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Youth Activists Summit – “New Generations, New Solutions”

Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

18 November 2021

It is a pleasure to join this Summit.

Youth activism has been pushing the world forward.

It is inspiring to see young people challenging discrimination, injustice and inequalities.

From the frontlines to the headlines.

From the streets in every corner of the world to the online arena, we have seen powerful demonstrations of their commitment to climate action and human rights.

Your commitment.

You have been influencing debates of national and international importance and prompting social change - including by demanding a seat at the table and holding governments and businesses to account for climate inaction.

Just last month, the Human Rights Council recognized what you have been saying for a long time: that a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a human right.

We owe you a debt of gratitude for your activism and my Office will honour it by supporting countries in their efforts to promote and protect this right.

Your vision and courage are reasons for hope.

They also provide us with a glimpse of the huge potential youth advocacy and activism can have as a force for good and transformative change.

I trust this potential can be unlocked through the meaningful participation of young people everywhere.

That requires you to be included. And that you feel safe and free from fear when you are.

However, youth activism often comes at a cost.

Earlier this year, the UN launched its first global report on youth protection in civic space. The report shows that, in many countries, young people face attacks, intimidation and harassment from a variety of actors.

In his Call to Action for Human Rights, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres highlighted how young people need space to participate in the decisions that will shape their future. Furthermore, he emphasised that participation is crucial for sustainable climate action and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In that regard, the Secretary-General called on us all to increase efforts to promote and protect the rights of future generations. He pledged the support of the United Nations for the development of national protection mechanisms for human rights defenders and environmental activists, particularly young people, women and girls.

In response to this call, my Office led the development of the UN Guidance Note on Protecting and Promoting Civic Space, which can help guide our collective action through its "3 Ps".

First, as we have been discussing today, we must invest in meaningful and inclusive participation. Young people's voices and concerns are often unheard, ignored or undermined due to their age. Establishing and improving participation channels, making them inclusive and safe, is an urgent priority.

Hand in hand with that comes the promotion of open spaces for debate and dialogue -- online and offline. The internet must be a safe tool for freedoms, democracy and for amplifying youth voices that have been previously excluded.

Lastly – and urgently, we must strengthen the protection of civil society actors at-risk. While facing the same risks as other human rights defenders, young activists frequently have less means to protect themselves. They are also often disproportionately targeted by violence while exercising their rights to hold peaceful assemblies.

Supporting networks of defenders, including those of young activists, will help protect them. My Office is now co-leading UN system efforts to develop guidance for the protection of environmental human rights defenders – including youth.

Dear friends,

Let us focus on what unites us, so that we can overcome our many common challenges

I thank young people from around the world for standing up for our planet and for human rights.

Your work, your commitment and your energy are invaluable.

I stand with you.