Youth Provide Opportunities For Advancing Human Rights



Published on 18 December 2013

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by Jane Morse

(WireNews+Co)

Washington, D.C.

Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant Secretary Of State For Democracy, Human Rights And Labor
Uzra Zeya, Acting Assistant Secretary Of State For Democracy, Human Rights And Labor

The world’s youth — more than half the world’s population is under age 30 — provide huge opportunities for social change and the advancement of human rights, says Uzra Zeya, the U.S. State Department’s acting assistant secretary for democracy, human rights and labor.

“Unburdened by convention and fresh with new ideas, young people will always be at the forefront of societal change,” she said in a speech December 13 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

“Nowhere is this more true than in the space of human rights,” Zeya said, noting young champions such as Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai, who survived being shot by extremists for promoting education for girls, as well as iconic champions such as Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom began their push for human rights when they were young.

“Young people have always played a unique role in the protection and promotion of human rights,” Zeya said. “This is even more true today, where the proliferation of technology has diminished the space between people, where a picture on Instagram can document an abuse, a reliable hashtag can mobilize a protest, and a YouTube video can raise the awareness of millions.”

But the youth demographics point to “an intriguing dynamic,” Zeya said. “When it comes to human rights abuses, this generation is on the front lines — at once the most visible and the most vulnerable. Put differently: Young people are the most likely to stand up against human rights abuses and the most susceptible to being abused.”

The vulnerability of most of the world’s youth has to do with “democratic transitions during a time of global youth unemployment and disenfranchisement,” she said. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), more youth are poor or underemployed than ever before.

Citing ILO statistics, Zeya noted that 73 million to 75 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are looking for work, while another 309 million work but live in households that earn less than the equivalent of $2 per day.

“The dim prospects for success, let alone a stable future, can lead to disenfranchisement,” Zeya said. Moreover, youth are more vulnerable to labor exploitation, she said, “because they are desperate to find work and don’t have a voice in society.”

“We must ensure that freedom of association and decent conditions of work are not sidelined as we support democratic transitions now underway,” she said.

Recognizing the opportunities today’s youth offer for promoting growth and stable democratic governments, the U.S. State Department has taken a number of steps to nurture the development of youth across the world, Zeya said.

For example, in 2010 the secretary of state named a special adviser on global youth issues. That post is currently held by Zeenat Rahman, whose job is to address the issue of youth unemployment by partnering with multilateral institutions, the private sector and foreign governments to develop training and employment opportunities.

Rahman and her team have worked with U.S. embassies and consulates worldwide to establish 70 youth councils, Zeya said. These councils were formed to give young people a voice and an opportunity to address local policy concerns, in partnership with U.S. policymakers, she said.

The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor works with the ILO and the G20 to ensure that youth training and employment is addressed as a human rights, development and economic challenge, and also to encourage inclusive solutions, Zeya said.

During a strategic dialogue in 2012 with civil society on the margins of the annual International Labour Conference, State Department officials heard from young workers and activists how best to tackle the youth unemployment crisis. Their ideas, Zeya said, have fed into the State Department’s foreign assistance budget and affected programs that will boost economic opportunity for all working people, especially youth.

Young people will determine the future, but they also determine the present, Zeya concluded. She called for a universal commitment to build a world where all people, young and old, “are born free and equal in rights and dignity,” as outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 


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Posted 2013-12-18 09:54:00