Young people from around the Commonwealth are trained in human rights and democracy to prepare them for their role as youth election observers
A group of twenty young people from around the Commonwealth became the first trained Commonwealth youth election observers last week, after completing their training in human rights and democracy at the Commonwealth Secretariat’s headquarters in London.
The newly appointed Commonwealth Youth Observers will now become the first members of a network of trained Commonwealth young people, who will join Commonwealth Observer Groups to observe and report on the credibility of elections in Commonwealth countries.
The youth observers – who are also members of the Commonwealth Youth Sub-committee on Human Rights and Democracy – were congratulated by their high commissioners at an awards ceremony at the Secretariat on 18 February, after they completed a Commonwealth Youth Programme (CYP) training workshop in human rights and democracy from 14 to 18 February.
Henry Charles, Director of the Youth Affairs Division at the Secretariat, said: “The Commonwealth Secretariat has a mandate to help build the capacity of young people to perform their role as partners in development. The CYP sponsored training workshop was another of many such initiatives in support of this mandate.”
Commonwealth Youth Observer Ngosa Dennis from Zambia said: “Involving young people in election observations is a very good way of exposing young people to the workings of democratic and electoral processes, in their countries and elsewhere. This way, young people will know exactly how it feels to vote and how it feels to express your opinion through the process of voting.”
The twenty young participants from fifteen Commonwealth countries exchanged ideas on how to empower young people to promote human rights and democracy during the week-long CYP course.
Through a series of seminars conducted by staff in the Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit and by Selina Goulbourne – former Head of the Department of Law at Greenwich University, UK – participants learned about the history and principles of human rights and discussed the role that the Commonwealth plays in helping to tackle human rights issues in various Commonwealth countries.
Thandeka Percival from Barbados said: “We need to be educated on not just the definition of human rights but the realities of human rights around the Commonwealth so we’re better prepared when we want to speak to people on how we can achieve human rights.”
Pan-Commonwealth chair of the Commonwealth Youth Caucus, Noelyn Wagapu from Solomon Islands, said: “At this workshop I have learned from other participants about their experiences and I will try and take back to Solomon Islands the methods my counterparts use to try to disseminate the message about human rights.”
Participants also attended sessions held by the Secretariat’s Human Rights Unit and the Legal and Constitution Affairs Division on the role the Commonwealth plays on matters of rule of law, justice and support to member countries on human rights issues. The young people engaged with the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, an independent international non-governmental organisation which works to ensure the practical realisation of human rights in the Commonwealth, and received guidance from the Political Affairs Division of the Secretariat on electoral participation, systems and the role of election observers in elections.
By the end of the workshop, the Commonwealth Youth Sub-committee on Human Rights had created a plan of action for CYP to implement to make human rights and democracy relevant to the youth of the Commonwealth; planned and designed effective human rights and democracy education activities for different groups; and learned how to increase young people’s awareness of human rights and democracy.