriers as inflexible retirement schemes.

ELOÏSE LEBOUTTE, International Federation for Family Development, cited the agreed working definition of empowerment — “the expansion of the capacity, volition and vision necessary for people to become effective agents of human well-being” — saying that the discussion was expected to focus on participation in decision-making processes by all people as an integral element of development and as an effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Addressing empowerment on an individual basis was more difficult than addressing family units, and the Federation, therefore, advocated for the empowerment of families through social recognition, economic assistance, legal empowerment and political empowerment.

RAYMOND JESSURUN, Alzheimer’s Disease International, said there were 78 national Alzheimer’s organizations helping people suffering from dementia by empowering them with skills and support, advocating for social protections and helping them to realize their rights.  Every four seconds, a new case of dementia was diagnosed around the world.  A report on dementia by the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International, launched in April 2012, recommended that all States make the ailment a public health priority, he said, noting that global and regional action plans on non-communicable diseases, and on mental health for the 2013-2020 period, had not yet done so.  Older persons were most affected by dementia and other non-communicable diseases, he said, noting that some 36 million were living with dementia worldwide, roughly the same number as those living with HIV/AIDS.  Ageing would double that number by 2030 if left unattended, he warned.  Recalling that the Madrid International Action Plan on Ageing aimed to increase earlier assessment of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders, he urged States to prioritize Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Panel Discussion on Youth

The Commission then held a panel discussion on “The Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth:  United Nations system coordination and collaboration related to youth”.

Moderated by Diao Anna Sarr (Senegal), the discussion featured presentations by:  Susanne Fries-Gaier, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, New York; Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Democratic Governance Director, Bureau for Development Policy, UNDP; Jayathma Wickramanayake, 2012/2013 Sri Lankan Youth Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly and Commission for Sustainable Development; and Samuel Diaz Fernandez Littauer, Youth Representative, Young Men’s Christian Association and International Coordination Meeting of Youth Organizations.

Moderator SARR recalled that the General Assembly had requested the Secretary-General to submit a report on national experiences, lessons learned and ways to address problems affecting youth, adding that contributions by youth organizations, States and United Nations entities featured prominently in the report.  For its part, Senegal had devised a national youth policy and created a youth ministry, a national agency for youth and an office for youth employment.  Its National Fund for Youth Development supported young entrepreneurs and created seasonal agricultural jobs.  Today’s panel would focus on how to improve United Nations youth programmes, enhance coherence and manage progress in the field, she said.

Ms. FRIES-GAIER said youth issues were not only for young people, but for society at large.  Young people’s participation in decision-making was crucial, she said, emphasizing:  “We have to integrate youth issues into all relevant politics.”  The World Programme of Action for Youth and relevant human rights conventions provided an excellent framework for policy development.  For its part, Germany’s youth policy aimed to create an alliance between youth and all relevant stakeholders, including ministries, the private sector and the media.

Detailing three priorities, she focused first on employment, citing her country’s creation of a temporary work placement scheme and career counselling service.  Germany had also developed a “strengthening youth” initiative, which provided skills-based support services to disadvantaged young people.  In 2011, the Government had spent €3 billion to help young people find work.  The second priority was volunteerism, she said, noting that the Youth Ministry had elaborated a financial youth plan, which allowed young people to decide how to implement their goals.  The third element focused on the active participation of youth in addressing pressing issues, she said.

Internationally, the Goethe Institute had organized exchanges between European, African and Latin American youth parliaments around the issue of sustainable education, she said, adding that a youth delegate programme supported young peoples’ participation in meetings.  As for improving United Nations youth programmes, it was encouraging that the Secretary-General had made youth a priority focus, she said, suggesting that young people should be invited more often to serve as panellists.  More data were needed to determine the extent to which young people were able to participate in decision-making, she said, recommending their early inclusion in all programme planning and stressing the need for them to provide regular feedback on the programmes.

Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETI, recalling Nelson Mandela’s release from prison 23 years ago today, noted that he had himself once taken part in South Africa’s struggle as a youth organization member.  “We have marched down the road considerably” since then, she said.  Today, in a world that was witness to the largest generation of young people in history, certain important new questions arose:  Did all young people exercise all their rights?  Did young men and women have adequate opportunities to participate in processes affecting both their present and their future?  And if not, what were the obstacles to such participation?  Commending the Secretary-General for including the issue of youth as part of his five-year action plan, she said the ILO had just reported on global employment trends, clearly highlighting the huge challenge that the world’s youth faced in that regard.  “There is a need to make our economies more youthful,” she stressed.

For the last nine months, the United Nations system had been examining those questions broadly through a consultative process on how to address youth-related challenges.  “It’s very clearly the moment for all [United Nations] agencies to come together with all stakeholders and youth, to come up with a comprehensive response,” she said.  Indeed, agencies would not be able to meet such an enormous challenge from their various niches, and no single agency could do it alone.  In addition, there was a need to create innovative conditions for the inclusion of youth.  “We need to move beyond the commitment and look at how we actually take it forward,” she emphasized.  The United Nations system process would aim to achieve five overall goals:  employment and entrepreneurship; protection of rights and civic engagement; political inclusion; education, including comprehensive sexuality education and informal education; and health.

To meet those goals, she said, a series of commitments had been developed, identifying lead agencies and key indicators, “to ensure that we move towards implementation” and avoid getting stuck at the rhetorical level.  Citing one priority — enhancing national capacities to develop gender-sensitive strategies for decent work for youth — she said the ILO was the lead agency for that effort, supported by a number of others.  The indicators for that issue were the adoption by United Nations agencies of a framework for cooperation on decent work for youth, and the creation of partnerships in that area.  On 14 February, UNDP would hold a session that would highlight aspects of the UNDP-wide youth strategy, to be released shortly, she said.  “Unless you hold our feet to the fire, we won’t be able to do it as well and as optimally as we should.”

Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE discussed the challenges facing young people today, saying she represented half of the world.  In the global South, they made up two thirds of the population.  “We do not just feed off the system, we make national investments in products and outcomes,” she said.  “We help around the world with our energy, our spirit and our will to make change.”  Indeed, young people understood the urgency of finding solutions to the crises created by previous generations, she said, adding that the links between environmental health and social participation had inspired many young people to act.

She went on to outline some of the challenges, saying little had been done to enlist young people in political parties, and the global development agenda had yet to allow youth more opportunities to participate in decision-making.  Young people in the global South continued to migrate to more developed countries, legally or illegally, in search of opportunities.  Moreover, they were disregarded in processes intended to heal their societies, despite their potential to play a critical role in reconciliation efforts.  Corporate media conglomerates had sensitized youth to be materialism and far too many had fallen victim to unbridled consumerism, she said.

Young people in Sri Lanka represented almost 26 per cent of the country’s 20 million people, she continued.  Sri Lanka’s youth parliament had 335 members who represented all ethnic and religious communities in a manner similar to the national electoral system.  Some 25 per cent of them were from post-conflict areas in the north and east, she said, noting that they now had a platform to voice their grievances through democratic means.  She invited delegations to visit Sri Lanka to observe the next youth parliament election, which would be held in the coming weeks.  The Emerging Young Leader Award, a national programme, also allowed youth to participate in international settings, she said.  “Sri Lankan youth are determined to change our country, and the world, for the better.”

Mr. DIAZ said the United Nations had become a hybrid organization that must work to prevent outbreaks of humanity’s worst impulses, while creating avenues based on its best.  There it echoed one of the most essential attributes of youth everywhere, he said, adding:  “Youth is a time of dreams.”  It was tragic to see the disintegration of the belief that life could be beautiful, particularly among young people.  That dream could be found in many of the internationally agreed development targets, such as the Millennium Development Goals, he said, noting that recommendations on how those targets could be universally achieved had resounded through the Commission in the last few days.  However, delegations must ask themselves a larger question:  whether it was clear for whom, and with whom, they were undertaking such tasks.  “Everything will be alright when people stop thinking of the United Nations as a weird Picasso abstraction and see it as a drawing they made themselves,” he said quoting Dag Hammarskjöld.

Admittedly, the statistics available could harden apathetic detractors, he continued.  But the current generation was crying out:  “Ignore us at your own peril […] we deserve much more than a bracketed future.”  The Organization’s own destructive regression had marginalized youth, creating young cynics and diluting ideals.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon himself had described the situation as “the tyranny of the status quo”.  Indeed, text and words were good starting tools to frame an intention, but the greatest declaration that could be written would be in the hearts and minds of those who would sit in the world body’s conference rooms 10 or 15 years from now, he said.  Still, youth continued to be an afterthought.  By prioritizing young people as the cornerstone of its actions, the United Nations could guarantee the continuation of any development effort.  “Young people are the very face of sustainable development,” he stressed, pointing out that they were the very change in society itself.

Today, the relevancy of the United Nations and the political efficacy of Governments everywhere had been questioned, he said.  But youth organizations, operating at the grass-roots level, acted as a direct link and were able to mobilize millions in ways that the world body and its Member States could not.  Concerning the Secretary-General’s report on the implementation of the World Programme of Action for Youth, he said its own methodology condemned it to remain a failed effort, as a majority of Member States had not responded to its surveys.  It was neither comprehensive nor cross-cutting, he said, recommending that the document be made more widely known and accessible, for young people in particular.  Youth organizations must become pivotal points in that effort, he said, adding that social transformation was a long journey requiring patience.  “We must convince youth that we are trustworthy friends.”  In that regard, he pointed out that the United Nations itself continued to function on a system of “precarious” unpaid internships.  “We refuse to inhabit a space now lost in the pages of lifeless documents,” he concluded, asking the United Nations to make the promise to step back into a legacy of justice.

Interactive Dialogue

As the Moderator opened the floor to questions and comments, delegations outlined national initiatives to develop youthful talent and better involve young people in the development of youth policies.  The youth representative of the Republic of Korea stressed the importance of linking education and employment programmes, as well as the related need for partnerships in that regard.  “Education should be able to light up one’s future,” he said, stressing that it must not be considered disconnected from employment.  He asked what sort of partnerships could be created to ensure that education and employment were well matched, and about the potential of international communications technology in that regard.

Ms. FRIES-GAIER responded by stating that Germany had a long tradition of vocational training.  People often began their careers while they were still students, which had led many to stay in their chosen professions.  There were often more offers than people wishing to do a particular job, she said.  As for setting priorities, she said programmes affected boys differently from girls, and called for prioritizing gender.

Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETI said one question hinged on bringing the specific strengths of agencies together into a holistic solution, adding that efforts were also under way to enhance national capacities with a view to developing decent work strategies.  UNDP — alongside the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and others — was looking at how best to support institutional reforms for the creation of an enabling environment for entrepreneurship.

Acknowledging the burgeoning of information and communications technology in employment creation and inclusion, she said there were a range of initiatives in that area.  On other issues, she said the Secretary-General had been clear about raising the profile of youth and expectations were high for his new Special Envoy to play an advocacy role while examining how to harness United Nations capacities and resources in galvanizing the youth agenda.

Mr. DIAZ agreed, saying he had high expectations for the Special Envoy on Youth, and also for the infrastructure around him to support his efforts.  Marginalized and vulnerable groups must be able to say “he’s getting something done”.  On information and communications technology, he said there was a need for full understanding of the potential of new technologies, as there was a bias inherent in the fact that some 1 billion people had access to Facebook.

Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE rounded out the panellists responses, by saying that the information and communications technology field was constantly changing and it was important for policies to be updated frequently.  On the links between employment and education, she said Sri Lanka had a 19 per cent unemployment rate, and to mitigate that problem, the Government had created the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development to research problems and provide vocational training.

Also speaking in the first round of questions were representatives of Belarus and the European Union delegation.

In a second round of questions, delegations welcomed the increasing cooperation between United Nations agencies and youth, concurring on the need for system-wide coherence in respect of youth-related issues.  In particular, several representatives, including that of Portugal, expressed hopes of gaining a better understanding of how the new Special Envoy would interact with both youth groups and Member States.

The representative of Chile asked what indicators could help in driving greater youth participation in political processes.  How could the United Nations provide support in that respect?

Mr. DIAZ responded by saying that education systems should reinforce the citizen’s duty to vote.  He joined Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE in stressing that social media tools could also be used to persuade young people to vote.

Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETI noted that UNDP worked on specific projects related to youth inclusion and political participation.

Ms. FRIES-GAIER added that young people must learn how to participate.  It was important to discuss issues that were interesting to them, such as sustainable development and new media.  “You have to start very early on” to attract them, she said.

The representative of Ireland said his Government had prioritized youth employment during its current Presidency of the Council of the European Union.  Ireland would also host the European Union Youth Conference in Dublin next month.  On the issue of volunteerism, he said it was imperative for the United Nations to respect the principles of quality youth work, and asked how to ensure that efforts to promote volunteerism did not lead to the normalization of unpaid work for young people.

The representative of Israel asked about the role that youth could play in the context of the high-level thematic debate on entrepreneurship.  Concerning the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, he asked how disabled young persons were being taken into account.

A representative of the non-governmental organization SustainUs asked about actions to ensure that youth participated in a sustainable manner.

Ms. FRIES-GAIER responded by emphasizing the need to keep in mind the existence of a natural competition between younger and older persons.  Policies must, therefore, be developed for different generations.

Mr. DIAZsaid the Young Men's Christian Association had programmes focused on entrepreneurship and microfinance.  The Association and the European Youth Forum were training young people in resource mobilization so that they could engage in ways that Governments could support.  To foster entrepreneurship, it was important for States to be in contact with the ILO Youth Employment Programme, which would soon launch a platform on decent work and foster best practices at ILO youth employment forums, he said, adding that such ideas “raised the bar” on what was possible.

Ms. WICKRAMANAYAKE underlined the need for an international platform to recognize volunteers so that their volunteer experience would be considered by companies and other employers when they made recruiting decisions.

Ms. FRASER-MOLEKETIsaid UNDP and the United Nations Volunteers programme (UNV) had launched a trust fund to boost youth volunteerism and harness young people’s energy in order to meet development goals.  It was important to examine how it could link up with other programmes.  On the High-level Meeting on Disability and Development, she said that an interagency effort — the United Nations Partnership on Persons with Disabilities — had been carried out over the last two years to examine how to establish norms and standards.

She concluded by emphasizing the importance of everyone engaging in the post-2015 agenda.  The world’s youth were quite diverse and all stakeholders had a duty to ensure that their voices were heard, she added.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.