During the High-Level Segment of the 71st UN General Assembly, an unprecedented number of world leaders emphasized in their national statements the role of youth in shaping a better future. Specifically, 59 Member States highlighted the importance of youth development and participation, recognizing young people’s contributions to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and to international peace and security.

This was the case for Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who called for the creation of a specialized UN agency on youth development or Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who invited young people to take part in the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, set to take place in Sochi in October 2017.

In his statement, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon underscored the UN’s efforts in tapping the energy of young people worldwide. And Peter Thomson, President of the 71st General Assembly, emphasized the need to teach young people about the Sustainable Development Goals. This, he said, can be realized only by changing the mindset and behavior that originate from some of the core values of society.

Here are the highlights from some of the statements made by the heads of delegation during this General Assembly’s open debate. 

Russian Federation: In his address, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, invited young people to the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students to take place in Sochi in October 2017, stressing the work needed with and for youth regarding their safety and future. “It is necessary before it is too late to dwell on the task to prevent the proliferation of terrorist and extremist ideology, which literally holds the youth hostage in various regions of the world. We are drafting a UN Security Council resolution aimed at mobilizing efforts to eliminate this evil and looking forward to your support of our initiative.”

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.

Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.

Brazil: President Michel Temer highlighted the need for stronger support to young people’s education in his country. “We must also turn our eyes to minorities and other more vulnerable segments of our societies. This is what Brazil has done, by means of cash transfer programs and better access to housing and education, including financing for students from poor families.”

Chad: President Idriss Deby Itno addressed the challenge of migration and the dangers many young Africans face when attempting their journeys to Europe. He called for action to stop migrant deaths, giving young people better opportunities at home, thus avoiding the risky crossings. “On a daily basis we are witnessing waves of young Africans migrating to Europe, with thousands of them dying drowning.”

United States: In his statement, President Barack Obama praised young people’s commitment to education and entrepreneurship, as well as their strong feelings of empathy toward others. “Entrepreneurs need to access information in order to invent young people need a global education in order to thrive (…) I have seen that spirit in our young people, who are more educated and more tolerant, and more inclusive and more diverse, and more creative than our generation who are more empathetic and compassionate towards their fellow human beings than previous generations.

Qatar: Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani discussed the rise of violent extremism and the recruitment of youth in violent groups, noting that what is needed to effectively address this challenge is a holistic approach. “In order to protect the youth who are being targeted by the extremist groups, the fight against terrorism must not be confined to the security dimension, which per se is essential, but must also go far beyond that to promote the values of tolerance, culture of plurality and dialogue.

Argentina: President Mauricio Macri addressed the challenge of climate change, noting that young people are key players in actions taken toward tackling this global threat. “Only being really conscious of this we can progress without jeopardizing our future and future generations. In Argentina we are working on a very ambitious proposal.”

Malawi: President Arthur Peter Mutharika focused on job creation as the best response to young people migrating from their homes and to them joining radical groups. “And the economy is progressively generating jobs, most needed by the youths. (…) This will generate the necessary jobs to retain the youths in the continent and propel our economies to sustainable growth and prosperity. Such investments will also reduce the risk of our youth being lured into radicalism and extremism, with the attendant threat to domestic and international peace and security.”

Nigeria: In his statement, President Muhammadu Buhari, called for the establishment of a specialized UN agency for youth development, adding: “We acknowledge the importance of youth in national development and remain committed to harnessing the potential of the increasing youth bulge.

President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari.

Jordan: King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan recognized the important role young Jordanians play in the country’s public sphere by actively participating in national parliamentary elections. “It represents an achievement that is largely credited to our citizens – especially our young people – who have stubbornly held onto Jordan”s heritage of unity, strength, and forward-looking spirit in spite of the odds. And it is these very odds that make these elections a true triumph of progress over regression.”

Switzerland: In his statement, President Johann Schneider-Ammann made reference to access to employment for all sectors of society, including young people. “A thriving economy facilitates access for youth, women and workers to better employment opportunities.

Fiji: Prime Minister H.E. Mr. Josaia Voreqe shared Fiji’s example in terms of creating education tools to empower youth toward building a sustainable future. “We are equipping Fijian young people with the knowledge and skills to have satisfying, sustainable livelihoods and contribute to our nation”s progress.”

Poland: President Andrzej Duda drew a direct link between young people and sustainable development. “In our efforts to build peace and sustainable development we set great store by education of children and young people.”

South Africa: President Jacob Zuma recalled key developments in South Africa’s history, such as the 1976 youth uprisings, which “highlighted and cemented the role of young people in fighting for liberation and a better society.” This example, he stated, is similar to the theme of this year’s General Assembly debate on “Sustainable Development Goals: A universal push to transform our world,” recognizing the power of youth in improving our world.

Slovenia: President Borut Pahor called for education of young people as a key element in resolving present and future challenges. “In order to cope with social and technological challenges it is necessary to start with the education of youth. In this regard Slovenia has become a model nation, a world-leading example in paving the way for open education on a national scale.”

Panama: President Juan Carlos Varela emphasized measures adopted by Panama in improving the security, education and human development of children and youth. “Our social housing programs and workshops for youth at risk are transforming the neighborhoods and communities of our country, with a new model of human development, with a vision of State, social criteria and without partisan political distinctions. With strategic alliances in education, partnerships with the private sector (…) so that our youth can get jobs with good wages.”

Namibia: President Hage Geingob recalled “the fact that the implementation of this Agenda (2030) is imperative if we are to safeguard the security of our future generations.”

Kenya: Vice-President William Ruto underscored Kenya’s focus on youth and women, noting: “Like many governments in developing countries, the challenge of integrating youth and women in our societies and economies remains a daunting one.”

Myanmar: Foreign Affairs Minister Aung San Suu Kyi outlined the main objectives of Myanmar’s “people-centered and inclusive policy,” such as “national reconciliation, job creation and preservation of natural resources, capacity building and creating opportunities for the young.

Croatia: President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic called for education reform that enables young people to keep up with today’s challenges. “Our goal as leaders is to empower our youth through education and to give them opportunities to be the catalysts of transformation and progress (…) youth as the guardians of the Agenda 2030 (…) Education, knowledge, and tolerance are more than just the tools of choice when dealing with political and social discrimination, exclusion and preventing violent extremism and terrorism.”

Sri Lanka: President Maithripala Sirisena called for meaningful youth empowerment: “I emphasize my commitment to empower our youth with the best knowledge in the world and to make Sri Lanka an exemplary democracy in the world.

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Chairman of the Presidency Bakir Izetbegovic recognized some of the key challenges faced by young people today, calling for better and more focused responses. “We must work harder to eliminate discrimination, prejudice and xenophobia in our societies, reduce poverty and inequality, improve education and expand opportunities, especially for our young generations.”

Estonia: President Toomas Hendrik Ilves brought migration to the table, focusing on its consequences for children and youth. “Migrant children are at the heart of migration influx. Children on the move or otherwise affected by migration are by far the most vulnerable group, who, lacking agency, face limited access to justice, social and health services. And hence often suffer horrible abuse.”

Gambia: Vice-President Isatou Njie Saidy addressed the issue of employment and how Africa’s future is linked to women’s and youth empowerment. “International cooperation that would create jobs for the youths should no longer be a slogan, but a calculated strategy to keep them at home in gainful employment that will enhance their well-being and ensure the development of their countries.”

Ethiopia: Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn made reference to the role of social media as a tool for extremists and radical groups: “We are seeing how misinformation could easily go viral via social media and mislead many people, especially the youth who are our future.”

Romania: Prime Minister Dacian Julien Ciolos raised his voice against terrorism, calling for strategies that make violent extremism less attractive to young people. “Terrorist groups cannot be countered only through military action, but also by reducing its attractiveness to its followers, particularly the young people. We need to address the root causes that allowed them to develop in the first place.”

Bangladesh: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina focused on the challenge of violent extremism, too. “Our women, youth, families and communities can be our vanguards in offsetting extremism and radicalization.”

Canada: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau highlighted young people’s challenges in accessing  employment opportunities, underscoring the importance of education in addressing this challenge. “I heard from young Canadians who were frustrated. Who told me that they couldn’t get a job because they don’t have work experience, and they couldn’t get work experience because they don’t have a job (…) We’re going to invest in education, because it gives the next generation the tools they need to contribute to the world economy and succeed.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth of Canada.

Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister and Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs and Youth of Canada.

Thailand: Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha underlined the link between access to education and increased economic opportunities for young people. “On education, the Government has a compulsory education programme to ensure basic education for all, with a view to increase economic opportunity for children and youth in the Kingdom.”

Sierra Leone: President Ernest Bai Koroma underscored Sierra Leone’s strong focus on youth empowerment. “Most of my government”s programmes are youth-oriented, ranging from education to health, community development, and employment (…) a record number of appointments of youths and women into top-level decision-making positions.”

Madagascar: President Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina noted how youth and women are central to all of Madagascar’s public policies and called for other countries to follow suit. “We call for collective momentum of all countries to join hands to supporting the development of policies for young people.”

Norway: In her remarks, Prime Minister Erna Solberg focused on the importance of education, recalling that “today, 263 million children and young people are out of school, and the number is growing. Last year, together with the Presidents of Chile, Indonesia and Malawi, and the Director General of UNESCO, I initiated the establishment of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity.”

Iraq: Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi underscored ways to tackle the challenge of extremism, underscoring the need to address growing frustration among youth. “To combat this scourge, which has spread amongst youth and exploited the feeling of discontent amongst them, requires a real stand from countries and organizations to review the programs and educational curriculums, and to remove these feelings of frustration and to absorb these youths and to cut the way for any attempts to reform such terrorist organizations in the future.”

Bulgaria: President Rosen Plevneliev highlighted the link between young people and sustainable development. “Bulgaria for its part was actively engaging civil society, young people, and the private sector and was focusing on building up the ‘green-economy.’ Bulgarian schools have even introduced curricula to teach young kids about sustainable development. Children should be at the heart of global action.

Burkina Faso: President Roch Marc Christian Kabore recognized how the work and potential of Burkina Faso’s people, “including  

[our] youth, ha[ve] shown, in this occasion, a large maturity and prove, that nothing and no one, can interfere [with] the soft justice and liberty of conscience.”

The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia: President Gjorge Ivanov emphasized the challenge of young people feeling the consequences of policies that were not adopted by them in the first place. “Young people around the world still do not have equal opportunities for equality education and employment, but they equally feel the cruel rules of international market. We have been the ones to decide on the future of youth, without allowing them to be part of the decision-making process (…) This is perhaps the reason why many global, regional and local policies were not supported by young people and remained on paper only. It is high time for this to change. We need policies not only about youth, but with their participation. We need policies for youth by youth.”

Kazakhstan: Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov underscored the link between young people and better investment in education. “Kazakhstan is investing more than 50 million US dollars in educating Afghan students, building schools and hospitals and providing humanitarian assistance.”

Equatorial Guinea: Foreign Minister Agapito Mba Mokuy focused on the economic challenges and opportunities of young people in his country. “In the economic sector, Equatorial Guinea focused on diversifying the productive sector, creating employment opportunities for young people in areas like industrial fishing, agriculture and hydrocarbons – everything to have a better quality of life.”

Paraguay: Foreign Minister Eladio Ramón Loizaga highlighted the immense potential that young people have to offer, noting how “young people are the most important human capital and asset for any county and for Paraguay as one of the Latin America most youth[ful] populations [youth] is a big asset.” 

Guinea: President Alpha Conde focused his remarks on extremism and the need to create employment opportunities for young people. “The elaboration and implementation of public policies should fully integrate job creation and economic opportunities for the most vulnerable layers, women and youth in particular, for their effective inclusion in social and economic life, and raise the value of their potential.”

Niger: President Mahamadou Issoufou underscored Niger’s reforms, which are heading the country toward a more sustainable future. “… a Niger where oil jobs, especially for young people, will be plentiful. Finally a Niger fully engaged in unification of our continent. In brief, a Niger fully engaged in the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

Luxembourg: Prime Minister Xavier Bettel stressed “It”s important to focus on training and the creation of jobs, as part of inclusive national development policies that can harness the Africa’s human and natural resources.”

Hungary: Foreign Minister Peter Szijjártó spoke about his country’s support to young Syrians. “Hungary has contributed 3 million euros to the Madad Fund, made a 5 million euro pledge to build a hospital in Syria and offered a special scholarship program for youngsters from Syria to Hungary.”

Mali: President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita emphasized youth unemployment as one of the greatest challenges currently faced by society. “These include the fight against climate change, protection of the environment, education, social protection, employment creation for youth and women.”

Lesotho: Prime Minister Pakalitha Bethuel Mosisili underscored the need to harness young people’s energy and potential in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. “Young people are always at the receiving end of the economic down-turn anytime it occurs, yet they are endowed with intellect, energy and the exuberance of youth which can be harnessed for development in the long term.” 

Andorra: Prime Minister Antoni Martí Petit declared: “If we educate our young people as citizens of a global world, we will be laying the foundations for a much more open, cooperative and fair world.”

Timor-Leste: Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araújo highlighted the role of youth in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “We are further committed to show our youth, the future generation, how important their role is in achieving the SDGs, to which we all must contribute and from which we all derive dividends.”

Saint Kitts and Nevis: Prime Minister Timothy Harris issued a clear call for meaningful youth empowerment. “Of critical importance to the transformation of our world is the empowerment of our youth (…) By providing opportunities for their constructive engagement in critical matters that directly affect them and society, we can transform their frustration to meaningful empowerment.”

Swaziland: Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso focused on creating better opportunities in terms of technical and vocational training. “The state will direct efforts towards the introduction of Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI) as well as the redesign, and presentation, of technical vocational and training education and entrepreneurship in the primary school curriculum to inculcate a culture of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship at a tender age.”

Malaysia: Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi highlighted his country’s support to young people and entrepreneurship, noting that one of this year’s Young Leaders for SDGs is a young man from Malaysia. “Malaysia is also in the process of formulating the national SDG Roadmap establishing a broad base and inclusive committee to oversee the implementation and monitoring of the SDGs and strengthening the data requirement for the SDGs.  We are not only preparing the youth for the labor market, but also preparing human capital for nation building. (…) Malaysia is also no stranger in the area of multilateralism, and I”m referring to our very own Malaysia Hospital Beyond Boundaries, as well as a volunteer organization and NGO. This is a non-profit organization that provides healthcare facilities for unprivileged communities led by UN Young leader participant, Dr. Lutfi Fadil Lokman.”

United Arab Emirates: Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan highlighted the creation of institutions to combat extremism as a useful tool to protect and reintegrate young people who have been polarized by radical groups. “We have established the Hedayah Center to combat extremism, and participated with the United States of America in creating the Sawab Center.”

Grenada: Foreign Minister Elvin Nimrod explained his country’s approach to targeting youth issues. “Our youth experiences are not only driven by lack of employment or poor working conditions, but must include access to health services and decent opportunities. We must ensure that we build the necessary skills and knowledge to undertake economic activities with an emphasis on vocational training, entrepreneurial skills and innovations for our youths.”

India: Minister for External Afffairs Sushma Swaraj focused on India’s efforts empowering young people through technology training and education opportunities. “Digital India is transforming the country. Under the Skill India initiative, a number of programmes are underway to enable youth to reap the demographic dividend. These initiatives have added a new dimension to India”s growth story, making it the fastest growing major economy in the world at a time of slow global growth.”

Bahamas: Foreign Minister Frederick Mitchell called for the comprehensive integration of young people in his country’s economy. “We have turned our attention now to remedial measures to ensure that they do not fall farther behind. This is within the larger fight for the integration of all young people, men and women, into the formal economy.”

Eritrea: Foreign Minister Osman Mohammed Saleh drew on recent actions taken in his country in creating opportunities for young people. “Favourable conditions are being created to provide youth with ample opportunities for quality education, vocational skills, decent living conditions and active political participation.” He then continued by calling for more international engagement with young people, especially those affected by migration.

Trinidad and Tobago: Foreign Minister Denis Moses also addressed the issue of violent extremism. “We remain concerned about the global trend of young people falling victim to recruitment by extremist groups both by way of online recruitment and other forms of proselytization.”

United Republic of Tanzania: Foreign Minister Augustine Philip Mahiga made it clear that young people’s potential ought to be harnessed, not in a distant future, but today. “Youth are of great importance to the development of a nation. They are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but also the partners of today. Ignoring them can result in a catastrophe as they are easily lured into activities that are non-beneficial and detrimental to the society such as a drug trafficking and joining radical groups and terrorist cells.

Denmark: Ib Petersen, the Danish Permanent Representative, underscored the importance of young people’s contributions to sustainable development and decision-making processes, noting that “young people possess an enormous potential and must be involved in the work ahead.”

Togo: Permanent Representative Kokou Kpayedo emphasized the African continent’s potential to achieve the SDGs by harnessing the large potential that young people can offer, stressing the “huge possibilities for profound transformation of our world  through youth, demography and dynamic growth.”