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Human rights activists: the next generation

"Seeing a better world for both our people and our shared humanity."


“Growing up in such a wide range of cultures, our values and beliefs may be different, but we are united by our passion,” began Pema Dechen, a young court worker and gender rights activist from Bhutan, as she addressed McGill University’s recent Global Conference on Human Rights and Diverse Societies. That passion: “to see a better world for both our people and our shared humanity.”

Ms. Dechen was one of 25 young scholars, activists, lawyers, policy-makers, journalists and community organizers who were chosen to participate in the second International Young Leaders Forum. The forum was held just prior to the second Echenberg Family Conference on Human Rights, to which the forum participants were also invited. The first Echenberg conference, in 2007, dealt with the prevention of genocide and also featured a young leaders forum.

Aged 18-30, they came from literally all over the world – representing no less than 24 countries – to debate human rights with each other and to produce a “Call to Action,” a declaration of shared beliefs and commitment to bringing about change.

All young leaders become Echenberg Human Rights Fellows – those from 2007 and 2010 will be joined by those chosen for the next three planned conferences held over the next six years. The forum series will thus realize its objective: to raise a small army ready to advance the cause of human rights everywhere and dedicated to peace, and whose strength lies in its diversity, its global reach, and the inspiring energy and ambition of its young members.

Read aloud by young leaders at the end of the conference, the Call to Action states in part: “We need to recognize that human rights are not solely the responsibility of states, but also of individuals, groups, corporations and peoples. We need to give people the knowledge and means to challenge power. We are impatient for change; we want to be a part of it.”

Gordon Echenberg, founder of the conference and forum series, said when the event began: “It is these young leaders from around the world who may well be the true legacy of this conference series. Our future and that of our children may rest in the hands of their generation.”

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