It is an honour to be here today and to have this opportunity to speak at the UN General Assembly.
I would like to take this opportunity to shed light on the great resource that children and young people are, when given their rights and opportunities.
Youth can achieve a lot by speaking up on decisions that affect them. We should welcome children and young people who choose to voice their opinion as this helps create enlightened debate and dialogue.
Children and young people are key to activating a passive society. In order to improve the welfare of societies, as well as strengthen democratic processes and the role of civil society, it is essential that the citizens themselves partake in shaping society. We encourage all countries, especially in the light of the Millennium Development Goals and the World Programme of Action for Youth, to take advantage of the potential of young people to overcome challenges and find smart solutions in partnership. Let us be agents of change and take ownership of the goals.
Furthermore, participation and self-governance in youth-led NGOs give young people invaluable experience and non-formal learning. They give young people a public voice and real channels of influence in society. Providing dialogue between governments and civil society and supporting organised channels that enable young people to have a real influence in decision-making processes, reduce the likelihood of them using unacceptable means of communication, such as violence.
Unfortunately, difficult challenges remain before children and young people can fully enjoy their rights. Despite the recognition of children as rights-holders, and of their entitlement to be heard on all matters affecting them, children and young people are seldom seriously consulted and involved in such matters.
Many youth organisations are engaging in activities and political debate with the purpose of defending human rights. However, in far too many countries, youth organisations encounter serious obstacles in their fight for the realisation of human rights. We therefore suggest that the special needs of young people working to defend human rights should be investigated and addressed.
We deplore the fact that, as revealed by the UNESCO 2010 Education Under Attack report, school children and students are increasingly targets of threats and violence -- often because they express critical opinions or participate in public debate. In far too many countries, young people participating in student organisations are intimidated and silenced by death threats, they are subject to violence, arbitrary detention and punishment, and some are even killed. This is unacceptable, and all attacks on students should be met with an international response.
We note with deep concern that homosexuality is illegal in more than 80 countries in the world. Seven countries even maintain death penalty for this offence. Due to these attitudes, members of organisations fighting for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people are at particular risk. They experience stigmatisation, exclusion from education and harassment. The extraordinary barriers facing youth organisations working to combat such discrimination is of particular concern to us.
Genuine freedom of association requires that this right also applies to organisations that express political or religious views that conflict with government policy or the majority of society. In this context, the same laws and agreements must apply to all organisations. We recommend that the legal protection of the right to freedom of association is enhanced where needed, and that countries take steps to simplify access to this right, including reducing the complexity of registration procedures and bureaucracy imposed on NGOs. We also reiterate that there is a need to support young people’s civic engagement through financial and technical support.
Despite the fact that the rights enshrined in the Convention on the Rights of the Child are recognised by almost all countries of the world, the principles and ambitions of the Convention are far from fully implemented. We support the work currently undertaken by the Human Rights Council to ensure effective monitoring and to reinforce national and international implementation of the Convention.
I thank you for your attention and underline once again the importance of letting children and young people be agents of change through participation in, and ownership of society, both locally and internationally.