Humanity matters for all; Youth matters the most

The writer is a former diplomat
By: Amb. Salahuddin Choudhry

Early childhood innocence incarnate….youth setting in life as just blooming….before getting into the responsible adulthood taking on the challenges of the societal order…..the growing silver turning gold and shaping the ‘olden’ age to an all-acceptable maturity and natural form that sees no battle, no more struggle, afflictions of sorts, as nothing remains worth facing or fighting for….except quiet, serenity, some kind of spirituality, and an unavoidable static role !

Of interest for the majority though it remains to be humanism, or for that matter the inner self of an individual to value life as it is and reproduces the values of life that during that individual’s life emerge as his or her involvement with or contribution to humanity. And this aspect sees them to regard the elements as humanitarian, mostly coming as a beginning of or endearment to the youth, who while leading the humanitarian activities clearly make the process catalytic through their entire life including the golden ‘old’ age leaving a footprint as a coveted and recognized legacy for the human race.

Here, for humanity, the invisible but strong linkage for sustainability is “Love That Saves our World and Our Civilization, Love Even for Enemies”, as a famous quote goes.

Indeed, therefore, it is for a kind-hearted or humane, merciful person to be able to become humanist who is concerned with people’s needs and with finding rational ways to solve human problems, rather than using religious or dogmatic beliefs.

Let’s then delve at the outset into what we mean or understand by humanitarian values and  ‘isms’ forming a baseline for humane actions.

Humanitarianism is an active belief in the value of human life, whereby humans practice benevolent treatment and provide assistance to other humans, in order to better humanity for moral, altruistic and logical reasons. It is the philosophical belief in movement toward the improvement of the human race in a variety of areas, used to describe a wide number of activities relating specifically to human welfare. A practitioner is known as a humanitarian.

Humanitarianism is based on a view that all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated as such. Therefore, humanitarians work towards advancing the well-being of humanity as a whole. It is the antithesis of the “us vs. them” mentality that characterizes tribalism and ethnic nationalism. Humanitarians abhor slavery, violation of basic and human rights, and discrimination on the basis of features such as skin colour, religion, ancestry, or place of birth. Humanitarianism drives people to save lives, alleviate suffering, and promote human dignity in the middle of man-made or natural disasters. Humanitarianism is embraced by movements and people across the political spectrum.

World Humanitarian Day is held every year on 19 August to pay tribute to aid workers who risk their lives in humanitarian service, including dedicated women, and to rally support for people affected by crises around the world.

The mainstay of the principle of humanity is in the essence of social morality which can be found, in almost identical form, in almost all religions like Brahminism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism and Taoism. It is also the golden rule of the positivists, who do not commit themselves to any religion but only to the depth of experience, not just reason alone. Surely, it is not at all necessary to resort to affective or transcendental concepts to recognize the advantage for men to work together to improve their lot.

Historically, humanitarianism was publicly seen in the social reforms of the late 1800s and early 1900s, following the economic turmoil of the Industrial Revolution in England. Many of the women in Great Britain who were involved with feminism during the 1900s also pushed humanitarianism. The atrocious hours and working conditions of children and unskilled laborers were made illegal by pressure on Parliament by humanitarians. In the middle of the 19th century, humanitarianism was central to the work of Florence Nightingale and Henry Dunant in emergency response and in the latter case led to the founding of the Red Cross. Today, humanitarianism is particularly used to describe the thinking and doctrines behind the emergency response to humanitarian crises. In such cases it argues for a humanitarian response based on humanitarian principles, particularly the principle of humanity.

The most important principles of humanitarian action are humanity, neutrality, independence and impartiality, which posits the conviction that all people have equal dignity by virtue of their being human based solely on need, without discrimination among recipients. Fundamental principles serve two essential purposes. They embody humanitarian action’s single-minded purpose of alleviating suffering, unconditionally and without any ulterior motive.

The role of social media in digital humanitarian efforts is a considerable one. Within this, big data has featured strongly in efforts to improve its work and produces a limited understanding of how a crisis is unfolding. It has been argued that Big Data constitutes a social relation wherein digital humanitarians claim that both the formal humanitarian sector and victims of crises need the services and labor that can be provided by digital humanitarians.

World Humanitarian Day was designated by the UN General Assembly as part of a Swedish-sponsored GA Resolution on the Strengthening of the Coordination of Emergency Assistance of the United Nations, and set as 19 August. It marks the day on which the then Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Iraq, Sérgio Vieira de Mello and 21 of his colleagues got killed in the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad.

The World Humanitarian Day is the outcome of the relentless efforts of the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Foundation and his family working closely with the Ambassadors of France, Switzerland, Japan and Brazil in both Geneva and New York to table and steer the draft Resolution.

The bombing was a tragic event that robbed the humanitarian community of an outstanding humanitarian leader in Sergio de Mello, who I had the good fortune to work with briefly when I was posted as Sub-Sector Chief in the UN Protection Force (UNPROFOR) in former Yugoslavia, early 90’s, during the bloody civil war. I personally knew how intellectually rich he was possessing unique virtues in thinking, philosophy, dynamism and the courage that inspired so many of us and will remain a legacy for future generations to emulate.

Here, it is most appropriate to recall many of Pakistan’s military, civilians and police (esp. women) working with UN peace-keeping missions who lost their lives in harness while maintaining law & order and peace. Most of them were young and in prime age – the ones better capable of facing turmoil-infested battle and civil riot conditions.

Further, we need to reflect on the fantastic involvement and tremendous contribution of the young people not only in the affairs of human-race but also of nature as on mother earth; so, we pay tribute to the youth in this month as we observe and celebrate ‘International Youth Day’ that actually fell just a week ago on 12th August.

Youth with a young budding mind – be it a growing child, a teenager or into their adulthood – as a gospel truth has been, is & will be a catalyst for every segment of a society to be its inspiration and to be led to the fuller version of humanity. That’s why, incontrovertibly, the youth remains a priceless gift.

As per UN definition, the worlds’ youth is in the age group approximately between 15 and 24 years old, making up one-sixth of the human population. Many of these young men and women live in developing countries and their numbers are expected to rise steeply. The idea for International Youth Day was proposed in 1991 by young people who were gathered in Vienna, Austria, for the first session of the UN’s World Youth Forum. The forum recommended that an International Youth Day be declared, especially for fundraising and promotional purposes, to support the United Nations Youth Fund in collaboration with youth organizations.

In 1998 a resolution proclaiming August 12 as International Youth Day was adopted during the World Conference of Ministers Responsible for Youth. That recommendation was later endorsed by the UN General Assembly in 1999. International Youth Day was first observed in 2000 inrecognition of the efforts of world’s youth in enhancing global society. It also aims to promote ways to engage them in becoming more actively involved in making positive contributions to their communities.

International Youth Day gives an opportunity to celebrate and mainstream young peoples’ voices, actions and initiatives, as well as their meaningful, universal and equitable engagement.Together with them, independently organized commemorations around the world highlight the importance of youth participation in political, economic and social life and processes. The young people led millions around the world in marches demanding action on ‘climate change’ days before the UN Climate Action Summit (23 September 2019).

Security Council Resolution 2250 on Youth, Peace and Security represents an unprecedented acknowledgement of the urgent need to engage young peace-builders in promoting peace and counter-ing extremism, and clearly positions youth as important partners in the global efforts.

The UNESCO Youth Programme emphasizes in its work that youth are not just beneficiaries, but they are essential leaders and partners in finding solutions to the issues faced by young people in the world today. They must be fully engaged in social development themselves and supported in this work by their societies.

“Education is the heart of UNESCO’s action towards a world where quality education is available for everyone, leaving no one behind…. On the occasion of the International Youth Day, UNESCO steps up and calls for an education which is more inclusive and accessible for all young people, in all corners of the world.” — Message of Audrey Azoulay, Director General, UNESCO.

For Youth Day commemoration every year on 12 August, the Focal Point on Youth selects a theme for the day often with input from youth organizations and members of the UN Inter-Agency Network in Youth development.

The 2020 theme of International Youth Day, “Youth Engagement for Global Action”, seeks to highlight the ways in which the engagement of young people at the local, national and global levels is enriching national and multilateral institutions and processes, as well as draw lessons on how their representation and engagement in formal institutional politics can be significantly enhanced.

Against the backdrop of an increasingly polarized world, the international system of governance is currently undergoing a crisis of legitimacy and relevance. In particular, this crisis is rooted in the need to strengthen the capacity of the international system to act together and implement solutions to pressing challenges and threats such as contemporary conflicts and humanitarian emergencies, as well as global challenges, like the COVID-19 outbreak and climate change. Engaging youth in formal political mechanisms does increase the fairness of political processes by reducing democratic deficits, contributes to better and more sustainable policies, toward mitigating issues & disasters such as mentioned earlier which caused severe economic and social impacts around the world. Young people are particularly vulnerable to the disruptions the pandemic has affected. Young people will form a key element in an inclusive recovery and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

COVID-19 affects all segments of the population, with young people playing a key role in the management of this outbreak and the recovery following the outbreak. Building up the capacity of youth to be able to make their own decisions on health and to take responsibility for health is also a key element of World Program of Action for Youth (WPAY). In this context, health education, public health promotion, and evidence-based information are critical in combating the spread and effects of COVID-19, especially to challenge the spread of disinformation online. Young people themselves are also utilizing online technologies to spread public health information in engaging ways such as videos to promote effective hand-washing or explain how social distancing can save lives.

Young innovators are already responding to the coronavirus through social impact innovation. Around the world, a number of initiatives are being developed to leverage young people’s efforts to generate and deliver support to at-risk populations or populations affected by the pandemic. Whilst most of these initiatives are on a voluntary basis (e.g. young people offering to shop for and deliver food to elders or at-risk people), they can also take the shape of social enterprises.

Indeed, it’s the undeniable truth that – according to former (late) UN Secretary General, Kofi Anan – “young people are always at the forefront of global change and innovation. Empowered, they can be key agents for development and peace. If, they are left on society’s margins, all of us will be impoverished. Let us ensure that all young people have every opportunity to participate fully in the lives of their societies”. That’s perhaps why Dalai Lama maintained, when educating the minds of our youth, we must not forget to educate their hearts.

The author is a former senior career diplomat and can be reached on [email protected]; @SaladinCh