Youth Standing up for Human Rights: Demands resonating at COP 25

Youth at COP25 (Photo via GOFAD)
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(Global Frontier Advisory and Development Services) This blog is being written on World Human Rights Day (December 10, 2019). The theme, “Youth Standing up for Human Rights“ aptly describes their interventions at the Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 25) in Madrid, now in its second and final week. Reports highlight the involvement of young people in climate policy-making, and demands that their rights be respected. By the time this blog is posted, the decisions from COP 25 should reveal if their demands have fallen on deaf ears. These twin events have triggered some random thoughts about the wide ranging scope of youth, human rights and the future.

Generally, Human Rights Day commemorates the day — December 10, 1948 – when the General Assembly of the UN adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). This Declaration, one of UN’s major achievements, stipulates universal values and a shared standard of achievement for everyone in every country. While the Declaration is not a binding document, it inspired over 60 human rights instruments that today make a common standard of human rights. It is the most translated document around the globe, available in over 500 languages. More specifically, under the 2019 universal call to action “Stand Up for Human Rights,” the aim is to celebrate the potential of youth as constructive agents of change, amplifying their voices, and engaging with a broad range of global audiences in the promotion and protection of rights.

Beyond the symbolism of World Human Rights Day, there are several examples of the power of youth in human rights initiatives that have multiplier effects by engaging wider communities. Amnesty International Kenya, for example, is a youth led inter-University Human Rights Debate. It was founded in 2012 to create a culture of human rights awareness and activism and influence knowledge, skills and capacity among young people. Human Rights Watch, that investigates and reports on human rights abuses around the world ranging from Syria’s civil war, refugees in Europe, US Immigration and mass killings in the Philippines makes specific reference to the role of young people with political aspirations becoming involved in conflict resolution through participation in civic life. This is due to the fact that civic organizations tend to have lower access barriers, are less ideological, have greater “community focus” and are more “issue oriented” than political parties or other pressure groups.

More focused is Human Rights Day in South Africa that is historically linked with March 21, 1960, and the events of Sharpeville. Then, by coincidence or design, the digitization of the collection of Rosa Parks documents in the Library of Congress in New York was opened to the public on 2019 World Human Rights Day. Among the records highlighted at the launch were documents of Parks’ affiliation with organizations and institutions including the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self- Development, an organization she founded with Elaine Eason Steele to promote youth development and civil rights education.

More far reaching in scope is the proclamation by United Nations General Assembly of 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. It is to be noted that World Indigenous
Peoples Day, highlighting a population of 375-500 Million, occupying 22% of global land area, is celebrated on August 9th. However, the focus on indigenous languages aims at raising global attention on the critical risks to peoples representing the greater part of the world’s diversity and speaking the major share of the world’s 7000 languages. Most notable is that UNSECO has promoted the power of Language Technologies (LT) to make sure indigenous languages are preserved and promoted worldwide.

Sanguine reflections triggered by COP 25

Reflections on World AIDS Day and the remarkable efforts of Youth at COP 25 in Madrid have led to a search for the examples of the far reaching effects of human rights that defy the meaning of a one day celebration. The reports from Madrid so far signal the need for relentless all year round activism. Up to half a million people took part in a march in Madrid in support of rapid climate action, but according to observers, ‘negotiators haven’t got the message’.

Mohammed Adow, Director of Power Shift Africa, a climate and energy think tank based in Nairobi, an observer at these talks said: “The problem is while hundreds of thousands of people are marching outside in Madrid, and school children are striking, countries are playing politics with the negotiations.”

Former Irish President, Mary Robinson, urged countries in the Paris Agreement on climate change to keep the rights of children and young people in mind as they put the accord into practice.

Theo Cullen-Mouze, a 17-year-old climate activist from Ireland, said his small island community off the west coast was suffering from wilder winter storms, longer summer droughts and more frequent extreme floods. As a result, he felt like he had no option but to start a climate protest every Friday outside his local government office, with his younger sister.

UNICEF launched a “Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action”, in Madrid. It reflected priorities identified by children and youth throughout the world. It included expanding investment in protecting children from disasters and helping them adapt to climate threats, beefing up education on environmental issues and enabling the participation of young people in climate change policy-making. The declaration was signed on Monday December 9th by nine countries: Chile, Costa Rica, Fiji, Luxembourg, Monaco, Nigeria, Peru, Spain and Sweden.

Paloma Escudero, UNICEF’s global director of communications, noted that half a billion children live in areas at very high risk of floods due to extreme weather, as well as rising sea levels. The agency released data showing storms forced about 760,000 children from their homes in the Caribbean from 2014-2018, compared with 175,000 in the preceding five years.

David R. Boyd, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights and the environment, said: “Children, I apologise to you from the bottom of my heart – we are failing you.”

These illustrations, among others demonstrate the fundamental elements of human rights requiring urgent, rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society. Climate Change is among the most serious of them.

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