UNA-USA Launches Historic Declaration of Human Rights by American Youth

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). At the time it was drafted, youth were not included in the process. As the world changed over the last few decades, human rights advocacy has also evolved and young people are eager to play an active role and reimagine a Human Rights Declaration that is forward-thinking, more inclusive and rooted in meaningful youth participation.

At the UN, youth engagement also continues to grow and become a priority. In addition to creating a new UN Youth Office led by the first-ever Assistant Secretary-General for Youth Affairs, Dr. Felipe Paullier, the UN General Assembly also recently adopted the historic Resolution A/77/L.105 in support of Model UN, an impactful educational experience for students to learn more about the UN. Next year, the UN will also reignite the commitments made in the UN Charter, Our Common Agenda and 2030 Agenda, by producing the Summit of the Future, an event that will bring together key stakeholders and create space for youth to actively participate in key UN objectives. Now more than ever, young people are driving change at the UN and beyond, and as an organization, we are committed to amplifying their voices and efforts.

At UNA-USA, over 65% of our membership network includes youth members under the age of 26. As a largely youth-driven movement, we are proud to empower young people to take action in their communities and engage with the work of the UN. This year for International Human Rights Day, we launched the Declaration of Human Rights by American Youth.

Led by UNA-USA Youth Observers to the UN, the Declaration of Human Rights by American Youth brought together youth and human rights advocates from across the United States to showcase their commitment to solving the world’s most pressing issues. Using the framework of the UDHR and findings from Listening Tours, American Youth Priorities Reports and Development Sessions, this Declaration captures the voices, feedback and leadership of over 2500 youth and advocates.

Over the past year, UNA-USA hosted 10 development sessions on a variety of human rights topics, ranging from education, housing and gender equality to climate change, peace and security and technological advancement. These sessions featured over 40 speakers which included youth entrepreneurs and changemakers, grassroots activists and experts from the UN. We were able to collect feedback from youth at ECOSOC Youth Forum in collaboration with U.S. Department of State Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues Abby Finkenauer, as well as through special collaborations with community activists like Connor Franta.

This Declaration was crafted by the UNA-USA Drafting Committee, a selected team of 15 youth leaders who have showcased their commitment to human rights advocacy. A few members of the Drafting Committee have reflected on their experience:

Drafting the Youth Human Rights Declaration has been a transformative experience. It has allowed me to actively contribute to the advancement of peace, security, due process, and digital access and safety. Through this process, I have realized the immense importance of these rights in creating a world where everyone can live with dignity and equality. It is truly empowering to be part of a movement that seeks to protect and uphold these fundamental values for all humanity.” –  Autumn Simmons 

The experience highlighted the formidable impact we, as a generation, can wield when united for a common cause. The Youth Declaration is crucial—it harmonizes our voices, ensuring that our perspectives resonate in shaping the enduring foundation of human rights.” – Helen Bai

I believe in this document as it emphasizes the urgent need for immediate action in amplifying the voices of young people, addressing critical issues both in the U.S. and globally. In our initial articles, I expressed our demand and commitment to fostering diverse, accessible environments, focusing on gender equality and freedom of expression. Building a truly inclusive future requires recognizing the historical exclusion of the LGBTQ+ community and actively championing the human rights of all individuals. Achieving equality is a non-linear process, and it’s the responsibility of each country to support one another, considering diverse historical and cultural contexts.”– Riley Reed

“As part of the Youth Human Rights Declaration Drafting Committee, I (we) worked on capturing young people’s most pronounced human rights concerns and distilling them. Working alongside young people across the country offered a really pivotal avenue for all of us to have a voice the issues that shape our lives.” – Cathleen Jeanty

“Having the opportunity to work on the Youth Human Rights Declaration was really exciting, especially in hearing so many unique youth perspectives in shaping the discussion. Personally, I enjoyed working in the areas of equal education, equal employment, and equal engagement as those are pillars of our society, and ensuring those remain easily accessible levels the playing field. The declaration is important in advocating for the rights that every person deserves in order to create positive change.” – Sean Schrader

“I was able to work on the education, civic engagement, and right to work/employment aspects of the Youth Declaration, which emphasized the importance of equal opportunity. A main takeaway from this experience was that we must ensure that the rising generations are able to assess online bias and feel that they are accepted in pursuing their endeavors personally and professionally. The Youth Declaration is important to highlight the progress that UNA-USA is making alongside youth for students and employees to feel that there are no financial or judgmental barriers to the pursuit of knowledge.” – Ava Havidic

“Working on the health, climate change, and housing clauses of the Declaration of Human Rights by American Youth was a truly inspiring experience. As the threat of the environmental crisis looms, it is essential to recognize its profound impacts on people, particularly vulnerable communities. By articulating fundamental human rights through the lens of youth, this declaration becomes more than a document: it is a call for change, amplifying the voices of young people and challenging us to create a world where human dignity is not only recognized, but also actively protected.” – Gabriel Nagel

Young people are not only the leaders of tomorrow, but they are also the leaders of today. This Declaration serves as a unified proclamation that youth not only care about the future of human rights, but youth are taking action today to advance the rights of those in their local communities. To be a part of this movement of American youth leadership in global human rights advocacy, sign the Declaration today!