Speech Closing Ceremony

Alexander Kauschanski
German Youth Delegate to the United Nations 2015

"It’s an honor for me to be speaking to you as future and present advocates for human rights. You might be wondering who I am. My name is Alexander Kauschanski. I a German political science student, a resident of Berlin and a proud citizen of the world.

Three years ago, I had the possibility to speak up for more than just for myself. I was selected to be the German Youth Delegate to the United Nations. As the German Youth Delegate to the UN, I became the voice of the 15 million young people living in Germany. At the headquarters of the UN, I became their voice representing youth interests, desires and hopes.

At the United Nations youth delegates hold speeches in different commissions. We underline what is important to us. We discuss these issues with the representatives of our governments. We make clear that the decisions that politicians make today will affect us for our whole life. And since we the young ones – the elephant in the room, if the room is full of old people – and because have a long life to live – we want to have a say in what is decided for us as a society. Nothing about us without us!

Because when it comes to representation there is lots to do: Did you know that people under the age of 25 make up more than 50 percent of the world population? From two people on this planet, one is under 25. We are a huge group of people. And yet, young people only fill in 2 % of all of the seats in parliaments of our world. 50 percent of the population and 2 percent of representation. That is a huge gap that we have to fill.

More than 70 years ago the United Nations was founded out of the turmoil of the second world war and passed the Declaration of Human Rights. 3 years ago the UN passed the Sustainable Development Goals - to have a plan. An agenda with 17 goals to – among other goals - fight poverty, to end climate change and to ensure education and gender equality. An agenda to make life in dignity through good governance, good political choices and a framework of aims and goals come true. By that United Nations Organization, its nations and their people are working on transforming their vision of an ideal world and good lives into a personal reality for people.

The headquarters of the United Nations are far away from here. Many of us, including me, sometimes ask themselves: what do those diplomats on the other side of the Atlantic really do for me, for our global society, for our planet? Do their activities really have an impact? Do the things they discuss, do the documents there really change anything?

The answer to this questions is more complicated than just saying yes or no. Written words never change anything, if everybody ignores them. If nobody takes the text seriously and tries to put it into action, words just mean empty promises. But yet, what the United Nations does with words is important. Because it brings together all countries of the world to solve problems not through war – but though words, language and documents.
Let’s take the declaration of human rights as an example. Nowadays, human rights shape the norms and rules that governments go by or pretend to go by. No country, no government, no politician – rhetorically - claims to actively break human rights. We all know that there are human rights violations. But we can only call them violations, because human rights as a document, a norm and a standard exist. And since all countries have committed to uphold human rights themselves, we – as a global civil society - can hold them accountable for their actions. We have to call out human rights violations. There sheer existence of human rights makes them a valuable tool to fight for their realization.

But can we really make a meaningful change without always being present at the decision-table?
Of course we can. Trust me: you do not have to be a politician to be speaking up for others. You don’t even have to live in the same country as the person whose rights you are trying to defend. Globalization has brought us a huge gift: information can wonder around the whole world. Citizens, activists can unite and show solidarity across boarders and make an impact.

Let’s be honest: sometimes it is hard to wrap your head around where to start. Now after this weekend full of discussions on human rights, you will have found allies and friends. But you may be still asking yourself: What can I do in my community and in my country to improve the state of human rights and good governance?

And even though there is no universal playbook to fix our political systems, human rights violations and undemocratic processes, making a change can be more simple than we think. There are many ways to get this going.

First: you have to start with yourself. Politics is the process of regulating societies and setting the rules by which they go to. If politics fails to make good rules to live by, we have to step in ourselves. You get to vote on your politicians every other 4 or 5 years. But by the choices you actively make every day, you participate in a referendum. Are you going to travel by train or by plane? Your personal referendum on climate change. Are you going to buy normal or fair trade coffee? Your referendum on working conditions. Are you going to laugh about that sexist comment or call the person out on it? Your referendum on gender equality. Go through all of the choices that you make every day. How do they impact your environment and the world beyond that? Change starts with yourself!

Second: On our own we can never be as strong as we are when we are together. A good thing to keep in mind in our divisive times. Knowing you have allies, gathering a group that speaks in one voice is very powerful. Identify the topic that is important to you: is it climate change? Is it human rights? Is it education? Or is it the reform of your political institutions? Enter a group or a club that dedicates their work towards bettering the situation. There is no group yet? Create one and ask other groups, friends and mentors for help and best practice. Having groups and structures helps us to have continuity as a civil society. If you set up a structure, it is not going to cease to exist, whenever you might have to leave it. There are going to be other people taking over from where you have left it off. Persistent action by groups pressures our political system, the decision-makers and your fellow citizens to change for good.
Gathering in groups is the way to achieve your goals on a broader scope. Clubs, structures and organizations are schools for activism that bring up new and new generations for our ongoing fight for justice.

Third: politicians become lazy when nobody checks if they live up to their promises. And they become crazy when nobody checks their powers. Don’t let them get away with that. They are elected by you, so you are able to hold them accountable. Call them, visit them in their office and bring your friends. Then ask them about human rights violations, about policies and issues that are important to you. What have you done to counter climate change, ma’am? How about that imprisoned journalist, sir? Show them what is important to you and hold them accountable for their actions. Be well prepared and know what you are talking about and as a consequence they will respect you or even ask you for advice in the future. We live in an age of ever-changing politics. Change can mean trouble, but it can also mean an opening, an opportunity.

Right now seems to be a dark time for human rights, international cooperation and democracy. But whenever it turns dark around you, it’s important not to curl up in your bed and let those things happen. It’s time to act. For yourself and others. Whenever everything turns dark, you can be the one that lights the first candle to bring on some light. Make your everyday choices a referendum on what world you want to live in. Organize in groups, inspire others. And hold your politicians accountable. Pressure them to live up to their promises, to work towards we all would like to live in in the future. We can’t wait any longer to grow older – we have to take on responsibility now. We all have to be change we want to see in the world!"