My Experience at the UN 2018 Day of General Discussion Conference
In this article, I would like to share my experience regarding my participation in the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child 2018 Day of General Discussion (DGD): “Protecting and Empowering Children as Human Rights Defenders (CHRD)”. This event took place in September at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.
I was asked to attend this event through my engagement and volunteer work as a Canadian adolescent correspondent with the Inter-American Children’s Institute. This DGD, including briefing and debriefing days before and after the conference, was primarily organized by Child Rights Connect, a non-governmental organization based in Geneva. One aspect that was crucial to the success of the conference was to have children and young people broadly represented.
This was accomplished thanks to Child Rights Connect graciously helping fund child rights defenders to travel from all across the world to attend the DGD conference to discuss a variety of issues related to Children Human Rights Defenders (CHRD). For me, this diversity and broad representation of children and youth is what made my experience so incredible. I was thrilled to meet young, inspirational people from many parts of the world with different life experiences, cultures, and languages, but who were all united together in Geneva to advocate for the importance of human rights.
Being raised in Canada, a bilingual country, I am able to speak English and French and have also learned to speak Spanish fluently. These three languages were the primary languages of the conference and were the three languages being translated for participants. As for me personally, it was so neat to be able to speak to all the children there without needing a translator. It felt incredibly freeing to be able to communicate with my fellow Children Human Rights Defenders from Benin, Sierra Leone, Argentina, Peru, Moldova, and the Philippines without encountering any language barriers! Languages have always been an important part of my identity and a big passion of mine. However, interacting with my fellow peers in Geneva was the first time I felt the immense freedom and uniqueness that comes from being able to speak multiple languages. I was very busy, however, as I found myself being frequently asked to interpret and translate for fellow peers which was a task I humbly welcomed.
Another aspect I would like to share that left an impression on me was, the level of connection and honesty of the adults at the DGD. From the opening plenary, I knew I was part of something special. The adult speakers were honest and apologetic about the history of adults not listening to youth and excluding them in decisions affecting their futures. Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated, “Today we are going to talk about you with you. It should not be such a rare and exceptional event to have people of your age and with your experience at the UN”. She went on to say, “It’s time to reset the power relationship between older and young people; listen more respectfully to children, value their voices; be more accountable for our promises to children.” Renate Winter, Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, added “to exclude the young population in deciding about their rights in not only unfair, it is not intelligent at all.” Youth speakers from Argentina, Benin, and Canada also stated, “I have had to change schools for acting to defend other. This can be what happens when we carry the flag of truth.” “Youth are not the future; we are the present” and when “children are given platforms to express their views, they can be empowered.” All of these quotes are to illustrate that the adults were ready to listen to youth and that youth were empowered to speak out and convey their opinions, concerns and wishes. One of the biggest obstacles that I have encountered as a Child Human Rights Defender is not being taken seriously. Nevertheless, I can proudly say that at the DGD conference, I truly felt that what I had expressed was taken seriously by the adults who attended the conference.
Speaking of adults, a unique opportunity that I took part in during the DGD was a panel interview with Jean MacDonald: head of the human rights team in the permanent mission of Ireland. The topic of the panel interview was “Civil Society Space for Child Human Rights Defenders”. I thoroughly enjoyed this experience as it was a thrilling opportunity to interview someone who is doing the work that I aspire to do in my future. The interview itself was stimulating and I particularly enjoyed being able to draw from my own personal experience with civil society organizations, and their impact that they have had on me as a Child Human Rights Defender. Furthermore, having to answer questions coming from the floor, was an equally challenging yet thrilling part of the panel interview. I learned a lot from partaking in this experience and I know I have gained invaluable practise in the domaine of preparing for and executing interviews. I hope to speak on many more panels in my lifetime therefore participating in my first one at the DGD conference in Geneva, will forever remain a special moment for me! It is an opportunity that not many youth are given, therefore I am incredibly grateful and proud to have participated in the interview.
Moreover, my experience at the DGD conference in Geneva was an experience I will certainly never forget because it was the first time I was able to meet 2 fellow, first generation CORIA correspondents as well as my overseer. After having networked with these marvellous Children’s Human Rights Defenders and coordinator for nearly ten months (and having read their articles), it was surreal being able to meet them and have face to face conversations. I was so fortunate to have this opportunity! Even though we all live in different countries, I know we will remain positive influences in each other’s lives.
As I aspire to pursue my studies in international relations and diplomacy, I feel that I will look back on this experience at the UN as the first stepping stone to realizing my goals and that it will forever be cherished and held dear to my heart.
I would like to end by expressing that I will continue advocating for human rights as I am committed to the belief that human rights are for every human on our planet. I am, more than ever before, empowered to stand up and voice my views to affect positive social change. Finally, I will conclude by saying that “I can assure you that there are resilient and inspiring youth all across the globe that are not only our future, but our present”.
Canadian CORIA Correspondent