Dec 01, 2023
SAFIR Concluding Forum: The Absent Political Role of Youth in Decision-Making and Development Challenges Amid Occupation and Suppression of Freedoms - Joelle Abdel Aal
Joelle Abd El Aal

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Joelle Abd El Aal

SAFIR Concluding Forum: The Absent Political Role of Youth in Decision-Making and Development Challenges Amid Occupation and Suppression of Freedoms - Joelle Abdel Aal
The SAFIR concluding forum, held in Paris this year, was overshadowed by the ongoing genocidal massacres committed by the Israeli occupation in Gaza since October 7, 2023. As the occupation continues to commit human rights violations against the people of Gaza, the young people participating in the forum addressed their respective countries' political challenges. The participants praised the valuable experiences provided by the SAFIR Program, especially the skills needed for constructive criticism of national strategies and policies and their compatibility with the Sustainable Development Goals and the 2030 Agenda. However, the Palestinian issue came to the fore as a primary focus in the discussions and meetings. As the war in Gaza continued, this concluding forum was transformed into a space for intense criticism, interspersed with the disappointments resulting from double standards in human rights. Thus, development became a secondary issue that intersected with political interests.
In the session at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Tamara Al-Tibi, a SAFIR participant from Palestine, spoke about her experience in the program and the initiative she launched with other SAFIR participants in her country. The war in Gaza posed a significant challenge to its joint implementation with young people there. She then addressed the situation of sustainable development in Palestine, pointing out the lack of essential components to achieve development goals. The region is witnessing a major decline, taking us back two hundred years. Health conditions are deteriorating, poverty rates are on the increase, and children and youth are impeded from continuing their education.
During three days of workshops and discussions, Palestinian participants also pointed out several problems, including the absence of democratic life and the many Palestinians who live as refugees in their homeland. Freedom of opinion, expression, and movement is severely restricted by the siege and checkpoints imposed by the occupation, and fundamental rights are stifled.
The impact of conditional funding and double standards in human rights on development paths
Participants in the SAFIR Program Concluding Forum discussed the question of double standards in applying human rights, international conventions, and freedom of opinion and expression. Juman Al-Khatib, a human rights researcher and a SAFIR Program participant, spoke about the apparent lack of standards stipulated in human rights and international treaties in some laws in Jordan. She described this situation as a legal challenge that affects the consolidation of human rights and could be similar to the situation in many countries.
The young participants also spoke about human rights institutions in their countries, which tend to neglect the roots of the problem and only implement funded programs. For example, institutions working on youth issues in Palestine sometimes only focus on implementing funded programs without paying attention to the fundamental challenges and obstacles facing youth issues. The rights of young people in Palestine cannot be addressed without talking about the occupation and its repercussions on these rights. They also discussed the work of UN human rights organizations, noting many humanitarian double standards, especially regarding the war and genocide taking place in the Gaza Strip. Restrictions were imposed on those working there, and they were prevented from publishing any content that supported the Palestinian cause, even on their own accounts.
Other young participants were convinced that funding is conditional on policies and positions. It restricts the ability to issue or express positions conflicting with these conditionalities. Accordingly, our countries and their governments may be forced by this funding to adopt political positions that disagree with the people’s vision and view of human rights. Economic and political sanctions could be imposed, exacerbating the existing crises in our countries, such as increased unemployment and a deteriorating economic situation.
On the other hand, freedom of opinion and expression is linked with the developmental process and human rights. This connection plays a vital role in transmitting the voices of marginalized groups. However, the war in Palestine revealed the double standards related to freedom of opinion and expression and human rights, as political regimes claiming democracy and freedoms showed their repressive side. Therefore, it was necessary to highlight the suppression of freedoms during our sessions and discussions, especially those imposed on social media sites, to obscure the actual picture of the crimes committed by the Israeli occupation and the repressive practices adopted by some otherwise progressive European regimes.
For example, France banned pro-Palestine demonstrations, claiming they might disrupt public order in the country. It imposed sanctions and restrictions on journalists working there. At the same time, the Israeli occupation continues to deliberately and intentionally target and assassinate journalists in Palestine and Lebanon. The most recent was the assassination of journalist Farah Omar and photographer Rabei al-Maamari after the targeting and assassination of photographer Issam Abdallah.
Youth Recommendations at the SAFIR Forum for Sustainable Development
A comprehensive analysis of the situation shows that any rights-based discussion of sustainable development cannot succeed unless founded on the question of Palestine. Accordingly, progress in humanitarian programs and aspirations cannot be achieved by ignoring the political, economic, military, and other aspects of the occupation. Thus, any attempted development aimed at building a just peace must recognize the rights of the Palestinian people and be based on a human rights approach.
In this regard, SAFIR Program participant Muhammad Ali Youssef, during his intervention at the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, stressed the positive impact of the SAFIR Project at the beginning of his participation. However, with the outbreak of war in Gaza and the inability of many Palestinian participants to attend, especially From the Gaza Strip, he wondered whether political and economic interests come first in countries’ priorities instead of achieving sustainable development. On the other hand, Tamara expresses the loss of hope in any development process or path that does not depend on peace or human rights, calling on all those attending the meeting to bear the responsibility towards the youth of Palestine to avoid losing more hope in the future.
In this traffic context, young participants in the program saw their views and opinions transform. All the efforts made in development are mere headlines, especially in the framework of the 2030 sustainable development agenda. They expressed their view for post-2030, stressing the need to include young people as participants in policy-making and drafting. They should be able to effectively identify the roots of the problem, rejecting the imposition of partial programs and solutions, particularly those connected to conditional political agendas. They called for young people to be a practical part of policy-making, especially as they continue to insist and try to convey their voices despite the siege and restrictions.
Joelle Abdel Aal

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