Policymakers, human rights defenders, activists, business people and artists from across the globe gathered at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021 with one ambition – to tackle human rights challenges and build a vision of hope.
The first step is to realise the extent to which the entire human rights system is under threat.
“We need to wake up from our complacency and acknowledge that no system or organisation is permanent and infallible, guaranteed to live into the ever future,” said Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), summarising the main takeaways from the Forum.
This need to wake up to the risks facing our rights was echoed by many delegates.
Emily O’Reilly, the European Ombudswoman, spoke of the incremental erosion of human rights systems that can happen without us even noticing it.
She stressed how the Coronavirus pandemic exposed many human rights challenges and how we need to do more to protect our freedoms.
“Covid-19 revealed how we only pay lip service to our values. It expanded our conception of what needs to be protected in the area of human rights,” said the Ombudswoman.
In the same vein, Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International, reminded us that we have to acknowledge the level of human rights abuse we find within the EU as much as externally.
There is also an urgent need to wake up to the challenges young people face.
The Forum was a platform for young people to voice their concerns and share their ideas for solutions. The voices of hundreds of young delegates came through loud and clear.
“Young people were disproportionately hit by the pandemic. Access to education, this very basic right, has been a real struggle for many of us. The employment sectors that have been hit the hardest are the ones that employ a lot of young people”, said Silja Markkula, President of the European Youth Forum.
Swedish Member of the European Parliament, and former Paralympian, David Lega also highlighted the importance of access to a nurturing education: “Children and young people are missing out on so many opportunities. Two years out of school are already a lifetime for children. If we do not intervene now, we risk losing a whole generation.”
But despite the many challenges discussed, there was an overwhelming sense of hope from the hundreds attending in-person and more than 2,000 joining the hybrid event online.
Drawing on this sense, German climate change activist, Luisa Neubauer, declared: “We have seen that youth is unstoppable. Open your eyes to inequalities and opportunities that lie ahead. And the idea that a just and equal world is possible and necessary.”
And Silja Markulla of the European Youth Forum added that despite the challenges, young people never stopped caring and fighting for the things that matter to them and they keep on trying to get their fundamental rights fulfilled.
“It is high time,” said European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová, “that young people get their lives and voices back. And are given the possibility of what they do best: question, debate, discuss and shake us politicians.”
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, was inspired to conclude that now there is hope to “build back a better future and move forward.”
She said: “What we need now is political will and to improve accountability issues. We have an incredible chance to change course and create an inclusive and sustainable world.”
Did you miss any of the discussions at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2021?
You can now watch the session recordings online. Simply select the session you are interested in in the programme and watch the recording.
We will be publishing more information on the outcomes of the Forum soon.