Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
San José, Costa Rica
March 30, 2023
Thank you very much indeed. And thank you to the Supreme Powers of Costa Rica – President Chaves, Legislative Assembly President Arias, Supreme Court President Aguirre, and TSE President Zamora. Thank you for hosting us throughout this summit. We’re grateful to have had you as generous hosts. And we have been fortunate to be together for this powerful week of programming. It’s been truly a week of democracy.
I thought I would follow up my keynote with a few more thoughts on the importance of harnessing youth participation to revitalize democracy. This year, as I mentioned, we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“All human beings,” states that noble document, “are equal in rights and dignity.”
This profound statement is not an opinion. It is a fact. Our human rights are inalienable and indivisible. They are interdependent and interrelated. And they are universal.
Of course, not every country respects human rights. Dictators abuse them. States violate them. But no one – no one, no country – can take them away.
Of course, respecting human rights is not only the right thing to do. It’s also the smart thing to do. As democracies, we know societies that respect human rights have healthier citizens, less violent conflicts, and more prosperous communities. And the more we tap into the full range of talent and diversity our populations have to offer – the more we take the ‘universal’ part of ‘universal human rights’ seriously – the more we succeed. But within our borders and beyond, we must work to be inclusive of all people, across all generations. So that we can deliver for them. So that they can deliver for us.
Because we’ve got a lot more work to do. And here’s the truth: the next generation are the ones who will inherit the fallout of today’s challenges. Wars. Poverty. The global hunger crisis. The global climate crisis. These issues disproportionately affect young people today. And they will affect them even more tomorrow.
I think of the girls and young women in particular. The UN Secretary-General warned us earlier this month that at the current rate, it will take 300 years to reach gender equality – 300 years. That’s not good enough for our children.
As democracies, though, we don’t have to sit here and accept that fate. We have a remarkable ability: to look within, acknowledge – acknowledge our weaknesses, and work to correct them. This is, in fact, our greatest strength.
Autocrats are too arrogant to course correct. But democracies acknowledge our mistakes all the time. Because our people make us. That’s the system that we’re in.
And I’m living proof of that. In my keynote remarks, I shared a story about the lead-up to our Civil War, which ended the mass enslavement of African Americans. I’m a descendant of one of those slaves. Now, at the United Nations, I represent the United States to the world.
And that is proof that progress is possible. Today, many countries around the world, around the globe, are joining us in facing a reckoning – that for too long, too many groups have been left out and left behind. That the marginalized must be respected. That we must make our universal human rights real, for everyone. And that we must especially work to acknowledge that young people must be uplifted and included. That youth leaders are not just future leaders. They are leaders, period.
So I am glad that our Costa Rican colleagues have provided this platform to exchange ideas and share recommendations going forward. It’s why we have been so supportive of the Youth Political Participation cohort. And it’s why we support young people running for office, working within civil society, creating peace-building movements, or starting cross-cultural dialogues. And it’s why we insist on building legitimate channels for your participation. To create trust. And to make change.
And that’s why I was so proud to announce the launch of the Youth Democracy Network in my keynote earlier. The Youth Democracy Network will provide an avenue for youth interaction with government officials and integrate youth perspectives directly into the policymaking process. And I’m asking everyone here today to join us.
Just as President Biden’s Summit of Democracy has united governments, civil society, the private sector, and philanthropic groups, so too should the Youth Democracy Network. We invite all sectors to get involved, to strengthen democratic resilience.
While we’ve been together here in beautiful San José, there have been summit events underway all across the world. In the Republic of Korea, our colleagues have been looking at how corruption undermines democratic institutions and values and jeopardizes sustainable development and the rule of law. In Zambia, we have focused on the integral role that free and fair elections serve as a cornerstone of democracy. In the Netherlands, we have addressed challenges to media freedoms in today’s information atmosphere. And in Washington, D.C., our colleagues have worked to shape the ecosystem of emerging technologies in line with democratic principles and human rights.
These are timely, vital topics. And I want you to know: all of those co-hosts have recognized the importance of engaging youth, of engaging young people. Your message is resonating around the world. And I want you to know: this summit is not just a meeting, Mr. President. This is a rallying point. It’s a launch pad. It’s a place to reaffirm our global commitment to innovate, to collaborate, to act.
So here’s my challenge to all of you: leave today with at least one action you’re going to take. At least one thing you, personally, will do to advance our democracies. At least one way you will put young people at the center of your work.
If everyone here does that, then we will be that much closer to leaving the next generation with the resilient, robust, prosperous democracies they deserve.
Thank you. (Applause.)