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Peace, Justice and Security Foundation, the Hague Panel - Today's generation for tomorrow's peace 5 September 2016

Distinguished panelists,
Ladies and gentlemen,

I'm pleased to be among so many young people today. Pleased and hopeful – but also very disturbed. There is widespread denial of human rights today, and we need your activism and ideas. But many young people today seem to feel they will never be able to correct injustice – because leadership and policymaking are reserved for the gilded élite, as if political power was a kind of private club.

Let me get straight to the point: I don't think any of that is true. Individually, perhaps none of us will save the world. But all of us can serve the world. And together, we can have impact. It takes moral courage, but we can stand up for others, voice the common good, act to support inclusion, equality, and human dignity. We can guide our actions by our principles. Particularly in a country such as this one, where public freedoms are broadly respected, we are free to act. And I am convinced that service to our fellow human beings benefits all of us – that it constitutes the only meaningful way to live.

Aleppo, today's Guernica, is a two-day drive away. It is the graveyard of thousands of Syrian men, women and children, and the locus of countless violations of every humanitarian principle and shred of human feeling. Many of us are deeply affected by this suffering.

In South Sudan, children are enslaved and forced to participate in battles; they are attacked, driven from their homes, and worse. They, too, matter – and they matter to us.

The world today is a place of towering inequalities. Our planet itself is suffering. We face a combination of humanitarian crises that add up to a disaster greater than any we have dealt with since the end of the Second World War. In the Middle East and North Africa, and across the Sahel and the Lake Chad region, violence is shattering lives, destroying development and forcing millions into displacement and hunger. Out of this chaos surge extremist movements of incredible brutality. They, too, cross borders. And their simple messages of hate and blame draw deeply alienated youths from every society.

These are complex situations, but they intersect, and only principled, collective action in support of human rights can address them.

For example, extreme poverty can be ended within 15 years. Maternal mortality could end even quicker. Both result from powerlessness. So we need action to end discrimination. Action to include all groups in decision-making. What it takes is action – principally by states, but you can actively participate. Directly – by working among marginalized groups and by deliberate choices in what you buy. And indirectly, by putting pressure on your government to advance the UN's 2030 Agenda, target development aid to human rights goals, and end abusive business practises.

I will not claim to hold an instant solution to the Syria conflict. It will certainly begin with renewed respect for international law. Despite its repeated failures to do so, the Security Council, which is primarily responsible for international peace, must put an end to these violations. What you can do is act to help the victims. Many of them have sought refuge here, and yet they are often met with rejection.

I am alarmed by this xenophobia, prejudice and nationalism that is metastasing across Europe and other countries. Hate is a simplified world, where there is an identified enemy. It brings emotional security and replaces the anxiety of ordinary living with blame: my failure to advance is someone else's fault. But the past offers us a profound and bitter warning about the place where this path leads.

So yes, the work of assistance, protection and promotion is difficult. And indeed, there are many forces that resist principled action to uphold human rights. But every strong movement for political change and solidarity has been spearheaded by young people. Change begins locally, with small circles of people raising their voices, sharing their thoughts and developing a sense of responsibility for something greater than the self.

It is not enough to state our values; we must act on them, again and again, in every generation. The time for that is now – and it always has been. We can set our shared planet on a course of greater inclusion; more sustained prosperity; more justice; more dignity; more freedom; more peace. We can encourage leaders to embrace the voices of their people, and to ensure that all members of the public are given equal respect. In November this year, my Office will organize a Forum on Human Rights, Democracy and the Rule of Law, where we will discuss how to improve youth participation. Because the most effective way to create societies that are cohesive and resilient is to build a system that protects the full human rights of every individual, in justice, dignity, equality and respect.