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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

26th Youth Assembly – Accelerate! Youth for SDGs 2030

07 August 2020


Keynote video message by Michelle Bachelet UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

7 August 2020​

I am delighted to address this virtual Youth Assembly.

Today, we may be physically distant – but we must stand together.

And I know we do.

Around the world, young people like you are standing up for sustainable development and universal rights.

The right to a healthy planet. The right to live free from discrimination and deprivation. The right to a healthy, inclusive future.

And the right to participate in the decisions that affect your lives.

I have been inspired by your commitment and engagement.

COVID-19 has generated global health, economic and social crises, making the challenges you face even more pressing.

The pandemic has laid bare the negative impacts of deep and persisting inequalities in every society.

It has exposed the cost of inadequate investment in healthcare and social protections, and the enormous and multi-faceted risks created by environmental degradation.  

It has placed additional barriers to our goal of achieving sustainable development that  leaves no one behind.

I fully agree with activist and youth movements all over the world - the "old normal" needs to change.  

As the Secretary-General has said, we must build back better.

Fortunately, we have a plan.  And even better: a plan that has already been universally agreed.

The 2030 Agenda, with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals, was adopted by every country at the United Nations in 2015.

With human rights principles at its core, this it is our global blueprint for building prosperous, inclusive and sustainable societies, in a planet that is peaceful and healthy.  

With ten years to transform our world, we need to move faster.

Especially as we are now assessing not whether, but by how much, the pandemic will set back our efforts so far.

In this Decade of Action to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we need to work better.

We need the full creativity and participation of the world's 1.8 billion young people.

I welcome the Decade of Youth Action Campaign launched by the Friendship Ambassadors Foundation earlier this year, aimed at promoting youth action to accelerate progress towards the SDGs.

World leaders need to hear your voices – and open up power structures, in order to welcome young people to the decision-making processes, which shape the future of our societies.

I welcome the strengthened engagement of youth representatives in processes such as the Voluntary National Reviews, where we see youth actively contributing to evaluating progress on the 2030 Agenda at the national level – and your voices are being heard in presentations made in the global arena.

I encourage Governments to guarantee the full and free participation of civil society and youth representatives in all levels of decision-making around sustainable development – and to include dedicated spaces for young people and youth organizations.

We also need strong and targeted policies to ensure that young people are able to overcome the impact of COVID-19 on their education, training and employment opportunities.

The 2030 Agenda requires States to provide nurturing environments for the full realization of young people's rights and capabilities. This means focusing on the development of skills and the provision of opportunities for decent work.

These initiatives are crucial to enabling young people to enjoy their right to participate in the development of their countries – and to build all human rights.

For everyone. Everywhere.

Because it is by upholding human rights that we can make sure we leave no one behind.

Like the human rights agenda, the 2030 Agenda is universal – and   implementing its goals requires everyone to be involved.  

You are the largest generation of young people in history. Your active participation is essential.

I know these are troubling times.

The climate emergency and the COVID-19 pandemic present broad planet-wide threats to human rights that we have seen for many decades.

From the right to life, to health, to food: to water and shelter, work and education; to our rights to be free of discrimination, to development and to self-expression, their impacts are far ranging.

And these burdens are falling most harshly on those who are most vulnerable – people living in poverty; members of marginalised or discriminated minorities; people with disabilities; women and girls who are often responsible for caring for others, and who occupy precarious jobs. 

We cannot rebuild the shaky, poorly grounded systems that have made our societies so vulnerable. We need principled solutions that build back with greater resilience, more inclusion, and stronger justice.

Global, inclusive collaboration created the SDGs; it is only by harnessing that powerful spirit of fairness and cooperation that we will achieve them.

There is no recovery nor global sustainability without cooperation.

Like never before, we must unite.

Your generation has been demanding change and action where previous ones have failed.

I look to you not only for inspiration, but for leadership.

Indeed, your activism goes far beyond the headlines. It is the living expression of human rights.

Every day, you are taking action to promote peace, sustainable development, human dignity and respect for equality and justice – sometimes even putting yourselves at risk.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, you have shown once again your commitment to helping others in your communities.

We must be loud and clear that every violation of someone's rights threatens the rights of all. 

Like our climate emergency, COVID-19 teaches us that we are bound together as one humanity – and that upholding the rights of everyone is the only way to promote a more inclusive, transparent, fair, just, and greener future for all of us.

Thank you for standing up for human rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.