New York

15 September 2014

Deputy Secretary-General's Remarks at International Peace Institute Policy Forum: Engaging young people on Democracy

Let me begin by thanking the organizers of today’s discussion: the UN Executive Committee on Peace and Security’s Working Group on Democracy, the Community of Democracies, the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

I am also grateful to our host, the International Peace Institute, for convening this event to commemorate the annual International Day of Democracy.

I thank Warren Hoge, the IPI’s Senior Adviser for External Relations and a friend of many years, for moderating our discussion.

Most of all, I applaud the young democracy activists who have travelled very far to be with us today.  I know you will inspire us with your energy, enthusiasm and expertise as true champions of democracy. 

Our common cause is extremely important to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  I have also seen in my own country and life the importance of democracy and public trust.  The Secretary-General and I are doing everything possible to promote the rule of law, strong, transparent and accountable institutions and inclusive democratic governance around the world. 

Member States were clear about the importance of democracy in the Millennium Declaration.  Since then, they have repeatedly reaffirmed this conviction in various documents and declarations.

The Secretary-General states in his message marking this International Day that nurturing and strengthening democracy has never been more important.

The world seems more turbulent than ever.  There are alarming signs of a growing crisis of legitimacy of state institutions and the fraying of basic tenets of social contracts between governments and citizens in many parts of the world. 

The values of the United Nations, including some of the most fundamental rights and principles enshrined in the Charter, are under threat.  People are suffering from violent conflicts and transnational threats from terrorism and extremism to economic and financial crises, poverty, inequality and hunger – and not least, in today’s Africa, diseases and pandemics.

History has shown that peace, equality and shared prosperity require societies that are inclusive and governments that are responsive and accountable.  That is why we need to do more to empower individuals – especially those who lack opportunities and hope.

The United Nations is pressing governments to listen to their people and work for their future.  A stable society is not one that doesn’t change – it is one where change is taking place inclusively and peacefully.

This applies not only to developing and democratizing countries but also to developed countries and established democracies around the world.  These are universal challenges, relevant to the lives of billions of people around the world.

The United Nations recently organized a global survey to support our discussions on the global development framework beyond the year 2015.  The survey shows that honest and responsive government is a high priority for all population groups in all regions.

That is a powerful message to the United Nations and to governments around the world as we approach the UN’s seventieth anniversary next year.

Now is our chance to agree on an ambitious development framework beyond the year 2015.  This calls on us to address the root causes of today’s threats and problems and to build the foundation for sustainable development.  That means building participatory societies, underpinned by responsive, transparent and accountable institutions.  It also requires the active involvement of young people.  The young participants here today prove and personify the power of youth to advance progress.

The Secretary-General’s message for the International Day of Democracy contains a direct appeal to young people that we should all echo.

Today’s young people are the largest generation of youth in our history.  We must make sure that their voices and views are as prominent at the tables of political decision-making as they are on the streets and squares around the world.  We need the creativity of young people to devise ways to overcome today’s problems.  We need their help to shape the post-2015 agenda and, even more important, to carry out progress and change.

The times also demand new ways of thinking about democratic governance.  Study after study shows declining faith among young people in politics as we know it, with decreasing levels of participation in elections, political parties and traditional social organizations across the world. This applies to both established and emerging democracies.  We may need new approaches to uphold time-tested principles: new tools that will allow us to continue to champion participation, equal value and dignity for all, as enshrined in our Charter and human rights instruments.

We can take hope from the fact that beyond established structures, informal, youth-led movements for democratic change are on the rise in a number of countries, including in fragile states.

Young people, both individually and collectively, are using new communication channels in social networks to make their mark on democracy-building.

This has been a formidable development.  In my youth, I went from Sweden on a one-year study trip to Indiana, in the heartland of the United States.  Back then, those types of student exchanges were about the only tool we had to connect with young people across oceans.  And they were limited to a handful of students each year.

Now, millions of youth can connect through one click on the computer or a tap on the phone.  And they are connecting on issues that matter.  They are rising up against injustice.  They are countering the discourse of hate.  They are texting, tweeting, sharing and speaking out on issues that matter.

My message to youth is direct: As you debate some of the world’s most pressing problems, from poverty and climate change to human rights and peace and security, remember that the United Nations stands with you.

Together we can generate power and hope.  Young people joined up with the United Nations have the chance to drive change on a global scale, and the UN benefits from their ideas and perspectives.  I appeal to you to stay engaged.

During today’s discussion, we look to you to address many questions.  How do young women and men engage in politics and policy-making?  What lessons do they draw from the Arab uprisings and other efforts to bring about democratic change?  Why do many young people feel that the existing political systems are not important or relevant to them?  What changes are needed to engage young people in democratic change?  And what kind of supportive role could or should the international community, the United Nations play?

I have high expectations for a dynamic discussion today – a discussion that can lead to action, locally, nationally and internationally.

We are honoured by the presence of our young leaders and panellists today.  Thank you for your commitment to our shared ideals and to a better future for our world.  We all have work to do.