World leaders took the podium in September at the opening of the General Debate of the 72nd UN General Assembly, where 77 member states mentioned young people in their national statements. This represents a remarkable increase from last year’s General Debate, where 59 world leaders discussed the role of youth. The remarks delivered this year emphasized the importance of bolstering youth engagement in policies and movements, and of their critical roles in promoting peace and democracy, as well as upholding human rights. Below highlights and further listing provide a glimpse of what world leaders had to say about young people as they took the stage at the UN General Assembly.
As the youngest leader to take the podium, H.R.H. Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II framed his address around his belonging to the largest generation of young people in history, and the need to include this generation as active partners in shaping the world we share. “Today, I stand before you as a representative of my beloved Jordan, but also as a member of the largest generation of young people in history.(…) Too often, people of my generation are labeled as dreamers. Yet, we all know that every great deed was born a dream. We are often dismissed as idealists, but idealism is not foolish, it is fearless.”
Crown Prince of Jordan, H.R.H. Al Hussein bin Abdullah II
The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade of Ireland, H.E. Simon Coveney, emphasized the importance of listening to young people’s aspiration as an embodiment of the UN Charter and recognizing young people as the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Both President Alpha Condé of Guinea and President Arthur Peter Mutharika of Malawi highlighted 2017 as the Year of Youth by the African Union.
Secretary-General António Guterres called for meaningful action to address the roots of radicalization, including real and perceived injustices as well as high levels of unemployment that disproportionately affect young people.
H.E. Miroslav Lajcak, President of the 72nd General Assembly, emphasized the need to hear for more young voices in the important discussions happening at the United Nations.
Here are more highlights from statements made by the heads of delegation during this year’s General Debate:
Nigeria: In his statement President Muhammadu Buhari remarked “In the last year, the international community came together to focus on the need for gender equality, youth empowerment, social inclusion, and the promotion of education, creativity and innovation. The frontiers of good governance, democracy including holding free and fair elections, and enthronement of the rule of law are expanding everywhere, especially in Africa.” He then went on to emphasize Nigeria’s commitment to strengthening state institutions and cooperation in the international community to promote accountability on these fronts.
Liberia: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shared about Liberia’s its effort to empower youth in its post conflict transformation. “We have continued to transform the healthcare and education systems, engendered the entrepreneurial spirit in our youth, our vibrant media and civil society.”
President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Zambia: President Edgar Chagwa Lungu emphasized the importance to focus on women, children and youth, and Zambia’s role as the designated African Union champion on ending child marriage for 2017. “My government attaches great importance to the needs and welfare of all with a particular focus on women, children and youth. To this end, Zambia continues to make tremendous strides in the campaign to end child marriage, with the prevalence rate currently standing at 31.2%, depicting a 10.8 percentage drop from the 42% at inception of the campaign.”
Egypt: President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi addressed the challenges that Egypt faces in developing a reform strategy to empower its large youth population. “Egypt is encircled by the most dangerous crises in the world. It is our destiny to navigate confidently through these unprecedented dangers, relying on an ambitious development strategy based on radical and bold economic reforms. Such reforms aim at empowering the youth, who represent the majority of the population, not only in Egypt but also in most of the societies of the Arab countries and the developing world.”
Uzbekistan: President Shavkat Mirziyoyev discussed the importance of preventing violent extremism through empowering the younger generation.“The most important task is to fight for the minds of people, especially young people. Most of the crimes linked with extremist activity and violence are committed by the people under the age of 30. Today’s youth is the largest generation in the history of mankind totaling 2 billion people. The planet’s future and well-being depend on what kind of people our children will grow up into. Our key task is to provide conditions for self-realization of the youth, create a barrier against the spread of the “virus” of the ideology of violence. We believe that for this we need to develop the multilateral cooperation in the sphere of social support of the younger generation, protection of its rights and interests.”
Estonia: President Kersti Kaljulaid underscored the importance to eliminate gender based violence, especially among girls. “Estonia continues to support actions addressing gender based violence and reproductive health needs of most vulnerable women and adolescent girls.”
Gambia: President Adama Barrow recognized the important role young people played in Gambia’s recent democratic transition. “Indeed, young people were all along at the forefront of our democratic transition and addressing youth unemployment.”
Austria: Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs Sebastian Kurz addressed the importance of preventing violent extremism through local youth populations. “We also have to continue this fight within our own societies, we have to take more action to stop radicals with police measures and prevent our youth from being misled.”
Finland: President Sauli Niinistö, highlighted Finland’s commitment to mediation efforts, especially for groups who inherit crises, such as women and young people. “Those who are marginalized must be given a voice in peace processes. Women, children and adolescents often pay the highest price in conflicts but they can also help to pave a way out of the crisis.”
Bosnia and Herzegovina: Chairman of The Presidency Dragan Cović recognized the importance of fostering empowered, educated, and active young citizens. “Young people are a constant source of change and an incubator of inventive solutions to our problems of the past. Healthy, educated, and employed, they represent the engine that drives our societies forward. Environments where young people have limited access to education, economic development and decision-making processes are subject to frustration, social unrest and instability.”
Paraguay: President Horacio Manuel Cartes Jara discussed Paraguay’s efforts to empower young people to reduce inequality and create inclusive economic growth. “We have also increased scholarships and financial aid to young people in situations of poverty, in our conviction that educating and preparing young people academically and professionally is the best investment for the future of our country.”
Netherlands: Prime Minister Mark Rutte mentioned the need to work with youth organizations in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. “We believe that the key to success in attaining these goals is our willingness to form partnerships at a national and international level, with businesses, civil society organizations, knowledge institutions, and local authorities and youth organizations. Working together across sectors is part of our countries’ tradition.”
Portugal: Prime Minister António Luís Santos da Costa highlighted the importance of the Global Platform for Support to Syrian Students created with the support of Portugal, which empowers young Syrians through education and, “allows a much needed integrated approach which addresses issues of education and employment, demographic dynamics and economic growth, gender equality and civic participation.”
Latvia: President Raimonds Vējonis underscored the need to prevent young people from radicalization. “We must continue to disrupt the flow of foreign terrorist fighters, dismantle financing networks, and counter online and offline propaganda that sets youth on a path towards radicalization.”
Namibia: President Hage Geingob focused on Namibia’s commitment to empowering young people as current and future leaders. “Another significant demographic component that we must not neglect is the youth. In Namibia, we value the empowerment of the youth. Many of the so-called older guard have been groomed and well prepared in the structures of the ruling party and Government before they were assigned higher responsibilities. This practice continues with a number of deputy ministers that are youthful, while our Attorney General is one of the youngest on the continent.”
Romania: President Klaus Werner Iohannis highlighted education as the only answer to fighting extremism across the globe: “Romania is convinced that only through quality education we can counter extremist trends which our youth is facing today.”
Malawi: President Arthur Peter Mutharika mentioned 2017 being the Year of Youth in the African Union and spoke of some of Malawi’s education initiatives for young people. “In giving the youth the focus they deserve, the African Union agreed to make 2017 the Year of the Youth. This is the year when we focus on investing in the youth. Malawi is honoured to be part of the mission for youth empowerment. We have taken decisive measures that include providing technical and entrepreneurial education to the youth who have not had the opportunity to attend university.”
Swaziland: Head of State King Mswati III recognized the need to harness the demographic dividend and invest in young people as the key to the country’s future.“The Kingdom is also developing innovation parks that will capacitate our young people with creative skills to enable them to contribute to the sustainable development of the country. We have urged our private sector to take advantage of this initiative. We believe that this initiative, coupled with many others, will help nurture a future generation that is skilled and well equipped to provide solutions to tackle the socio-economic challenges and youth unemployment facing our nation. The critical importance of the demographic dividend to Africa’s transformative development has been acknowledged by African leaders. They have recognized the urgent need to accelerate the implementation of the African Union roadmap to harness the demographic dividend through investment in our youth.”
Fiji: Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama called for collective action in addressing climate change, including its youth population: “I am reaching out to governors, mayors, leaders of every sort across our societies. People of faith. People on the front line of the climate struggle. Women. And the young people who represent our future.”
Serbia: President Aleksandar Vučić highlighted Serbia’s efforts to invest in technical and digital skills for young people. “I am proud that we started to invest into creativity of our young people; that digitalization and artificial intelligence are becoming important topics.”
Ghana: President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo shared Ghana’s new programme to give all Ghanaians access to inclusive and quality education. “We have just started the Free Senior High School programme, which aims to guarantee secondary education for all of Ghana’s children. The programme will ensure that all our children will be educated to at least secondary level.”
Seychelles: President Danny Faure spoke about national reform and access to free media as means to empower young people as partners in development and economic growth. “We are empowering our citizens, especially our youth, giving them equal opportunities to play important roles in the development of our country and the growth of our economy.”
Bostwana: Vice President Mokgweetsi E.K. Masisi outlined Bostwana’s national plan to improve quality of life, including eradicating extreme poverty and resolving unemployment among youth. “To address youth unemployment, the Government introduced youth empowerment programmes such as the Youth Development Fund, the National Service Programme, and the Internship Programme. For the past two decades, more than 25% of the total Government’s annual budget has been invested in education and skills development.”
Croatia: Prime Minister Andrej Plenković called on adjusting education systems to equip young people with the skills they need to succeed in the digital era, “especially of our youth who is, in the age of modern technology, absorbing knowledge and acquiring skills in a faster and more open manner. Thus it is our global task to adjust our educational systems to form the future responsible citizens, to give them job opportunities and fit the real needs of our labour markets.”
Slovenia: Prime Minister Miroslav Cerar welcomed the reforms of the UN Counter Terrorism architecture and called for strategies that make violent extremism less attractive to young people. “Violent extremism and crimes committed by terrorist groups continue to plague the world. We must do all we can to prevent and stop them, in particular by providing viable alternative opportunities for youth.”
Russian Federation: Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey V. Lavrov spoke of its upcoming World Festival of Youth and Students as a means for cultural education. “It is necessary to educate, first of all, the youth, in the spirit of respect for cultural and civilizational diversity of the modern world. We invite everybody to the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students that will be hosted by Russia in Sochi in less than a month.”
Indonesia: Vice President Jusuf Kalla echoed many other world leaders, calling on tackling youth unemployment as a way to counter violent extremism. “The key to tackling terrorism is to address the root causes. Addressing extreme-poverty, illiteracy, and the massive youth unemployment.”
Jordan: Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II proposed solutions to unemployment among young people. “We need to drastically improve our investment climate; enhance integrity and accountability; advance our education system and support young entrepreneurs.”
Georgia: Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili spoke of Georgia’s efforts to enhance innovation to break further into the global market and allow young people to thrive. “Having an innovative society is a key to success for our talented young people.”
Mauritius: Prime Minister Pravind Kumar Jugnauth recognized young people as the torchbearers of Africa’s vision for sustainable development. “This vision of Africa will be carried by its people and its youth. Today Africa is home to a growing youthful population, and is experiencing increased urbanization.”
Bangladesh: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina highlighted her country’s effort to make quality education accessible to every segment of society with a “special emphasis