Human Rights Day celebrates ‘tremendous activism’ of the world’s young people

© UNICEF David Berkwitz High school girls from Long Island, New York, join other youth climate activists in a demonstration calling for global action to combat climate change. (20 September 2019)

This article is brought to you in association with the United Nations.


The United Nations is highlighting the role of young people in leading the way to a better future for all people for this year’s observance of Human Rights Day, celebrated on Tuesday.

They are the ones who are “bringing human rights to life”, as UN Secretary-General António Guterres stated in his message for the day.

“Globally, young people are marching, organizing, and speaking out: For the right to a healthy environment, for the equal rights of women and girls, to participate in decision-making, and to express their opinions freely”, he said.

“They are marching for their right to a future of peace, justice and equal opportunities.”

Human Rights Day commemorates the 10 December 1948 adoption by the UN General Assembly of the landmark Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims the inalienable rights of all people.

It is an annual reminder that everyone is entitled to all civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, social origin, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or any other status.

Praise for youth leadership in climate action

This year’s observance comes as countries are meeting in Madrid for the UN COP25 conference on climate change, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out.

Michelle Bachelet added that it also falls amid an era of “tremendous activism”, particularly by young people.

Ms. Bachelet described the climate emergency as the most profound threat to human rights globally since the Second World War.  It puts numerous rights at risk, including the right to life, health, food, water, shelter, development and self-determination.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to all those millions of children, teenagers and young adults who have been standing up and speaking out more and more loudly about the crisis facing our planet”, Ms. Bachelet said in her statement for Human Rights Day.

“Rightly, these young people are pointing out that it is their future which is at stake, and the future of all those who have not yet even been born. It is they who will have to bear the full consequences of the actions, or lack of action, by the older generations who currently run governments and businesses, the decision-makers on whom the future of individual countries, regions and the planet as whole depends.”

Education supports human rights

The rights chief stressed that young people must be heard: an opinion shared by another top UN voice.

Active engagement of youth is central to achieving societies that are inclusive and stable, according to Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the President of the UN General Assembly.

“We have to utilize the idealism of youth and empower them to stand up for equal rights and fair treatment of everyone everywhere”, he said.  “We need to ensure that youth have the right to participate in decision-making and have their voices heard.”

Mr. Muhammad-Bande believes that providing youth with access to inclusive quality education is one way to guarantee that they know their rights and are thus empowered.

Human Rights Day also marks another UN annual observance: the end of 16 days of activism against gender-based violence, and he commended the contributions of women activists worldwide for their dedication to upholding collective human rights.                      

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