US urges youth leaders to voice concerns on threats vs democracy amid global crises

Anna Cerezo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 11 2021 08:45 AM

Screengrab from US Department of State video
Screengrab from US Department of State video

MANILA— About 70 youth leaders from different nations convened over the weekend for the Democracy Summit Youth Town Hall, with the United States discussing threats to democratic rights and norms around the world. 

One of the attendees at the global discussion was Bryan Ezra Gonzales, a Filipino legislative lobbyist, human rights worker, and good governance advocate. 

Gonzales, founding president and COO of the National Society of Parliamentarians, Inc., has helped establish several national youth organizations in the Philippines such as the award-winning good governance network GoodGov PH and human rights coalition Young Human Rights Defenders. 

He also previously served as executive director of the Human Rights and People Empowerment Center, Inc., as well as a policy advocacy officer at the Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance, Inc., a coordinator of the Mambabatas Para sa Karapatang Pantao (Legislators for Human Rights) coalition, and a consultant at the Senate of the Philippines.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said young leaders are "one of our greatest untapped resources for revitalizing democracy, human rights, and governance" as well as the planet's "most powerful resource."

"As we strive for more inclusive democracy, it is crucial to hear young voices like yours... [We] need your talents, your insights, your wisdom, and your passion," Thomas-Greenfield said. 

Thomas-Greenfield added that the biggest challenges democracies face today would affect young people most acutely such as the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"You know better than anyone where the world is headed, and you are the ones who will inherit it. So we have a serious obligation to ensure you have a seat at the table...The decisions we make now will reverberate for the rest of your lives. So your voices need to be heard," she explained. 

"Perhaps most importantly, you are coming of age at a moment when democracy is under threat around the world including in the United States," the American official added. 

COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Among the most pressing issues straining the democracy of nations, she said, is the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The pandemic is one issue that is so much more than a health crisis. It's also a crisis in governance as many governments around the world mismanage the crisis or use the crisis as a pretext for extending emergency powers, stepping up digital surveillance, and silencing dissent," Thomas-Greenfield said.

She also noted that the pandemic has serious effects on the global economy, holding back growth and aggravating poverty, disrupting service provisions, and exacerbating inequality, with the poorest countries likely to face the longest lasting repercussions. 

"The pandemic has also led to significant setbacks in terms of many of the development gains from the past two decades," she said.

"Some countries containing the virus became a means to constrain people by limiting fundamental freedoms. Controlling disinformation became a pretext for blocking citizens' access to free timely, and accurate information and limiting people's movements," she said.
 
To resolve issues spurred by the health crisis, Thomas-Greenfield said the pandemic must first end. 

"That means getting vaccines distributed and administered around the world and saving lives. This is a global pandemic and no one is safe until all of us are safe," she said.

FIGHTING FOR DEMOCRACY
 
Thomas-Greenfield also stressed the United States is committing to intensifying its efforts to combat and prevent corruption and to expand support for independent media and civil society organizations, which she noted are "essential to a healthy democracy." 

"The more corruption we eliminate, the more likely people are to trust institutions, whether it's medical institutions, providing safety guidelines, or the judicial institutions that enforce the integrity of our democratic society," the envoy said.

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"Media and civil society organizations around the world are working to shine a light on corruption, advocate for justice and demand greater transparency and accountability," she pointed out. 

"When these organizations are strong, they can prey on one of our most powerful tools, open information from sharing best health practices to exposing human rights violations of a vibrant media ecosystem and empower civil society." 

The summit also emphasized human rights is one of the 3 pillars that underpin the Summit for Democracy. 
 
According to Thomas-Greenfield, the United States plans to provide funding for the "global anti-corruption consortium and proven effective organizations and civil societies who work to root out corruption." 

"The increased funding will deepen and expand geographic and topical coverage and help to launch a new outreach plan to enhance sustainable financial security," she said.

Data that Thomas-Greenfield cited showed that in 2020, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) provided more than 24 million children and youth in over 50 countries with access to education. 

The United States, she said, will continue to focus on providing quality education, an integral element in safeguarding democracy for future generations. 

"Access to education is key in helping young people learn and grow and ultimately build a more hopeful and prosperous future for themselves, their families, communities and indeed, conflict and numerous other factors can limit access to quality education for young people and it's imperative to expand educational opportunities for all," she said. 

"The United States supports numerous education programs overseas focused on increasing access to quality education... And while these numbers are impressive, we should continue to do more," she noted. 

She added the US will work on providing equal opportunities for students as the pandemic disrupted classroom learning.

"There's work to be done on this important issue but I also believe that we're working from an incredibly strong base. And I can promise you we will continue to focus on these issues."

While the United States promises to lend assistance to countries in need of aid to achieve the goals of the summit, Thomas-Greenfield stressed to the youth leaders they each have a "role to play to help realize the promise of democracy" in their respective homes as well as around the world. 

"I look forward to the future we're going to build together because all of you fill me with such hope. Young people around the world you're part of your generation that is the best educated, you're the most engaged. You're the most tolerant in all of human history," she said.
 
She continued: "It goes without saying we need you so please stay engaged. Please stay passionate about the issues you are working on. We're counting on you."