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First-ever Global Report On Protecting Youth In Civic Space Highlights Need For Stronger Global Protection Mechanisms

The launch of the report comes alongside a high-level event organized by the Office of the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth focused on bringing young people’s protection concerns to the international agenda in a safe manner, with an emphasis on concrete recommendations for action

18 June 2021 (UN Headquarters, NY) – The issue of safety and protection in civic space is not new, but until now, there have been no attempts to collect global data specifically on the threats and harassment young people are facing in civic space. This has produced a notable gap for policy and decision-makers looking to develop evidence-based recommendations and solutions to enable safer civic spaces for young people. The Global Report on Protecting Young People in Civic Space is an attempt to address these gaps, while providing clear recommendations for how stakeholders should create youth-sensitive protection mechanisms.

“Although the report presents a harsh reality of what it means to be young and challenge the status quo today, it also showcases the resilience, creativity and hope displayed by young people around the world,” said Jayathma Wickramanayake, the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth. “It is our collective responsibility to take these testimonies and recommendations from young people not as a burden to bear, but as a torch to guide our steps towards protecting the dignity, worth and freedom for young people in all their diversity.”

The launch of the report comes alongside a high-level event organized by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, the Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN, and the European Union Delegation to the UN in New York, in partnership with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Permanent Mission of the Dominican Republic to the UN, as well as civil society partners including CIVICUS, the Major Group for Children and Youth, Peace Direct, and Search for Common Ground. 

The event features high-level government representatives, representatives of international and regional organizations, civil society, and youth to raise awareness about the importance of upholding young people’s right to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; and explore opportunities for continued efforts to create safer and more enabling civic spaces for young people.

“Young people are on the frontline. Yet, too often, their safety is at risk. The EU stands firmly behind youth involvement in civic and public life. Youth activists and movements need to participate on issues affecting their lives and future. Under the human rights and democracy programme of our new financial instrument, the EU will protect activists and human rights defenders, including through the mechanism ProtectingDefenders.eu”, said Jutta Urpilainen the EU Commissionner for International Partnerships.

“I want to thank and celebrate those young people who speak up and defend rights. Young people have brought a much-needed sense of urgency for global climate action. Young people, in the face of the global pandemic and despite facing some of its most severe socioeconomic impacts, have been at the forefront of response and recovery efforts within their communities. Young people are mobilizing online and offline in creative and resourceful ways despite lockdown measures,” said Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The importance of protection in civic space has previously been emphasized by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his Call to Action for Human Rights and in his first-ever report on Youth, Peace and Security released last year, as well as by Security Council Resolution 2535 which calls for developing dedicated guidance on the protection of young people, including those who engage with the UN, as part of a new “Common Protection Agenda” for the UN system.

To address this gap and provide guidance to these questions, a Protection Working Group was created in 2019, under the Global Coalition on Youth, Peace and Security. In 2020, research on protecting young people in civic space was conducted in consultation with more than 500 young people worldwide. This research was commissioned by the Office of the Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth with the support of by the Government of Norway, and it ultimately formed the foundation of the Global Report on Protecting Young People in Civic Space. The research was led by Ambassador Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, the former UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues and the current Personal Representative on Children and Security at Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. 

“The hundreds of candid testimonies we heard in the context of this research made it clear that there is an urgent need for important changes in protection approaches, processes, policies and mechanisms. It is our collective responsibility to provide youth with the necessary protection measures and tools so they feel free and safe to influence and shape our societies according to their own aspirations, so that we all have a better chance for a brighter, more equal and more sustainable world,“ said Rita Izsák-Ndiaye. 

“I am very pleased that Norway has funded the first global report on protecting young people in the civic space,” said Norwegian Minister of International Development Dag-Inge Ulstein. “Young people are not just the leaders of tomorrow, as we often hear. In my mind, they already represent a key voice. They are contemporary agents of change. We need to join forces to better protect young people and create a civic space where youth leadership is not only respected, but also encouraged and valued as an important part of a more equal and inclusive society.”

“Young activists, peacebuilders and human rights defenders face unique challenges, risks and threats because of the work they carry out. It is our duty to foster an enabling and safe environment for youth, to protect them and their civic space. Security Council Resolution 2535 contributed to setting the grounds. However, let's be cognizant that it is now about moving from paper to reality, with the support of all stakeholders. By protecting young people and their civic space we are building democratic societies,” said José A. Blanco Conde, Permanent Representative of the Dominican Republic to the UN. 

As one young person who participated in the regional consultations said, “I don't feel protected. I don't feel like if I disappear today something would be said . . . It’s good to say that as young people we should continue to fight, but if we don’t start creating solutions to protect us, then we are all going to end up dying, or going to choose between our own safety, stability and families, or fighting for our own freedom.”

In the lead up to the high-level launch event, the United Network of Young Peacebuilders in collaboration with the Office of the Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth has rolled out a campaign amplifying the evidence base of threats and challenges youth face in civic space, with a specific focus on deconstructing the usual policy myths that intersect with protection issues youth face as well as developing young people's understanding and awareness of protection mechanisms. The campaign features “Nova” — a fictional avatar created by youth to be a messenger for young people while representing their stories to the world without putting anyone at risk. 

''The protection campaign seeks to raise awareness about the narrowing civic space which young people have to navigate on a daily basis. The threats young people face are not only physical but also socio-cultural, psychological, financial or political and they often overlap. Marginalized young people are at an increased risk of experiencing such threats. Living in constant fear is an unacceptable state for anyone to live in, especially young people who are using peaceful means and exercising their human rights,” said Eliška Jelínková, Co-Director of United Network of Young Peacebuilders.

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