Youth Delegates had worked actively to come up with inputs for the Declaration that at the end did not reach consensus by official delegations. Many of them, including OBESSU, also participated in a silent protest against human rights violations in Russia.

More than 90 youth delegates from international youth organisations and national youth councils from all over Europe gathered in Saint Petersburg from 21st to 25th September for the 9th Council of Europe Conference of Ministers responsible for Youth and the Youth Event preceding the Conference. Throughout the event the youth delegates, including OBESSU, worked enthusiastically in order to agree upon inputs to be added to the Ministers’ Declaration. For the first time ever, the conclusions made by and for young people during the Youth Event were about to fully form part of the Declaration of Ministers, which includes guidelines to be used in future youth policy-making in each one of the Council of Europe member states.  Unfortunately, to the shock of the participants, the Ministerial Conference closed with no Declaration at all. On a slightly different note, many of the youth delegates participated in a silent protest, inspired by the Pussy Riot case, during the opening of the Conference to condemn the human rights violations taking place in the host country.

The Youth Event and Conference of Ministers

The Youth Event (prior to the Conference of Ministers and organized by the Council of Europe´s Advisory Council on Youth, the European Youth Forum and the National Youth Council of Russia) had as its main topics: social inclusion of young people, democracy and participation, living together in a diverse society, youth mobility and access to rights and youth information. Working groups were organised for each topic with the aim of collecting the demands and opinions of the youth delegates to draft conclusions on how to work towards the recognition and fulfillment of youth rights across Europe.

Some of the conclusions agreed upon by the delegates were: greater investment in quality and inclusive education, recognition of non-formal education and youth work, prevention of hate-motivated violence, free visas for studying and participating in youth programmes and the establishment of an International Day of Youth Rights.  The full text of the conclusions of the Youth Event is available here.

Various speakers were invited to the Youth Event, including Mr. Sergey Kondratyev, from the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, Mr. Ulrich Bunjes, Head of the Youth Department at Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation of the Council of Europe, and Ms. Snežana Marković-Samardžić, Director General for Democracy at the Council of Europe.

During the Ministerial Conference, Ministers of Youth (or their closest equivalents) together with the younth delegates worked together in various panel debates on Social inclusion of young people, Democracy and participation and Living together in a diverse society.

The silent protest

During the opening of the Ministerial Conferencea group of the youth delegates, the OBESSU representative being one of them, carried out a silent protest. The protest was to express the idea that youth rights are not something to merely be conversed about, but that clear policies must also be demanded and implemented. The action was also a way of putting the spotlight on the human rights violations taking place in Russia, including violations of freedom of expression (Pussy Riot verdict), freedom of sexual orientation (100-year ban of LGBT PRIDE) and freedom of association (new law that extends supervisory power of authorities over NGOs).The action consisted in standing up wearing balaclava masks in a clear reference to Pussy Riot, during the speech of the president of the European Youth Forum Peter Matjašič about the outcomes of the Youth Event and access to rights of young people in Europe,

No Declaration adopted

There was much anticipation around the final outcome of the Ministerial Conference: a Declaration that would include inputs of young people and joint guidelines of Ministers and other officials on how to ensure full access and fulfillment of youth rights in all European countries. However, the official representatives of the Council of Europe Member Stated did not reach a consensus, leading to a failure in creating a joint Declaration for the first time ever! The main issue for the approval of the Declaration was the inclusion of “sexual orientation and gender identity” in the text, as some official delegations found it irrelevant and not appropriate to be recognised as youth rights.

OBESSU wishes to express strong concern about the Declaration not being adopted and the reasons for it, and is ready to work together with partners to make sure that youth rights are recognised, implemented and ensured everywhere. We urge Member States of the Council of Europe to respect the European Convention of Human Rights and to work together in creating a society that is safe, inspiring and full of opportunities for ALL young people.

Written by OBESSU Board Member Dejan Bojanić