Emily Freeburg

Youth Are Building Presence Inside WTO

Like much of civil society, youth participation at the World Trade Organization doesn't have a long history. In fact, its history is only a few weeks old. But at the 6th Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong (WTO 6), more than a dozen young people from all over the world attended the meeting with official accreditation, a forum previously exclusive to government negotiators. Hundreds more protested, with demonstrations at nearby Victoria Park, while others held a youth information booth at the fair trade center nearby.

Most young people know little about the World Trade Organization, and with the number of protests growing each year, the WTO has come to stand for everything negative about globalization, from exploitation of workers, outsourced jobs and overconsumption, to cultural change and environmental degradation. This year, instead of their usual posts at a nearby hotel, hundreds of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) were allowed into the meeting, where many followed each step of the negotiations.

Why Young People and Trade?

"Young people need to know about trade issues, because they are the ones that are going to suffer from these decisions," said Sudyumna Dahal, 25, from the organization Youth Initiative in Nepal.

In September, 'Sudy' went to Cambodia to participate in a program with Oxfam International Youth Parliament (IYP). After learning about trade and completing a Trade Action Plan at the workshop, he went back to Nepal and held awareness workshops for youth.

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A Youth Activist on the Road Out

At the age of 17, Bremley Lyngdoh, a native of India, attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It was 1992 and he and other youth participants noticed a need for youth voices in international decision-making. Since then he has spoken about the importance of youth participation all over the world, from the chambers of the UN General Assembly to the streets of India. In 1999 he co-founded the Global Youth Action Network (GYAN), an organization which now serves to connect thousands of youth organizations in over 200 countries and territories.

An activist who prefers to work from the inside, Bremley recently brought his expertise to the World Bank where, among other things, he looked at the role of young people in preserving the environment and doing away with poverty. This fall he will be leaving his current position as Program Manager at the Youth Employment Summit Campaign (YES) and heading to the London School of Economics to complete his PhD in Sustainable Development.

Although he's no longer technically a youth, Bremley carries the institutional memory of an international youth movement that, over the last ten years, has grown increasingly sophisticated, creative and powerful. WireTap caught up with him recently and invited him to reflect on an ever-evolving movement.

WT: The World Bank has a pretty bad reputation with many people, should we people have faith in the Bank?

I was always one of those young people in the streets demonstrating and doing direct action because I was frustrated and apathetic and I labeled politicians all the same breed. I've done that for a long time, but then I thought hey, what if I speak their language and go inside the system of the Bank or the UN and change them from within instead of shouting out in the streets protesting and getting arrested.

I think the Bank and the UN save a lot of money because once you become staff you stay until you are 60. I just hope that the leadership will change and the doors will open up to the younger crew to come in at a professional level that will be respected for the value they bring, not just as youth or activists, but also as professionals who can really contribute to achieving what needs to be done.

WT: Do you think the role of youth is recognized in the international community?

Oh yes, I can tell you for a fact that since the Earth Summit in Rio [in 1992] many doors have been opened, especially in the Commission on Sustainable Development process, which is the most participative process in the UN system where governments consult with young people as part of the nine major [civil society] groups.

Even in the Security Council after Sept. 11, the governments are talking about youth because they are linking youth apathy and youth unemployment to destruction. They say an idle mind is destructive, but I would say that an educated, idle mind is worse because then you can organize, you can plan and you can really do bad things if you think in a negative way. Youth unemployment could lead to a national disaster. If we don't engage young people and give them a dignified form of employment or livelihood so they can sustain the family they will surely rebel against the system.

In 2005 we have the first five-year check on achieving the Millennium Development Goals, eight goals set by 189 countries of world to achieve in 2015. So far the world is not on track to reaching these goals, how can young people make these goals a reality?

My dream is to connect what I call the "triple A," the activists, the artists and the academics. I think the activist are the people that are on the ground who could do the hardcore development work, we could call them sustainable development professionals. The artists come in as people who are established and who want to help, young celebrities with money like Bono for example, or Jewel who supported us to fund the GYAN office in 2000. The artists can sing, act or use the media, to attack the mainstream by channeling their energy towards a development issues like HIV/AIDS, debt relief or whatever is closest to them. The artists can work with the activists on the ground by supporting their projects with fundraising. The academics, like Jeffery Sachs or Joseph Stieglitz, who are established and known around the world, can give youth academic and technical support so they become legitimate. And the best students at the best universities to get their professors to focus on regional issues facing young people.

WT: There's a lot of buzz in the international community about "partnerships." What kind of youth partnerships do you see working?

Why not hire the youth themselves to take care of the problems that young people face in their country, instead of sending in consultants from other countries who don't have a real picture of that country or community?

Partnerships mean really trusting youth with real resources and projects and policies on the ground so youth can implement, design, monitor and evaluate the projects themselves. The trust has to be built to say, "hey, we're going to give you guys a million dollars and it will be your show, we will not tell you what to do." It is not like "here's the money and here's how we want you to do it, that's not really a partnership," that's a dictatorship.

WT: Young people are often in school and in relationships; their lives are shifting and they are flaky; can they be real professional partners? Are you talking about 25-year olds, 18-year olds?

That's just a stereotype, that just because they are young they are unstable. There are a lot of young entrepreneurs out there who started before they were in high school or they started organizations when they were 10 and they have jumped over the age barrier! They may be barely 19, but they are acting like they are 30 years old and they have done so much that they are going to burn out. There are a few young leaders that exist in every pocket of every country and I think we should harness their energy and use their strength and replicate their success stories.

It seems like young people in other countries know more about what sustainable development is than youth in the US, do you think that is true?

That's true, they may not really understand the word "sustainable development," but they may have been practicing sustainable development since before the word came into existence. There is a lot being done now, the United Nations Education and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will have a whole decade for sustainable development education, and there are a lot of college integrating sustainable development courses. But I wish more schools could integrate it, even on the primary and high school levels, so people could understand sustainable development early on.

Young people should not just be looking for jobs but creating jobs as sustainable development entrepreneurs. Sustainable development education means in 3-5 years they are being trained to develop, raise the funds, and when they graduate, run a business which they have created in the three years they have been trained. We need to create systems for a whole new breed of sustainable development professionals or entrepreneurs who go out in the world and create more jobs and for other young people. Of course you make your money, but you are also concerned about the immediate environment and people around you. We talk a lot about corporate social responsibility, but what about individual social responsibility?

WT: How can youth from the US partner with youth abroad?

I think the Peace Corps or Americorps could bring in youth from other countries to work in different states in the US with local governments and institutions. They could learn from these kids from other countries about interacting with governments in their country is like, and then these kids could go back to China or India or wherever they are from and share what they learned from the US system.

This is especially important in the Midwest and in the farming communities who are out of the [International] loop. I rode my bicycle across the US and when I was in Indiana people would ask me where I was from. I would say "India" and they would say, "Oh, Indiana," and I would say, "No, India." The media is run differently here, you don't really focus too much on international issues, on development issues in other countries. We could bring kids in from other countries to share their experiences in these big states in the Midwest, where there are a lot of young people who are totally disconnected. I don't blame them – the system they live in and the schools where they are taught do not integrate international affairs into their curriculums. They don't know other countries exist and this has to change.

WT: So you were at Rio at 17, that means you are 29. You have sort of fallen out of the "youth" category, are you passing the torch?

I have pretty much passed the torch. The [thing about being] a young person is that everyone grows out of it, and there is no continuity. It is always a question of resources and time, because we might be youth, but we are also students, we may have families to take care of or jobs and other commitments.Youth have bills to pay and they also have to lead a sustainable life and practice what they preach. You can't talk about sustainable development when you are not even sustainable yourself. That's why all these youth activists burn out. They move on to pay their bills and they go back to the mainstream. But we need to find new blood to take on this work and continue on what people started back in Rio.

For more info, check out:
Global Youth Action Network
Youth Employment Summit Campaign
United Nations Program on Youth

We Have to Be the Change

writing the declaration
Youth at the World Congress of Youth in Morocco meet in small groups to write the text for the Casablanca Declaration

This generation is inheriting a world of war and the divide between the West and the Arab world is deep. I think we can do better. I'm 23. I'm an idealist. But this summer I went to a World Congress of Youth, and beyond learning of a truly universal love for the 50 Cent "In Da Club" song, I learned that we carry history in ourselves. We are more like our parents than we know -- and this is dangerous.

In August the world converged at a 1,000-person, two-week long World Congress of Youth in Morocco, which was put on by the King of Morocco and Peace Child, a non-governmental organization (NGO) from the United Kingdom. Our theme was, "Together for Tolerance, Solidarity and Sustainable Development." Little did I know what these words would come to mean.

The goal of the Congress was to write the "Casablanca Declaration," a unified world youth statement that would represent our common vision. We would use it to tell U.N. agencies, governments and world financial institutions what youth have done for economic and social development in our communities so that they would invest in us instead of putting their money into governments and programs that don't reach the people, or do more harm than good.

The plan was to present the Declaration to the King Mohammed VI, and then later the Moroccan government would present it to the U.N. General Assembly. Several divisions of the United Nations, UNICEF (the U.N. fund for children) and the World Bank had also agreed to take a look at the document.

The youth, ages 14-25, came together with incredible credentials. We were founders of organizations, leaders in our communities, delegates of governments, journalists and artists. Gandhi's words were our mantra, and we said them over and over, "You have to be the change you want to see in this world."

And what better way to be the change than to have people from 154 countries write a declaration in Arabic, French, English and Spanish on behalf of the world's youth? Or rather, as I was soon to find out, what better way to find the differences between the Western and Arab world than to have them agree on paper?


At one action project, participants dug holes to place signs at a new park.

After arriving at the Congress in our mix of fashion, religion and dance moves, we met by region to discuss our aims for the document. We drank mint tea in the sun, ceremoniously ate enough cous cous to fill a small swimming pool, and dressed up in national dress to meet the King's brother. Then a team of 12 regional delegates met day and night for five days straight to write the declaration (communicating in four languages), while everyone else was shipped off for five days of "action" projects.

In a spectacular feat of logistics, participants were sent across Morocco to the tops of mountains and into the Sahara desert. We returned with mixed feelings. The action turned out to be tourism, and the sustainable development was more scenic than participatory. In some cases the youth were more there as an international parade for the local population. In between being escorted around and drinking sweet mint tea with the locals, only a few satisfying hours of action occurred. There was some trench digging, park renovation, tree planting, camel riding, orphanage visiting, rabbit breeding and basket weaving.

After everyone returned to the Congress, people sat around for hours confused about what was going on, until suddenly each region had only two hours to make amendments to the declaration and propose them in the Congress forum. Although the bad organization and confusing translations didn't allow for people to put their concerns together and accurately represent their regions, the actual downfall of the congress session was the chaos caused by the first proposed amendment.

Bringing Down the Tent

The opening words to the Declaration specified that the youth were united regardless of nationality, class, gender etc. So, to add to this list of descriptors, Latin America, North America and Europe suggested including sexual orientation. The proposition brought down the house, or rather, the tent.

As soon as the translation went through in Arabic, many Moroccans and other delegates from Islamic countries were on their feet shouting in Arabic, chanting, and heading for the plenary stage. The arguments against adding in homosexuality weren't complex; there was no way homosexuality could be alluded to, because in Islam it does not exist. Though it wasn't specifically argued, there was no way a document could be handed to the King (who paid for the Congress) with such a reference.

A young African American man came to the stage and made a speech about why such a reference would be important. Then several young men came up and yelled in Arabic, and translation wasn't given. After that the tent was divided, almost exactly in half. Those in opposition sat on one side and those in favor on the other. One side was a sea of black and brown faces (African and Arab world) and the other a meld of lighter skin tones.

Mob Mentality

i am sad
The only way youth got to express their feelings at the meeting to address the violence -- through a sign.

The tension hung. Then after a workshop to fundraise for a youth peace coalition between Israelis and Palestinians, a Moroccan-led mob of Palestinians and their supporters stormed in, ripping apart the posters and t-shirts about peace, and flaunting their destruction in front of the watching Moroccan TV cameras. Several people were hurt in the confrontation, and the only Israeli girl attending the Congress was assaulted.

Let it be clear that the mob was not the majority, the violence was not committed by every Palestinian there, and many were trying to be reasonable, but an angry mob is formidable and not open for rationalization.

I grew up in racially divided public schools, but I had never seen a group hate another group because of their citizenship. It was difficult to decide how I felt, other than sad, because I understood that in many respects the Palestinians had no way of expression other than violence because of their country's economic oppression, daily destruction and humiliation by the Israeli occupation. The dreams of their young people can go nowhere, and right next door is a country that receives over $3.3 billion each year (Washington Report on Middle Eastern Affairs), or about $5,000 per person, in aid from the U.S.! A state of despair leads to desperate acts. But what is the state of our world if at an international youth meeting, a place where everyone was to have a chance to speak and people would listen, that people still knew no other way to express themselves than through violence?

For the rest of the day, Palestinians wore their flags like capes around the camp, and the rest of us were stunned that the Middle Eastern war had played out right in front of our eyes. When the Moroccan organizers finally called a meeting to address the violence, they said they would not take responsibility for the attack because they had not invited the Israelis to the meeting, their co-sponsor Peace Child had. They did not say that the assailants would be expelled. They would not directly condemn the attack because the Arab states do not recognize the country of Israel.

I was shocked. I couldn't understand why they could not at least assure us that those who committed the violence would be asked to leave. When I asked a young Moroccan, Mohammed, age 20, why they could not publicly expel those who hit the girl he said that it would have made no difference to single out individuals because each person in that mob would have hit the girl had they had the chance. To publicly denounce the attack, regardless of how the Moroccan organizers really felt, would have only stirred more anti-Israeli solidarity among participants and made the situation worse. It was impossible for justice to be served for this one small act of violence because it is impossible for justice to be served to the whole. Steps toward peace would not be beginning that day, and for me to expect that was to overlook the complexity and severity of the conflict.


holding hands
Youth hold hands and sing John Lennon's Imagine.

I had never felt the weight of history so deeply. The word solidarity was suddenly sour: solidarity means that you all think the same and act the same together, you are solidified as a group and therefore empowered to do far more than you could as an individual. Solidarity means mob mentality. Solidarity is dangerous. Solidarity meant that Morocco had to act in accordance with all the other Arab countries it allied with. There was no moral high ground; there were just political alliances and a history of division.

After the meeting to address the attack (which ended with a handshake between an Israeli and a Palestinian, but no youth had been allowed to speak, and personal safety of the Israelis had not been addressed) we all held hands and sung "Imagine" by John Lennon, the Palestinians with their flags draped around their shoulders. I could not sing, I kept thinking about what Mohamed had said, -- "they could not punish one because they all would have done it"-- and I cried the kind of tears where you are choking, and I could not stop. I wasn't crying because one girl got hit, I was crying because they all would have done it.

The strength of my reaction surprised me. Was I really so idealistic that this relatively small act of violence shattered me? Part of it too, was anger. This was a youth meeting, youth must be the ones speaking to work this out, and the adults had sold us out again by managing this problem, and not addressing it head on. Youth then, were only allowed to address problems in the abstract, on paper, but when something arose that did affect us, we were not allowed to talk about it.

We live in a world of violence, pain and injustice, and the world's young people were singing "Imagine" and holding hands. At that moment I did not believe that peace was possible because no one would take responsibility and each country has alliances that are too large to change. It was too much to stomach.

Casablanca Non-Consensus

The presenters pose before the ceremony to present the declaration to the the Princess. Countries L to R: Kenya, United States (the author), Morocco, Comoros

After that, any semblance of democratic process fell to the wayside as Peace Child and the Moroccan Youth Forum tried to hold onto what little order was left. When the time came to vote to accept the Casablanca Declaration the next day (two hours before it was scheduled to be given to the King) the youth were at a gridlock.

All Spanish and Portuguese speaking countries refused to vote because the declaration had not been translated, as originally promised, into Spanish. Many other delegates refused to vote because Israel was not allowed to vote (Palestine was) or add amendments, though it was a state recognized by the United Nations. Others, completely frustrated that the document had been created in such an unnecessary rush (we did have 12 days), with no time to debate because of tension and confusion, refused to adopt it because they felt the point of the Congress had been missed: there had been no real youth democratic process, there had been no time to really write it together.

So 45 minutes later, with 21 abstentions (U.S. and Europe and Asia), 17 opposed (Latin America, some Africa and some Europe), 17 in favor with reservations (a mix, including Canada), and 26 (primarily Africa and Arab) in favor, the Declaration technically passed, though it was originally intended to be adopted by consensus. It was then presented in a quick ceremony to the Princess (the King didn't make it as promised after all), which was broadcast on Moroccan national television. The congress had actually been in the Moroccan news every night and in the newspaper each day.

We were dressed to the nines for the ceremony. A Scottish bagpiper in a kilt played a serenade, the African girls had elegant head wraps and the Moroccan girls looked like princesses in their embroidered full dresses. The men looked nice in their long robes and round hats, and sharp in their suits. We pressed our different faces together and took pictures. To see all of us was moving in itself.

Learning from our Mistakes

By now you're probably thinking that the Congress was a spectacular failure, but to me it was far from being a failure. To go to a smoothly run democratic meeting in a western country wouldn't have shown me much more than I already knew. Despite the tensions and conflicts, I feel that progress was made because change is slow and the Moroccan monarchy opened up its doors to give Moroccans the chance to meet youth from the entire world. Girls with tattoos were talking to girls in headscarves, and young Pakistanis and Indians made a peace coalition across their two countries (to make a phone call from India to Pakistan is monitored by the police). Learning, sometimes, is all that we can do.

In the end alliances were formed on all sorts of levels and will continue. Youth "tolerance, solidarity, and sustainable development" did happen, just in conversations over tea about how Dakar was the world's hip hop capital second to New York, or in the girl from South Africa teasing the boy from Saudi Arabia, "I just got my license to ride an elephant to school." It happened in subtle and symbolic ways, like when a girl from India used a shovel for the first time, when Arab Muslims and Americans talked about dating and marriage on the bus, or when one Mongolian girl's folk dance received a standing ovation.

Because there was so much frustration with the processes at the Congress, a group formed called the "Positive Feedback Committee," launched a website, and have since posted a long list of the how and why of what went awry. Their hope is that if the Casablanca Declaration does get presented to the U.N. General Assembly, a background on the conditions it was created in will be given. Meanwhile, because of the declaration, the United Nations Development Program of Morocco may dedicate .7% of funds to be spent on youth-led development projects.

The fact is, most large-scale international youth meetings are organizational disasters that produce documents that aren't fully implemented (much like the U.N.). But they proliferate because there's no better way to learn than by meeting the entire world in one setting. As humans we live far beyond processes -- we learn from each other when we are staying up all night working together, flirting, dreaming, playing soccer and arguing.

The congress was really about the meeting of the Arab and Western world, the global South and North, the developed and developing world -- because for once, we were all represented. People came from Australia and the Caribbean, Tokyo, Hawaii, China and Comoros, Togo, Sierra Leone, South Africa and Scotland. At another U.N. youth assembly this summer in Russia nearly half the participants got stuck at customs and did not reach the meeting. For youth just to meet is a big deal in a world of tightening visa restrictions!

The King paid for the food and lodging, but we each had to raise our travel costs. So why did we come? Because we know there is enough wealth in the world for everyone to live with dignity and because we love to meet each other and we think we can do better.

Still, there is much to be gained from realizing the truth about the world you live in. No one ever said reality was easy and fun. I came to Morocco with minimal expectations and prejudgments. It was a lot of work to discover how different we are. I walked away with more prejudices than I came with because I saw them to be true. I'm still an idealist. But if the youth can't do it, I don't think anyone else can.

The Future

Two weeks after the Congress, the World Trade Organization talks failed for similar reasons as we did: mysterious processes of document creation, politicized leadership, inability for people to put their concerns on the table right away, and the blatant ignoring of certain country's contributions, though they had every right to contribute.

This generation can be a bridge, but not if we don't change ourselves. If we keep acting like our parents do, we're going to end up with a world that isn't fit for our own children. I wish I could tell you the answer, I wish I could tell you Arab and African Muslim youth and Western youth get along and communicate with ease, but we don't. One is a culture of endless individualism, in the other there is a unified Arab or Muslim identity, which often politically and culturally lacks self-criticism. Both are changing, but each side wonders why the other can't be more like itself.

So where do we go from here? We stay vigilant that everyone is heard and has a chance to speak. We look at ourselves and the history we carry. We find our differences and then we keep talking. Those of us who are privileged need to live for more than ourselves. We work together, because if you can share in one way you can eventually share in another. We realize we share the same goals for a peaceful world where everyone can live with dignity, and that we already share culture. We recognize that necessary change will not come from governments because they are too stiff. It will not come from any government that does not allow for the diversity of their society to develop. It will come from flexibility -- of our governments and ourselves. If seemingly large setbacks occur, we realize that we value the small connections enough to keep going.

This is your challenge too. Because we have to be the change we want to see in this world.

Emily Freeburg, 23, works for a non-governmental organization at the U.N. in New York.

Youth Take a Stand at the UN

youth at UNFrancis Dijibo is an Ogoni indigenous person from Nigeria. He left his village when he was 20 because the water from the only stream was no longer safe to drink and there were open gas flares burning 24 hours a day. Shell International was responsible for the pollution, but the village has received no compensation – there are no schools, no electricity and no hospitals.

When the villagers went to the company to complain, they were ignored. When they demonstrated, they were shot at, and 9 Ogoni people were hung. To look for an escape for himself and his people, Francis went to Gabon to meet with the UN Protection officer as the spokesman for the Ogoni. Francis has been seeking asylum from the UN for several years. "If you are not safe or you are attacked the most acceptable place to go is to the United Nations," says Francis "[In Nigeria] It is not a strange idea…"

Five years later, Francis is now in New York on invitation from Partnership for Indigenous Peoples Environment, a non-government association (NGO) that is affiliated with the United Nations. On a recent weekday Francis came to the UN in New York to speak on a youth panel discussing how to "Create a Culture of Peace." It was a small event. About 40 people, members of NGOs and a few medium-tier UN employees, attended the forum. Francis talked about what peace meant to him as a person from a war-torn country with youth from the American suburbs.

Although the discussion was a rich one, Francis says he feels his words might have had much more impact if more people had been there to hear them. And, he says, he has noticed a pattern. Like Francis, many of the youth who come to the UN community are there to represent large numbers of people, and to be the voices that cannot be represented by large governments. And, like Francis’, their voices are often pushed to the margins.

"How many times have young people participated in General Assembly Discussions?" he asks. "They should include everyone. If African youth are not involved, who will speak for [all the] people displaced by war?"


Be like a UN official and join the world conference extravaganza. This summer there are two world youth summits:
This August in Morocco, the World Congress of Youth will meet to focus on how young people can work to achieve sustainable development, as well as how young people can support the efforts of their countries in achieving the UN millennium goals. See www.maroc2003.org, or email contact@peachild.org.

Also in August, the Peaceways-Young General Assembly will meet in Romania (email peaceways@igc.org). The Young General Assembly has democratic meetings each year for its 86 member organizations in 53 countries involving over 1 million young people. Peaceways, headquartered in San Mateo, California, is for youth up to age 24, but only those under 18 can vote on their resolutions. Read what Peaceways said in their address to the World Conference on Sustainable Development in 2002:
"We examined thoroughly the causes for each of these issues and concluded the root causes are the desire for money (greed) and power, hatred and pride/revenge, education is not valued or funded enough, wealth is valued more than the environment and natural resources, there is widespread depression about the present and lack of hope about the future, too little value is placed on human life and labor, communication is not clear, there is a great lack of inner peace, and a widespread disallowance of child and youth participation."


As for what you can use to lobby your own government, the General Assembly has adopted multiple resolutions on programs for youth (See the most recent resolution yourself, A/RES/56/117, on www.UN.org). These resolutions commit every UN member state to promoting youth participation in government, and reaffirm that resolutions and documents agreed upon at world conferences, like the World Programme of Action for Youth and the Dakar Framework for Action at the World Education Forum, will lead to action. Conference declarations and UN resolutions are meant to be used as tools by governments to develop goals and programs, but also can be used by citizens to hold their government accountable.
For example:
The World Programme of Action for Youth to the year 2000 and Beyond calls upon member states to "…include Youth Representatives in their national delegations to the General Assembly and other relevant United Nations meetings, thus enhancing and strengthening the channels of communication through the discussion of youth related issues, with a view to find solutions to the problems confronting youth in the contemporary world."

The NGO Committee on Youth has compiled a list of ways to get involved such as researching international issues like sustainable development, poverty eradication and the environment in school, taking courses in international relations and economics, visiting other countries, developing friendships with people from other cultures, and learning about how bills are passed in your own country, as well as about the process of laws and international convention in the UN.

As for action, the NGO youth committee suggests joining or starting a chapter of an NGO and working on issues they are following. For instance, Boy and Girl Scouts of America are NGOs with UN representation, and most religious denominations have NGO representatives at the UN in New York.

The committee advocates organizing petitions, such as Amnesty International's Urgent Actions, to be sent to government officials, as well as emailing, calling or writing government leaders. For example, you could get group of friends, your church youth group or lunch time club, to each call/write one leader on one issue agreed upon once a month. Also, look in to starting a model UN club at school, or volunteer or intern at a local NGO that works with UN or UN issues.
The UN usually defines youth as anyone between the ages of 15 and 24. Because, like Francis, many young people have lived through experiences as refugees, child soldiers, AIDS orphans and victims of human rights abuses, it makes sense that they can speak to these experiences directly. And many people feel that it is important that they have a chance to speak at the UN. But equally important, young people have contributions to make with new ideas, motivation and idealism.

When given the opportunity, many young people are rising to the occasion. For example, a youth manifesto has been a part of the Northern Ireland peace process; as part of the country rebuilding process in Afghanistan there was a conference for young people to plan a youth agenda for development, and there is an effort to involve youth that are former child soldiers in the peace process in Sierra Leone.

Last year, two children spoke at the UN Security Council about growing up in war, and young representatives at this summer’s World Summit on Sustainable Development made sure the importance of youth involvement and the consideration of children was added in the first paragraph of the conference declaration.

World Youth Conferences are also becoming more and more frequent.

In an impressive undertaking last September, 1,600 youth delegates from 120 countries met in Alexandria, Egypt for a Youth Employment Summit (www.youthemploymentsummit.org, to find out about ongoing projects). The summit was held to strategize solutions for what some consider the current world employment crisis: 1.3 billion people live on less than $1 a day, and by 2010 there will be 700 million young people hoping to enter the work force. The summit launched a "Decade Campaign of Action" with the goal that an additional 500 million young adults, especially youth facing poverty, will have "productive and sustainable livelihoods" (jobs) by the year 2012.

The important thing about conferences like this is the coalitions that can form between organizations and the documents the conferences produce. The challenge, however, is follow-through. Picture it: A Group of young people spend a week in a room together coming up with one statement that lists all their needs and obstacles, and then they all return to their own countries, schools, communities. Most youth are then not in positions to ensure that follow through happens within the governments where they live.

The conferences are significant, especially in theory, but questions come up: Is it worth bringing youth into the larger UN community, if they do not have the resources for a consistent presence at the UN? Further, how can youth participate at an international level if there are not sufficient channels to communicate with their governments in their own countries? Are youth participants at the UN just sitting at a "kid’s table" at the most important international dinners?

The General Assembly

As many people know, The General Assembly meetings are where most of the major decision-making within the UN takes place. The General Assembly is the only place where representatives from 191 countries are all given an equal opportunity to vote and pass resolutions.

Thirty years ago the UN General Assembly agreed that every country could have a youth delegate to the assembly. The number of youth delegates varies slightly every year but out of the 191, it tends to stay below 10. This year only six countries had a delegate, and, interestingly, five of them were from northern European countries -- Norway, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Australia. Although we can assume that these youth were concerned for youth worldwide, the delegates themselves admitted they could not adequately represent youth from places like Africa or Asia.

There is still a lot to learn from their six examples. Like in many European countries, the Netherlands has a national youth council. Through the Dutch National Youth Council, the government can easily support and consult with Dutch youth, and Dutch youth have an accessible link to make their voices heard at the national level. When the Dutch youth delegate, Leotinen Peeters (age 26), spoke to the UN Third Committee this October, she recommended that other governments adopt similar youth council structures.

"You Just Throw Out Your Business Card And Hope They Can Get In Touch With You"

The mechanism for including more youth in the country delegations is there, but member states are ambivalent to making the additions. Rebecca Jenkin (age 23), this year's Australian Youth Representative, says she believes that member states are "concerned about a loss of control or the impact that youth representatives may have on the mission’s already massive workload." But, she says, on the contrary, competent youth representatives can actually end up lightening the workload and providing expertise through their involvement with youth organizations back in their countries.

Mads-Erik Schionnemann (age 26), the youth delegate from Denmark, thinks that at the UN an entire "attitude adjustment is needed. Young people should not just be consulted, when it fits the budget, when it is politically attractive or when someone gets the idea. Young people and their democratic organizations should automatically be heard in the development of policies and programs that will develop the world, they are to grow up in."

Aside from the delegates and interns that only stay a few months, youth are fairly sparse at the UN. The UN and NGOs periodically fly in young representatives from around the world so different regions are represented, since, as Francis puts it, "Youth with the golden spoon cannot lead displaced youth."

A 13- year old from Bosnia that spoke at the Security Council last year is one example, and the NGO’s recruitment of Francis is another. Unfortunately, with the tightening security at U.S customs, U.S. visas are becoming more difficult to acquire and access to the UN in New York, (which is considered international territory) is becoming limited. Even Francis, who is legally visiting with an NGO, is unsure how long he will be able to stay in the U.S.

There are bodies in place that could have youth representatives permanently at the UN. The NGO Peaceways-Young General Assembly is run completely by and for youth. They represent over 1 million people, but can’t afford to keep someone at the UN all the time. Andrea Kominski (age 22), the volunteer Young-GA representative in New York, said "We have problems getting people under 18 in, and we are limited by how many people we can afford to fly here."

Kominski says she sees her networking work at the UN important, but she says it is hard to build on the information given at the UN meetings because "the tight schedule doesn’t encourage a culture of discussion. You just throw your business card out and hope they get in touch with you," she adds.

During the February meeting of the Commission on Social Development, 10 youth representatives from Lebanon to South Africa will form a caucus to discuss how youth involvement at the UN can be more comprehensive and consistent. The meeting should help to organize a fragmented movement, but there is still a long ways to go before there are youth representatives permanently at the UN.
UN speakersOnline, it’s a different story. There are hundreds of international youth organizations linked to the UN Youth Unit’s website http://www.un.org/youth. Organizations like Peaceways-Young General Assembly and Taking It Global, discuss everything from disarmament, AIDS, sustainable development and peace education. But the impacts these online communities can truly have, beyond empowering individuals and familiarizing them with the kinds of communication possible on the Internet, is still yet to be seen.

Like the "Culture of Peace" forum Francis spoke at, or the kickoff event for the 2003 as The Year of Freshwater where a children’s chorus sang, there are youth sporadically participating in UN forums. Occasionally young people, country delegates or others, address the UN plenary, but "there is still a lack of appreciation for the power of a young person’s voice," says Kominski.

Though the international youth movement is fragmented, its uneven momentum is gathering, and it will be up to youth themselves to determine -or demand- their influence. Like any international process, change is arduous and can take a long time. But besides being up to youth to ask, it is also up to world leaders to listen. As Leontien Peters from the Netherlands said when she addressed the delegations at a NGO/DPI conference in September, "Let youth share in the burden of responsibility for our world. By showing you have faith in us, we may continue to have faith in you."

Emily Freeburg, 22, is a writer who lives in New York and works for Franciscans International, an NGO with the UN.

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