Video message by Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
12 August 2021
I'm delighted to be a virtual part of this World Youth Rights Conference on empowering young people to become more involved in public policy.
The engagement of young people across all forms of public life is of critical importance at a time when we are facing challenges – like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change – which threaten to set back progress towards sustainable development and human rights.
Decisions that are made – or left unmade – today will shape their present and future.
The UN Guidance Note on protecting and promoting civic space makes it clear why maintaining and expanding civic freedoms is central to ensuring sustainable development and social cohesion.
Every country needs to be able to count on the broadest possible space for civic action. When every member of society is empowered to contribute and provide feedback about policies – including critical views – decisions can be fine-tuned for greater relevance and efficacy for everyone without discrimination.
In their diversity of views, experiences and needs, a country's people – and perhaps especially its young people – are its leader's finest and most important resource.
Inclusion, transparency, scrutiny and participation by all make better, more effective policies. They benefit everyone.
The COVID-19 pandemic makes this need for greater civic freedoms very urgent.
The pandemic will have deep and long-lasting effects on youth. A Global Survey on Youth and COVID-19 that we recently produced with ILO outlined some of its disruptive impacts on education, training systems and the job market, as well as rising emotional distress. It has generated hunger and poverty. COVID-19 is exacerbating existing inequalities – including those which burden many girls and young women, as well as many members of ethnic, racial and religious minorities.
This is a time for more, not less, transparency; for more information; for more public debate and discussion, that is more open to young people and other activists; and for more responsive governance.
We need to respond to COVID-19 with measures that address and prevent inequalities and development deficits, in both the short and long term.
We need to strengthen social cohesion with measures that uphold justice and respect for everyone – recalling that justice, and human rights, are the best antidote to extremism and despair.
We need to advance resilient, inclusive, greener and more sustainable societies – as young people across the world rightly demand.
We need to seek out ways to strengthen the role of youth in helping all of society to build back better. We need to ensure that all policies include the needs – and the voices – of the young.
This conference is an opportunity for young people from across the world – and especially in Central Asia – to share their experiences, and for Government representatives to listen to them.
Uzbekistan became a member of the Human Rights Council for the first time earlier this year. Its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, in June, is also a positive step.
I thank the authorities for giving us this opportunity for deep, frank and fruitful discussion.
And I look forward to strong, positive action to empower young people to freely raise their voices and to contribute meaningfully to public policies, here and elsewhere in the world.