First Human Rights Forum Focuses on Role of Youth in Public Decision-Making

Hundreds of youth activists, representatives from youth organizations, UN and government officials gathered at the United Nations Office in Geneva on November 21-22 to attend the first-ever Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law.

The Forum, established by Human Rights Council resolution 28/14 adopted on March 26, 2015, provided an important platform for promoting dialogue and cooperation on the relationship between the areas of human rights, democracy and the rule of law. In particular, this year’s inaugural session focused on “Widening the Democratic Space: The Role of Youth in Public Decision-Making.”  

The Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, Ahmad Alhendawi, together with H.E. Ambassador Daniiar Mukashev, Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to the United Nations in Geneva, co-chaired the Forum.

Mr. Alhendawi co-chairs the first Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law together with co-chair Ambassador Mukashev of the Kyrgyz Republic. To the left, Human Rights Council President, Ambassador CHOI Kyonglim of the Republic of Korea.

Mr. Alhendawi co-chairs the first Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law together with co-chair Ambassador Mukashev of the Kyrgyz Republic. To the left, Human Rights Council President, Ambassador CHOI Kyonglim of the Republic of Korea.

The formal discussions of the two-day event focused on creating an enabling environment for the effective participation of youth in public decision-making and on ways to increase the participation of young people in public and political processes. Through a set of four diverse plenary sessions that included panel presentations followed by interactive discussions, participants identified and analyzed best practices, challenges and opportunities for Member States in their efforts to widen the democratic space for youth in public decision-making.

In his opening remarks, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, underscored the importance of safeguarding the political participation of young people, highlighting their crucial contributions to peace, international justice and human rights. He further reminded participants that no democratic change has ever occurred without the engagement of young people and their work.

Mr. Alhendawi emphasized the need to make politics and political participation both appealing and accessible to young people. “Young people appreciate making politics more accessible, and the question of youth rights is at the heart of this,” Mr. Alhendawi said during the Forum’s opening session. “This should the overarching theme for all our efforts.”     

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The Forum also saw a number of side events taking place on topics ranging from how to enhance young people’s engagement with the UN system to the role of young human rights defenders in democratic processes worldwide. On the first day of the Forum, Mr. Alhendawi took part in a side event organized by the European Youth Forum on “YouthUP Democracy Through Participatory Policy-making.” The event discussed ways to improve young people’s participation in decision-making processes through participatory policy-making mechanisms.  

On the same day, the Youth Envoy also took part in a side event organized by Amnesty International on “Widening Space by Human Rights Defenders.” During the event, young leaders joined UN and government officials in addressing the important role played by young human rights defenders in widening the role and participation of young people in public decision-making as a means to contribute to sustainable peace and development.

During the Forum, the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, together with its UN and civil society partners, also launched a new global campaign, Not Too Young To Run. The new campaign seeks to promote the right of young people to run for public office, while raising awareness on the widespread issue of age discrimination that currently bars many of the world’s youth from doing so.

During the closing session of the Forum, the Envoy reminded participants of the important values and principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which are as relevant today as they were when they were adopted nearly seven decades ago.

While recognizing that the international community still has a long way to go in expanding and strengthening youth rights, he, along with co-chair Ambassador Mukashev, thanked participants for their important and enriching contributions, which will be reflected in the Forum’s outcome Report. The Report will be presented to the Human Rights Council during its March 2017 session.

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