Comment for Finland’s term on the UN Human Rights Council

08.02.2022

Photo: UN Geneva, Human Rights Council – 35th Session (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

 

The UN Youth of Finland thanks the Ministry for Foreign affairs of Finland for the invitation to participate in the hearing and comment on the goals and focuses of Finland’s term in the UN Human Rights Council. 

The UN Youth of Finland, founded in 1967, is a politically non-aligned national youth association. The main function of the UN Youth is to act amongst youth and students to inform them about the work and goals of the UN. The UN Youth of Finland acts as the umbrella organisation for local UN Youth associations in Finland and the Finnish Model United Nations Society.

Introduction: Youth Rights

Although human rights apply to everyone, certain groups of people face particular barriers in accessing and enjoying their rights. To address some of these barriers, countries have developed international instruments dedicated to the rights of certain groups including women, children and persons with disabilities, for example. However, while the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applies to individuals under the age of 18, it does not cover youth over 18. These young people are moving between two stages of life – childhood and adulthood –  and can be particularly vulnerable to discrimination in various forms. They often encounter difficulties in accessing education, quality employment, social protection and full access to civil and political rights, limiting their potential. Given the barriers young people face by virtue of their age there is a need for specific protection to tackle discrimination against young people and to remove the barriers that are stopping them from accessing their rights. This is what we refer to when we talk about youth rights and in this comment we address vital human rights questions from this perspective.

1. Climate Crisis

At the end of 2021, the UN Human Rights Council decided that a clean, healthy and sustainable environment is a human right. It is quite self-evident that the greatest threats to this human right are posed by the climate crisis and the biodiversity loss. According to the latest IPCC report, the 1.5 °C warming will be reached in the early 2030s, six years after Finland’s membership of the UN Human Rights Council ends. The report emphasizes the scale, speed and irreversibility of the changes caused by global warming and calls for action at the international level.

The youth around the world have expressed their concern about the environmental crisis and taken responsibility for building a sustainable future. However, young people do not possess the power to make world-changing decisions and the resources of the youth to solve the problems caused by the climate crisis are relatively small: for example not everyone even has the right to vote. Resolving the climate crisis must not be passed on to future generations. Decision-makers and international actors need to listen to the concerns of the youth and prioritize building a sustainable future in their decision-making.

Educating the youth and involving them in decision-making are important in tackling the challenges of the climate crisis and environmental sustainability. Growing up surrounded by environmental issues enables respect for nature and the environment and these become self-evident truths. Everyone should understand the interdependence between the health of the individual, the well-being of the environment, good living conditions and the diversity of nature.

Climate crisis is a matter of security and a matter of peace. It is a question of global equality and human rights. The role of the youth as future decision-makers and active citizens plays a great part in tackling the climate crisis but climate action cannot wait for the next generation to take the lead. A sustainable future needs to be build now, together with the future generations.

2. Peace

The climate crisis is intertwined with different conflicts in many ways and it can make already existing conflicts worse. When social, economic and environmental conditions are worsened by climate change, existing tensions can be exacerbated which can lead to wider unrest and conflict. Countries and areas which already suffer from war and conflict also have less resources and options to deal with the effects of climate change, and for example countries suffering from long-running civil wars are often not capable of providing food security for their citizens suffering from famine.

The climate crisis both worsens many existing conflicts but also creates conditions that can lead to new ones. Therefore it is imperative that the climate crisis is taken seriously and global warming is limited as much as possible but also that youth are involved in peace building processes that affect their future. All possible steps must be taken to ensure that peace building processes become more inclusive and efficient, because the climate crisis, among other factors, is likely to continue to make war and conflict even more devastating in the future.

Conflicts often threaten young people’s rights and future in particular ways. Therefore it is vital that the youth are also involved in the peace processes and peace building more broadly. While the youth alone cannot solve conflicts, their participation in these processes ensures that their needs and wishes are heard and respected, and that they can access their full human rights. The work for making this a reality has already begun with the adaptation of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2250: Youth, Peace and Security, and more recently with Finland’s adoption of the globally first National Action Plan on this resolution. While important steps, we also call for seeing the participation of young people in peace building – and the society at large – as being directly linked to the question of human rights. And even more broadly we argue that this is key for the realisation of all human rights in general, since conflict is always a threat to human rights, and we cannot achieve lasting peace without the youth. 

3. Intersectionality

In addition to special issues relating to wide themes of climate crisis and peace, it is crucially important to stress that human rights should be entitled to everyone regardless of their age, nationality, ethnicity, language, skin color, sexuality, gender, physical ability, religion, status,  or other such things.

Among other groups, young people as future active citizens and decision makers should be valued in societies and consequently their rights as human beings should be acknowledged in all spheres of life including education, healthcare, employment and civic and political participation. While youth are in many ways disregarded in human rights discourse, intersectional reasons as multiple overlapping variables exclude some groups of younger generation more than the others. Having access to human rights and equal distribution of mobility opportunities among minorities should be taken into account in discussion on youth rights. Especially youth mobility should be supported nationally and internationally to improve life prospects among all the youth and to give them better possibilities to grow into active participants in the future. 

For instance, Finland as a top-ranked country in higher education welcomes a great number of international students per year, while when it comes to the job market, most of the international graduates are excluded due to their nationality and Finnish language skills. All groups of young people should have equal access to human rights as future active citizens in the society and issues preventing their opportunities should be actively addressed nationally and internationally. 

Conclusion

Ensuring youth rights is crucially important because it is clear that all the youth deserve to have equal access to their rights. It is also important to understand that not addressing these issues will have long term effects in all aspects of societies. If the young people can have access to their full human rights they can have an important role, for example, in peace processes, tackling the climate crisis and realisation of everyone’s human rights. This is why the UN Youth of Finland wants to use this opportunity to ask Finland to promote the youth rights during its term on the UN Human Rights Council. By doing this Finland would significantly contribute to the future where all the youth all over the world could enjoy the full access to their human rights and use their full potential to build a more peaceful and sustainable future, together with today’s decision makers.

 

On behalf of the UN Youth of Finland on 2.2.2022

 

Camilla Ojala 

Puheenjohtaja 

Suomen YK-nuoret

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