Advancing the Role of Youth in Advocating for Human Rights

“It all started when I attended a lecture on the importance of international law and how it relates to our lives. This encouraged me to participate in another training opportunity to learn about the United Nations human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review (UPR),” says Dana Bani Mustafa. Dana is one of the youth members who were engaged in the UPR process along with civil society organizations (CSOs), an effort supported by the Sawt Activity.

Dana was eager to learn more about international law and human rights mechanisms, saying “As law students, we were constantly exposed to terms like ‘international community’ and ‘international law.’ However, our university curriculum barely scratched the surface of these topics.” This encouraged Dana to join a youth coalition of 16 law students from four Jordanian universities, formed by Lawyers Without Borders to develop the UPR shadow report, which was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in July 2023.

“Joining the Lawyers Without Borders UPR youth coalition not only allowed us to explore human rights and UPR shadow reporting, but also provided us a sense of ownership over this effort. This experience has demonstrated how young people can shape legal reforms and promote human rights,” affirmed Dana.

The youth coalition worked with Lawyers Without Borders (LWB) with guidance from human rights experts and identified the right to establish associations as a priority area to tackle in the shadow report.

The Sawt Activity covered the travel costs of four youth representatives to attend the Jordan UPR session in Geneva and advance their participation in the UPR process, giving them a valuable opportunity to engage in international processes and learn about human rights mechanisms. During the UPR session, and despite the global attention on other various pressing issues, Dana and her team managed to advocate for the right to establish associations. The recommendations that Dana and her peers drafted were partially adopted by the government of Jordan, which marked a significant achievement for the youth coalition. Particularly, the government adopted five out of 26 LWB recommendations. “Knowing that our recommendations were considered and acted upon by the government was incredibly rewarding!” she reflects. The recommendations in the LWB shadow report that were adopted by the government are related to rights to freedom of opinion, expression, association, and peaceful assembly. It also called for ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society and access to foreign funding, in addition to amending the Cybercrimes Law and the Law on Societies, among others.

Beyond this accomplishment, Dana’s journey was full of learning and growth, from overcoming her unfamiliarity with advocacy terms to becoming a passionate advocate for human rights. “When we first got involved in the UPR process, we were overwhelmed with the flow of unfamiliar information. We were interested and intrigued about what, why, and how this issue made a difference!” expressed Dana excitedly.When we attended the UPR session, we got the answers to all our questions,” she added. Notably, those students were the only youth members present at the UPR session in Geneva.

Looking ahead, Dana emphasizes the critical need for ongoing advocacy and the engagement of broader audiences in human rights discussions. She paused when asked to talk about the challenges that might hinder the implementation of the rights of associations saying: “Perhaps the most significant obstacle Jordan faces in putting such rights into practice is the Cybercrimes Law, which can restrict the freedom of expression.”

To further work on UPR recommendations, LWB will engage new university students to advocate for government action on the recommendations. In addition, Sawt will provide financial support to LWB to foster collaboration between civil society and the media, supporting the UPR recommendation on protecting the rights to freedom of opinion, expression, and association, and ensuring a safe and enabling environment for civil society.

The Universal Periodic Review is a State-driven process, under the auspices of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions it has taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries through a peer review mechanism according to international human rights standards. Last year, Sawt awarded nine CSOs with UPR grants to advance their engagement in shaping public policy with respect to Jordan’s international obligations on human rights. With Sawt’s instrumental role, CSOs and youth were able to play an active role in advocating for legal reform and promoting human rights at a global level. During the UPR session, Jordan received 279 recommendations, a 23% increase compared to recommendations received in 2018, out of which 196 were accepted and 83 were noted. To further accept more recommendations, CSO coalitions are advocating to increase the number of accepted UPR recommendations by the government. In return, the government committed to developing an executive plan and roadmap in partnership with civil society and relevant stakeholders to implement Jordan’s UPR recommendations.