Every 15th of September, we celebrate the International Day of Democracy, which was established by the United Nations in 2007 to celebrate, promote and recognize the principles of democracy. While the way in which democracy is expressed across the world may vary, it is defined by citizens’ ability to participate in public decision-making, typically through choosing their government.
In New Zealand, we accept democracy as a fact of life, perhaps to the extent that we forget that many other countries around the world do not have the right to choose their political representatives based on their policies and ideas. Not only do we take for granted our right to choose our leader, but also the other freedoms associated with democracy – our rights to freedom of association, of assembly, of protest, of speech and expression. We feel that we can ultimately hold the government accountable for decisions we disagree with, so the government is wise to largely adhere to its voters’ views.
To understand how democracy forms an integral part of society, you only need to spend some time on the steps of New Zealand’s Parliament, watching groups with posters, banners, microphones and passion, loudly and visibly bringing public and political attention to an issue which is important to them and holding the government to account, no matter how big or small the issue. New Zealanders feel secure in their right to criticize the government directly, in the news media, or online. We take these rights for granted, however, it is important to remember that people overseas in 2018 have been arrested for less.
In many ways, democracy is about more than just casting a vote. It represents a system where the government serves the people, not subdues or controls them. We give over money through taxes and some rights to our personal autonomy in favour of a government which administers the collective funds and rights for the good of the majority. We trust the government to do well by us and if it fails, it loses in the ballot box.
For most New Zealanders, the thought of living under a non-democratic or one-party government is resigned largely to dystopian literature and films. The turnout of young people at the voting booths is low; we underestimate the power our vote has to influence the future of tomorrow. However, some of our closest geographic neighbours have restrictions on political freedoms which we really cannot fathom living under. We are lucky in this regard – New Zealand can look forward to a future where everyone is free to express their views, disagree with or criticize the government, protest, and be actively encouraged to do so.
To celebrate the International Day of Democracy, think about how you can participate fully in political life. Did you vote in the last election? If you didn’t vote or you aren’t yet old enough to vote, do some research into the importance of voting in a democratic society, find political parties whose policies align with your beliefs, and understand what is important to you and how best you can have your voice heard by the leaders of our country.
Central to the work a humanitarian does, is the care of people and promotion of their welfare.
A couple of weeks ago World Humanitarian Day recognised the incredible work done by our many humanitarians across the world, particularly aid workers who put their lives at risk for the welfare of others. This day also strives to raise awareness of the countless people adversely impacted by armed conflict. Where finding safe drinking water and nutritious food is a daily struggle. Where children are stripped of their innocence and right to education by being used to fight wars they didn’t start or want. Where women are degraded. Where every citizen, irrespective of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and occupation are put in a compromised position of mental and physical safety day in and day out.
The work our countless humanitarians do is particularly important when considering our contemporary societal contexts; where conflicts are rampant.
We, as citizens of Aotearoa are placed in a fortunate position in the sense that these aren’t problems for us – but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care about the welfare of others; that doesn’t mean we can’t be humanitarians in our own respects. I challenge anyone reading this to be a humanitarian – to thank your friends, families, caregivers, bus drivers and teachers for doing all they do to make your life a safe and enjoyable one. I challenge you to take the time to reach out to both those you know, and those you don’t, and offer a hand, a shoulder to cry on.
My high school principal used to tell a lot of super inspiring stories. There are a few that stand out. Among these, lies the message that small acts of kindness can go a long way. Therefore, I challenge you to be there for those around you, to support them; to be a humanitarian. Let’s do our part to help make a world ridden of conflict, one a little brighter and a little safer.
With the 2019 delegation of the Global Development Tour being announced, I thought it was a good opportunity to share some of the 2018 delegations experience, in the hope that it can inspire the next delegation and encourage those wanting to apply in the future.
In January this year I was fortunate enough to be part of the 2018 Global Development Tour delegation.
We travelled around Europe and to New York learning about global development, international cooperation, and the role the United Nations plays in both. In essence we were shown the world through a future lens – as it could be in 2030, meeting policy makers, businesses and NGOs and being shown how they are working to meet the Global Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.
Each of the cities we visited represented a theme within the Sustainable Development Agenda and we looked at the SDGs from three different angles; Policy, Business and Community. It was incredibly inspiring to see the work and connectedness of these organisations in different parts of the world.
We also were very lucky to attend a Model United Nations conference at Columbia University in New York. CMUNCE hosts delegates from all over the world and it gave us an opportunity to actively participate and engage with like-minded delegates from varied backgrounds and the chance to engage in real-world diplomacy and listen to some fabulous speakers! My role as China on the Security Council debating the situation in Myanmar enabled me to further interact with Human Rights NGO’s and learn about the real work that is being done on the ground.
The trip is a chance to meet new friends and create amazing memories. This has been an incredible life-changing experience and for those, thinking about applying in the future, DO IT, you will not regret it.
Further Reflections from other delegates:
Being one of the few delegates coming new into UN Youth in the GDT group, the trip had very different impacts on me. I had heard of the organisation but had not engaged with the events offered to people my age until the application for the Tour. I was honoured to have been picked from so many outstanding candidates and veterans of the organisation. The Tour changed my life because it opened me up to so many new people and new experiences. On the Tour we met many amazing people doing important jobs to attain the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, people who could make real differences. We had the chance to listen to their past achievements, plans and future goals; while picking their brains and giving our own suggestions. Along the way we got to interact with the landscape of the world, living the cultural and historical differences. Since getting back from the Tour I have strongly kept in touch with others from the delegation as we all embark upon new chapters of our lives. I was inspired to give back to the organisation and enjoy frequently volunteering at UN Youth events, meeting new people and making connections. GDT changed my outlook on sustainable development, helped me make lifelong friends and connected me with an organisation which encourages civics interaction through youth facilitating youth events. It is fair to say my life was clearly changed for the better.
– Emily, 18 Wellington
When people call something life-changing they usually mean it in a cliched way, and I guess it’s unfair to say that GDT totally changed my life, but it did make it better and it made me better. I’m now a much more confident, assertive person than I was before embarking on the tour. Seeing the world has given me experience that is directly applicable in the law and arts conjoint I’m studying. GDT was an amazing experience and I’m feeling it’s impact still. I’d recommend it and other UN Youth events for anyone and everyone. It was such a great time.’
– Chris, 18 Auckland
The Global Development Tour was an incredible experience and something I had dreamed of for a long time. The message that stood out to me the most from our meetings was that development and sustainable development was not an isolated problem that only impacted small parts of the world far away from me, instead if we truly want change and progress, then a concerted united global effort was necessary. This has completely changed how I viewed a number of global issues. Following the tour, I have had the chance to speak to groups about my experience and helped to organise Victoria University’s very first Sustainability Week. But more importantly to me, it has shifted how I talk about international issues such as the health of our waters, gender equality and ending poverty. I have realised that I can make a difference in my own life, in my community and in my country – which all contributes to changing the world and being a global citizen.
The United Nations Human Rights Council is a body that seeks to strengthen, promote and protect human rights. A task that is not only important, but seemingly more and more relevant. Anyone living in a democratic nation would almost automatically assume their government would support such a venture. So it would seem at first glance odd that the United States, a country that places freedom and democracy so highly, would withdraw from the Human Rights Council. Yet for anyone watching closely this was no shock at all. Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, calling the US departure “disappointing, if not really surprising.”
The US rationale for leaving the Council centres on one topic – the Israel/Palestine conflict. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, firstly accused the Council of a having a “chronic bias” against Israel, and followed up by labelling it a “hypocritical and self-serving organisation that makes a mockery of human rights.” This comes after a vote in May deciding to send war crime investigators to Gaza to investigate violations and abuse of civilian protestors. Since protests began in March of this year, Israel has killed 106 Palestinians, including 15 children. These figures do nothing to sway the American stance – that too much focus is put on Israel by the Human Rights Council.
The withdrawal from the Human Rights Council is a consequence of a larger problem, a persisting, one-sided, and frequently inaccurate narrative that runs through American rhetoric. The US government continuously attributes outbreaks of violence to Hamas, the de facto governing body of Palestine widely considered a terrorist group. Following protests and killings in May, spokeswomen for the US State Department claimed any “misery” faced by the people of Gaza was entirely because of Hamas.
Yet this ignores two vital elements to the reality of this conflict. Firstly, those killed in protests are generally unarmed civilians – videos from cellphones continuingly affirming this. In addition, there is no acknowledgement of the role that Israel has played in the suffering of Palestinians. The occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel is the longest in history, dating back to 1967. The Blockade of Gaza Strip has carried on since 2007, banning both necessities, such as blankets or shoes, and seemingly harmless goods, including crayons, chocolate, and shampoo. Israel has been an active participate in the suffering of Palestinians, regardless of what crimes have been committed by Hamas.
What is most concerning is the underlying idea that the politics of the moment trump human rights. The United States have long supported Israel, but that does not invalidate Palestinians entitlement to basic rights and protection. No matter who is at fault in this conflict, there are innocent men, women and children suffering in Gaza. Instead of addressing this head on, the United States has again reverted inwards and avoided international cooperation. The High Commissioner commenting that, “given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”
To celebrate World Refugee Day we spoke to one of New Zealand’s most inspiring former refugees, Rez Gardi. Rez was named Young New Zealander of the Year 2017 for her services to human rights. She was born in a refugee camp and arrived in New Zealand under the refugee quota.
Rez told us that growing up, she was embarrassed of her refugee background. The desire to fit in and be as “Kiwi” as possible was strong. Now, she has learnt to be proud of her background. Her unique refugee journey has instilled her with drive and passion to make a difference. She says she is only one, among many incredible former refugees who make a huge impact locally and globally. However, negative opinions and thoughts about refugees still linger.
Her organisation Empower is trying to change the negative connotations and stigma attached to being a refugee and re-define it as a term that embraces resilience and strength.
We asked Rez in more detail about some of her work, life as a young refugee, and what other young people can do to support people of refugee backgrounds.
What work do you do that lead to you winning the Young New Zealander of the Year Award in 2017?
I foster and support participation, leadership, and empowerment opportunities for young refugees in New Zealand. I founded the Empower Youth Trust, a mentoring and support initiative aimed at addressing the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education.
Our mission is to empower, educate, and enable refugee youth in New Zealand through education, leadership, and capacity-building to pursue meaningful paths of their choice.
This initiative goes in hand with the University of Auckland refugee scholarships I have helped establish. I was one of the original founding members of the Global Refugee Youth Consultations, which led to the establishment of the Global Youth Advisory Council (GYAC) for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Through my work as a global youth advocate, I reinforce youth as connectors and peacebuilders by channeling and reinforcing youths’ abilities to build connections across social, cultural, linguistic, political, and other differences, and support them to contribute meaningfully to peacebuilding processes. I have used this award as a platform to raise awareness about the adversity and challenges that many marginalised groups face in New Zealand, and globally, and to promote a greater tolerance and acceptance for diversity.
How are the challenges that a young refugee faces different from those the average young person in New Zealand faces?
Through the Global Refugee Youth Consultations in 2015/2016, young refugees analysed causes and impacts of the difficulties they face. Although the context of each country is specific, the challenges that refugee youth identified are remarkably consistent. We identified ten challenges:
Difficulties with legal recognition and obtaining personal documents;
Difficulty in accessing quality learning, education, and skills-building opportunities;
Poor access to youth-sensitive healthcare, including psychological support;
Lack of safety, security and freedom of movement;
Discrimination, racism, xenophobia, and “culture clash”;
Few youth employment and livelihood opportunities;
Challenges for unaccompanied youth;
Lack of opportunities to participate, be engaged, or access decision makers;
Lack of information about asylum, refugee rights, and available services; and
Gender inequality, discrimination, exploitation, and violence, including for LGBTI youth.
In addition to all the usual challenges young people face in New Zealand, the situation is exacerbated for those of refugee background who have come to New Zealand with absolutely nothing and are thrown into a completely foreign and new world. They are starting on a back foot for a number of reasons.
Firstly, due to the trauma they may have experienced having fled their homes and being exposed to violence, the culture shock of arriving in New Zealand with no understanding of culture or norms. Coupled with language barriers, assumptions and xenophobia in regard to their experiences and culture many refugee youth experience bullying and discrimination.
Many young refugees experience and interrupted or lack of education so they have to play ‘catch up’. Aside from financial issues, when youth miss years of schooling due to being on the move, some refugee and migrant youth face issues enrolling in the level from where they left off as legally they are too old and have no available options to catch up. This requires us to be innovative in the way we approach education issues. It is common for many refugee youth to encounter a reversal in roles with their parents. At such a young age, they are called
upon to translate for their parents at the doctors, appointment, supermarket and even during their own parent-teacher interviews. There is a sense of responsibility as a refugee youth that is never placed upon mainstream New Zealanders.
What can young New Zealanders do to support refugees within their local communities and globally?
New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse nations on earth and we are also one of the most peaceful: it’s up to us, as everyday New Zealanders to ensure this is a legacy we leave for future generations.
Our biggest challenge is how we choose to live our lives and what kind of country we let New Zealand become. I ask all young New Zealanders to welcome and get to know the people in our community. What you do makes all the difference.
Simply accepting new New Zealanders into our country with open arms can contribute to their resettlement in a completely foreign place and shape their integration process and sense of self-worth. Pause a moment in what were once my shoes. How would you want to be treated?
What will you do to help your community? What will you do to help make the world a better place? What role will you play?
We don’t have to wait until we’re older. We can all do something now. Empowered youths transform societies and we can all be champions of change.
Why is it important to have organisations such as empower which support people from refugee backgrounds?
When it comes to the needs of children and young people, education is paramount. However, the reality for refugee children globally is that only 1 out of 2 get primary education. No child should have to pay the cost by missing out on schooling. Yet we see whole generations of refugee children from areas of conflict that have to leave their homes and schools, and other children on the move unable to secure an education. Education is every child’s basic human right. When these young people arrive in New Zealand, we need to provide them with a nurturing environment for the full realisation of their rights and capabilities.
Higher education serves as a powerful driver for change, by maintaining their hopes for the future, fosters inclusion and non-discrimination and acts as a catalyst for the recovery and rebuilding of post-conflict countries.
I believe education is pivotal to changing the future for child refugees and migrants; there is no future unless children learn today, and receive an education that gives them the tools and skills to be empowered to make positive change. Education empowers not only the individual, but their family, and entire community.
My charity, Empower provides a mentoring and support initiative to try to address the underrepresentation of refugees in higher education in New Zealand. We are the only organisation dedicated to refugee youth which focuses on assisting and supporting individuals with both their professional and personal development.
If we empower, educate, and enable refugee youth in New Zealand through education, leadership, and capacity-building to pursue meaningful paths of their choice then they will be empowered to contribute to Aotearoa socially, economically, and environmentally.
It’s not hard to see why Rez was named young New Zealander of the Year. She delivers a great message for all young people wanting to create positive change. “We are all in a position to make a difference to the world we live in – how big or small that may be. Only you can decide that. Champions are people prepared to face difficulty…They’re defined by passion, confidence and the strength from within. We can all be champions but our task it to discover and unlock our greatness.”
Aotearoa Youth Declaration is an annual conference for High School Students which connects young people with government policy. Participants work in Focus Groups to develop policy statements that represent their views and priorities on a range of subjects. The statements below were drafted by the participants of the Justice Focus Group, and approved by the participants at the Conference.
We recommend an opt-out system for vaccinations. Educational material should be provided if individuals wish to opt out, then the onus of proof of having informed reason to opt-out is on the individual.
We value individual autonomy for those able to express their consent only when the physical risk is isolated to them. Where the impact will go beyond the individual, we value the place of paternalism of the state.
We recognise the need for incarceration as a means of protection for members of the public, and we reaffirm the importance of the preservation of judges’ discretion. However, we would like the Three Strikes Law to be adapted to incrementally decrease opportunities for rehabil- itation with each strike instead of increasing punitive measures.
We see disparities in the accessibility of equitable legal aid. To combat this, we suggest that:
Law firms be assigned minimum pro bono time proportionate to the size of their firm;
All lawyers be encouraged to complete limited retainer (“unbundled”) legal services.
We value the principles of tikanga and its humanising impact on the adversarial nature of the court system. We suggest that tikanga principles be integrated in courts beyond Rangatahi Youth Courts, in ways that are harmonious with the values tikanga shares with other cultures of Aotearoa’s multicultural society.
We think that prison populations are at a crisis point and solutions are required. In the short-term, we think correctional facilities need to expand to address immediate overpopulation and reduce the number of people in remand by considering alternatives to incarceration. In the long-term, we value a focus on prevention and rehabilitation (e.g. community service) for victimless crimes, rather than a reactionary policy in regards to vulnerable people within the justice system.
We encourage a greater focus on increasing resources to support mental health in prisons, as it creates barriers to rehabilitation. We recognise the path to rehabilitation begins within the prison.
An enormous thanks to the Focus Group participants, the Facilitators – Nina and Ariana, the Conference Organising Committee, and the Event Sponsors.
“Surveillance is the business model of the internet,” — Bruce Schneider, Harvard Kennedy School of Governnment
2013, Yahoo. 3 billion users. 2014, eBay, 145 million users. 2015, Anthem, 80 million users. 2016, Uber, 57 million users. 2017, Equifax, 143 million users. As the globe progresses further into the internet era, what will 2018 look like for online privacy? How many breaches will occur? How many people will they affect?
A mere 5 months into 2018, we’ve already begun toppling some of these records. The recently unveiled Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal is perhaps one of the most harrowing example. Dating back to 2011, over 87 million Facebook users saw their personal information breached and shared in an attempt to influence public opinion.
Though some of Cambridge Analytica’s highest profile activities were overseas, including the 2016 US elections and Brexit, New Zealand has not been spared. Despite only an estimated 10 people in the country downloaded the app through which user data were illegally obtained, over 64,000 users were impacted as friends’ data were also shared. Intended to provide useful data for academic research, Cambridge Analytica blatantly exploited this policy for sketchy commercial and political purposes, while Facebook did little to enforce its own rules. Yet what is more concerning is not necessarily the breach itself, but what purpose it was serving. With information on every aspect of your life: friends, family, location, interests, photos etc., Facebook has built a complete profile of who you are. The same ad-driven business model sustains numerous other household names: Google, Amazon, Microsoft, etc.. Companies like Google probably know you better than your friends and family do; indeed, who would lie to Google? Some might think: What’s the big deal with getting more personalized ads? That might not even be a bad thing. Yet we need not venture far to see the potentially negative consequences. Authoritarian countries have already begun experimenting, such as China, which has recently rolled out a social credit scheme. Such a system punishes behavior, often by restricting access to fundamental human rights. The dystopian TV anthology, Black Mirror, also comes to mind. One particular episode, “Nosedive”, is set in a world where life is driven by getting good feedback from others on an app. Disturbingly, a similar app already exists in real life in the form of “Peeple”, which has received significant criticism for cyber-bullying and harassment on the platform.
Though these scenarios, both real and fictional, seem distant, we as global citizens need to actively reject them to prevent them from affecting our lives. So, what action can we take to combat them in a world increasingly saturated with the internet?
For one, enable 2-factor authentication on your online accounts, which prevents parties from breaking into your account with your password alone. Never reuse passwords, as a single breach might affect multiple accounts if you do so. Consider using a password manager, many of which are free of charge, or simply jot your passwords down on a physical notebook. Ever get annoyed by apps asking for permission? Go into your phone’s setting and revoke access for non-essential functions, with the added bonus of better performance and battery life. Visit Facebook and check what apps you have connected, and maybe remove some of them. You’ll be surprised by how many services accumulate over the years, many of them you may not even remember granting access to. These are but some of the easier steps everyone should take. Many around the world are deleting their Facebook accounts to protest its attitude towards privacy, while others are forgoing Google, opting for search engines that don’t track its users, for instance DuckDuckGo. These actions might not be realistic for many of us, yet it’s always important to keep your privacy at the forefront of your mind whenever you are online, which is most of our time these days. So ask yourself, what will 2018 look like for your online privacy? From instituting the guidelines above to educating others about this vital issue, there is so much we can do for ourselves, our communities, and society at large. As citizens of the internet, make your voice heard, and make your actions matter.
At this very minute, a dire economic crisis is in full force in Venezuela, a South American country which many New Zealanders would find difficult to place on a map. Basic food and medical supplies have become scarce commodities, the currency has devalued to the point of worthlessness and the government is on the verge of collapse. But how did this happen in one of the world’s most resource-rich countries? It seems almost implausible that, in a world where the price of oil increases as finite supplies are depleted, that the country with the largest oil reserves would be suffering from such a crippling economic situation.
Basic necessities, from rice to toilet paper to paracetamol, are scarce resources in Venezuela. People queue for hours for small quantities of food, access to which may be manipulated by corruption or theft. Soldiers guard supermarkets to prevent rots. Government inaction has been blamed for deaths due to malnutrition or easily treatable illnesses. In fact, there are reports that conditions in Venezuela are akin to those in refugee camps, not a developed country. However, despite reports of that a humanitarian crisis is occurring, the Venezuelan government has declined international aid, blaming globalization and the 2014 fall in the price of oil, and rejecting any international interference.
Venezuela’s difficult political history is often difficult to extricate from the complex economic issues the country faces. However, many trace the route of the crisis to 2014, when high oil prices dropped, drastically reducing the value of Venezuela’s most important export, oil, and causing a recession. Burdened with historical debt with decreasing resources to pay it, the government limited imports to save costs. Due to a reliance on imports during more prosperous times, Venezuela has little domestic food production resources and thus shortages began.
Venezuela challenges our traditional perception of what a country in crisis looks like. Humanitarian disasters happen in developing states which lack infrastructure and resources, not one of a continent’s most resource-rich countries. Perhaps the most important idea which can be taken from it is that globalization and high levels of overseas imports may not always bring prosperity. As interdependence increases, so too does the risk to smaller countries, to countries who borrow heavily and to countries who turn away from traditional methods of domestic production to more lucrative developments.
2018 marks seven years since the beginning of one of the worst refugee crises in living memory. Warring factions, the rise of extremist groups and an international community plagued by indecision and conflicting agendas have culminated in one of the worst humanitarian disasters since World War II. Millions of Syrians have lost their homes, their communities, their relatives and their lives. Millions are displaced, living in substandard and dangerous conditions, unable to access adequate sanitation and healthcare. Hundreds of thousands of children are unable to go to school. Moreover, for the people who have fled to neighbouring states or as far afield as Europe, there remains the constant question of when, if ever, they will be able to return to their homes.
Despite promises, allocation of resources and military intervention, the international community has failed to stop the escalation of the crisis in Syria. Refugees may express their desire to return to their homeland. However, it is unclear what will be left of the homes and the life they once knew when they return. A generation of children has been born as refugees, with no experience or understanding outside of a life of instability. It is unclear what will become of them and what sort of futures they may have.
It is all too easy to dissociate from the horrors happening in a far-away place. In New Zealand, a peaceful and stable country, our only understanding of the crisis unfolding in Syria comes through our TV screens. We can turn the screen off and turn away from a situation so unimaginable to us that we almost believe it is not real. We cannot fathom how nervous and unsure the refugees taken in by New Zealand must feel when they arrive in our tiny island nation. We cannot understand the horrors they may have faced and the hardship they endured before arriving here. A refugee’s journey does not stop once they have reached the physical safety of a country like New Zealand. They face adjusting to a new culture, society and way of life which is vastly different to what they know. They face language barriers, limited employment prospects and isolation.
While no individual human being can stop a crisis on their own, we can come together and do what we can to help. New Zealand may be a long way from Syria; however, New Zealanders can support the refugees who arrive here to adjust to their new home. We have the power to show to our new neighbours that we care about them and the horrors they have fled, that they will be welcome among us, no matter ethnicity, religion, culture or language.
It is easy for individuals to say that there is nothing they can do – someone else will fix the world. It is much harder to tell yourself that when you are sitting opposite someone who has faced hardships worse than you will ever know. You can turn off your humanity by pressing a button on your TV remote, but it is much harder to turn your back on a person sitting across the table from you.
We're always on the look out for passionate young New Zealanders to help do what we do even better.
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