By Nicki Lees International youth advisory and action body,
Over the course of two days at the end of last month, numerous governments stood up in the UN General Assembly in New York and proclaimed their lasting commitment to furthering the development of young people in their countries. They did this in celebration of 2011 – International Year of Youth, coming together for a United Nations High-Level Meeting on Youth in New York from 25-26 July.
It is commendable that governments are expressing a desire to ensure the active participation and engagement of young people in their societies. However, these words must be followed up with actions!
As Amnesty International, we were there to ensure that deliberations included a rights-based approach and to hold governments accountable for their undertakings.
The Amnesty International delegation to this meeting included Sarah Atkinson, of the International Secretariat; Sutharee Wannasiri, Thailand; Nicki Lees, International Youth Australia, and Cynthia Carrion, of AI USA. The delegation was joined by USA youth volunteers.
It is interesting to note that the only head of state to address the meeting was President Mugabe of Zimbabwe. He spoke at length of the ways in which he is assisting and providing for youth in his country. As a man responsible for grave human rights violations in his own country, he is a prime example of leaders failing to be held responsible for their actions.
The two-day meeting explored ideas and methodologies around youth engagement and active participation. It looked at the interacting roles and potential partnerships needed between governments, civil society organizations and private actors in achieving this.
Participants raised many interesting and valuable points. However, it seems clear that without a rights-based approach, positive change cannot be sustainable. Discriminatory policies and laws, and the human rights abuses that drive and deepen poverty, need to be addressed in order to create long term sustainable youth development.
Amnesty International promoted this rights-based approach during our own side event. The “Changing the Way We Live: The Power of Youth Action for Human Rights” side event aimed to show governments, civil society and private sector representatives concrete examples of young people leading and participating in AI projects and decision-making structures. A practical dimension we felt had been missing from the event.