12 August 2002

Statement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

International Youth Day – 12 August 2002

Sustainable Development - the theme of International Youth Day 2002-is a theme at the heart of youth concerns. Young people, North and South, acting in solidarity, play a critical role in advocating for and contributing to sustainable development in all societies. Young people, with their own worldview can influence decision-makers to implement the deep changes that are needed to guide our world to a sustainable future.

It is vital that the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which opens in Johannesburg in two weeks time, reinvigorates the global commitment to sustainable development first laid out ten years ago in Agenda 21 of the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.

Sustainable development was defined at Rio as:
“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

If we are to achieve that vision of development we must eradicate poverty and hunger, change unsustainable modes of production and reverse environmental degradation.

Young people have the energy and commitment to make it happen. They know that if development policies are to work for them and their children, they must be based on the principle of equal human dignity and the universal acceptance of all human rights and freedoms. Young people should continue to campaign for peace and against the widespread denial of human rights and freedoms, including to the most vulnerable of today’s youth. They should demand action on poverty, on the rights to education, food, adequate housing, and a safe environment. They should demand action also on health including on HIV/Aids, a pandemic that affects them disproportionately. They should continue to press for the elimination of discrimination against any member of our single human family. And they should claim their rights to participate and to be heard at the national and international level.

The impact of the work that young people are doing around the world, and around the clock is being felt. I witnessed the power of youth at last year’s World Conference against Racism in Durban. The global youth movement against racism formed there is spearheading anti-racism action in many countries. Young people in Guyana, for example, have convinced shops, businesses, schools, sports clubs and the police force to turn their buildings into “race-free zones.” Their entrepreneurial spirit has transformed the consciousness of their community and laid the foundation for eradicating racism and promoting tolerance.

On this third International Youth Day I would like to encourage young people to continue their inspirational efforts. To campaign now for human rights and equality for all is to lay the groundwork for sustainable development for all, development that will not compromise the needs, dreams and possibilities of future generations.

Mary Robinson