By Leila Hanafi
By Leila Hanafi
Morocco World News
Washington D.C., December 20, 2011
In an international and stimulating atmosphere, over 150 prominent leaders throughout the Mediterranean region convened on December 9-12th, 2011 at the Centre for Interdisciplinary Strategic and International Studies’ Fes Forum under the theme “Youth and Globalization,” in Fes, Morocco. As a young Moroccan-American lawyer and youth activist, I had the privilege to serve as a keynote discussant at such a diverse regional gathering of leaders.
The Forum represented an unparalleled opportunity to encourage regional commitment to youth empowerment amidst the transformational changes engulfing parts of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region; and develop the cross-fertilization of ideas to reinforce youth development through the prism of national, regional, and international standards.
My participation addressed prospects for reinforcing rule of law development through youth legal rights empowerment as these are important times to stress the relevance of engaged and well-educated youth to advancing the rule of law and reaffirming that the voices of youth are vital for them to fully realize their potential and for governments to fulfill human rights obligations and democratic principles.
ARAB YOUTH DEMAND FOR BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS: Law s in the books (DE JURE) vs. LAWS IN PRACTICE (De Facto)
One of the Forums key days was December 10th which commemorates Human Rights Day, a high point around the world in honor of the adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the first global enunciation of human rights. As such, the Forum represented an opportunity for participants to reflect and pay tribute to the youth around the region who are inspiring and mobilizing change in the pursuit of human rights and dignity.
As clearly laid out in the Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, for rule of law to prevail, citizens in a society need to know their rights and responsibilities. This means equal recognition, equal respect, equal rights, but most importantly, equal opportunities. The aim is not to ensure that individuals are made equal, but to ensure equal treatment for them under the law.
Most MENA countries have ratified international conventions that uphold human rights from the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights to the International Covenant for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. However, despite improved legislations across the region, there are obstacles involving enforcing legislations that are often challenging.
There are cultural norms, tradition, and lack of knowledge of legal rights in the rural and sometimes urban areas that may prevent people from invoking their rights. Rule of Law values of fairness, equality, and protection of the weak are inherent in our Islamic heritage and MENA traditions, and are not foreign or “exported”. Yet, over time, “these values have been distorted and altered in way that has unfortunately lead to gaps between the ideal and the reality in most countries.
Today, many young people in the MENA region are still feeling excluded from the civic, social and political process. They see their government as an untouchable entity formed for them to serve and not the other way around. They feel they cannot influence or approach governments to raise their voice and thus, far removed and isolated from the legal and rule of law development process. Without opportunities for productive active engagement in the region, young people’s frustrations may continue to boil over into violent behavior and lead to significant economic and social instability.
The United Nations Arab Human development reports, which revolutionized a vision for the fulfillment of human development through increased access to education and knowledge, full enjoyment of freedom as the cornerstone of good governance, empowerment of the youth population, and the guarantee of human security for all, have stressed that economic gains are likely to be more sustainable where all citizens are empowered and government at all levels is responsive, transparent and accountable.
In this respect the authors of the Arab Human Development Reports are firm and unequivocal in their call for governance systems and political leaders in the Arab countries to make progress, along with citizens, on rule of law, checks-and-balances, and participation. Moreover, the issue of “young people” has proven to be a major cross-cutting theme, embedded in almost every United Nations Millenium Development Goal (MDG).
stressed by UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, “investing and integrating youth is crucial to achieving nearly all of the Millenium Development Goals.” Whether it be poverty reduction, education, improved governance, health and infectious diseases … It is a fact that, giving a special attention to young people is not only at the core of achieving the MDGs, but will ensure that these goals will be achieved in a durable sustainable manner.
The Arab Spring embodies the hopes, the dreams and aspirations of a people yearning for a better way of life. Yearning for greater freedom, for greater dignity, and for a more widespread and fairer distribution of economic opportunities and resources. Today more than ever, we need to raise youth’s awareness of their rights, and paying particular attention to youth capacity building and empowerment programs through an Asset-Based Approach to Youth Development.
That is, youth are assets to the development of their communities. In the course of providing opportunities for training, employment, entrepreneurship, and community service, this assets-based approach builds upon the strength and interests of the youth; and help develop a positive image of themselves as contributing members of society. This positive self-image helps youth lead healthier lives and contribute to the social, economic, and civic development of their community.
The historic changes taking place across the region is an opportunity for all of us, especially the international community, to take a step back and rethink the paradigm of youth development to ensure it is inclusive and not prescriptive. We need to realize that improving the situation of youth is not only for the sake of youth. The welfare of society relies increasingly on a country’s quality of human resources, and youth remain a largely untapped resource.
 Eight Edition of International Forum of Fes, available at http://www.cmiesi.ma/acmiesi/en/forum_mac8_axe.php
 United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Regional Bureau for Arab States, Arab Human Development Report: Towards Freedom in the Arab World (New York: UNDP, 2004).