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Statements and speeches Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

COVID 19 recovery: youth taking action for a sustainable future

19 April 2022

Young group of youth activists demonstrating against global warming © Getty Images

Delivered by

High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet


ECOSOC Youth Forum


New York


It is my pleasure to address you today.

Youth activism has been pushing the world forward.

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

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

Young people are 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 their inaction.

Last year, in a breakthrough moment for environmental justice the Human Rights Council recognized what youth have been saying for a long time: that a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. My Office will honour your activism by supporting countries to promote and protect this right, which is crucial to meeting a number of sustainable development goals.

The vision and courage of youth are all the more vital given the impact the COVID-19 pandemic has had on them, including in terms of access to education, employment and health.

Globally, one in eight students were left without any access to education or training, with youth in lower-income countries most affected. And among those still able to study, nearly two in every three reported having learnt less since the pandemic began. The impact on women and girls in particular has been extensive - the closure of schools makes girls and young women more vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence.

Globally, as of early 2021, young people experienced an 8.7% decrease in employment. Furthermore, young people who lost their jobs are not finding the education or training opportunities they need to re-enter the market.

And the full impact of the pandemic, including lockdown measures, on the mental health of youth is still far from clear.

Young people’s vision and courage are needed – they are reasons for hope. Youth advocacy and activism has tremendous potential as a force for a sustainable recovery and for transformative change.

I am convinced this potential can be unlocked through the meaningful participation of young people everywhere, in important policy and decision-making spaces - spaces that have been traditionally closed to you.

Young people’s voices and concerns are often unheard, ignored or undermined due to their age. Establishing and improving participation channels while recognising the value of young peoples’ voices is an urgent priority.

In his Call to Action for Human Rights and in Our Common Agenda, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed how young people need space to participate in the decisions that will shape their future. This participation is crucial for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

And you must feel safe and free from fear when you are included.

And yet, the UN’s first global report on youth protection in civic space launched last year, shows that young people who stand up for human rights face attacks, intimidation and harassment in many countries.

So open spaces for debate and dialogue -- online and offline – must be promoted.

We must urgently protect human rights defenders at-risk, especially young activists who often have less means to protect themselves. Young people are also disproportionately targeted by violence while exercising their rights to hold peaceful assemblies.

So the Secretary-General has pledged the support of the United Nations to develop national protection mechanisms for human rights defenders and environmental activists, particularly young people, women and girls.

My Office, together with Education Above All and Silatech, is developing a toolkit on the human rights of young people with a focus on those in situations of vulnerability. We established a Youth Advisory Board of 10 young activists and will be consulting with young people at local and regional levels.

We trust the toolkit will empower them to stand up for their human rights.

Colleagues and friends,

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

I thank you, 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.