Human Rights and Civil Society Conference in Brussels

On Wednesday 12th December 2012, World Youth Alliance Europe was delighted to attend the Human Rights and Civil Society Conference, hosted by Jongeren voor Mensenrechten (affiliated organization of Youth for Human Rights International). Regional Director at WYA Europe, Daniel Wisniewski, was an invited speaker at the conference. WYA was invited to speak following participation in the 9th Human Rights Summit in Brussels back in September. Daniel delivered a fantastic introduction to World Youth Alliance and its activities in advocacy, culture, and education.

Daniel’s speech kicked off proceedings and participants were interested to learn of WYA’s work both in advocacy at the UN and EU institutions, and in cultural events (e.g. WYA Chamber Orchestra) and in education (e.g. Emerging Leader’s Conference), working to ensure that human rights and dignity are expressed and fulfilled as much as possible. This week beginning 10th December 2012 marks the 64th anniversary of the signing of UN Declaration of Human Rights.

Professor José Sequeira de Carvahlo, University of Lisbon, invited us query the power of international institutions and multinational corporations. The institutions, he said, must be liable to conviction and we must confront political negligence. Inès Wouters, lawyer at the Bar in Brussels, too gave emphasis to the need to empower citizens. More often that not, she said, there is a vicious circle that evolves, since, in order to fulfill their human rights, people must be dependent on the state, thus increasing the power of the state.    

A truly inspiring speech came from Raúl Arias Perez, executive director for Youth for Human Rights Mexico. We learn that of a survey conducted of 1,000 people in Chiapas, Mexico, of all socio-economic strata, 92% had never heard of the Human Rights Declaration, 7% could name no more than three human rights (out of thirty) and 1% could name more than five. No one could name more than ten.   Arias Perez explained that the UN Declaration of Human Rights was one of the most important documents ever written. However, unless we make people aware of their human rights, these rights will remain little more than written words on a page. The world today has double the number of slaves as in 1800, and 16,000 children die daily of starvation. Evidently, human rights are not guaranteed for the majority of the world’s citizens. Education about our human rights and responsibilities towards others is the important first step. In June 2011, Mexico became one of few countries to have adopted the UNDHR into its written constitution and the only country to have the teaching of the fundamental human rights in mainstream education.

WYA Europe was proud to be part of this event during Human Rights week. As Daniel Wiesniewski explained during his presentation, organizations like World Youth Alliance are bridges of solidarity. It is through solidarity and knowing our rights and responsibilities that these human rights laid down over 60 years ago will become more of a reality in our world. Guaranteeing human rights for all many seem like an insurmountable task, yet as Noble Peace Prize laureate, Oscar Arias Sanchez, tells us, “By fighting for the impossible, one begins to make it possible.”