Honourable Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Speaker of the Parliament of Fiji

Honourable John Patteson Oti, Speaker the National Parliament of Solomon Islands

Honourable Lord Fakafanua, Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of Tonga

Mrs Heike Alefsen, Regional Representative of the Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,

Ni sa bula vinaka, malo e lelei, halo and good afternoon!

I am honoured to provide a few remarks on behalf of UNDP on the regional launch of the “Youth Parliament Engagement and Outreach Activities in Solomon Islands and Tonga.”

It is also an occasion to reflect on International Day of Tolerance, which is celebrated annually on 16 November.

COVID-19

Today, we meet virtually in a time of great crisis and uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing enormous human suffering and economic hardship around the world. 

Countries, including those here in the Pacific, are facing an unfolding pandemic that has exposed multiple weaknesses in our societies. We need a much stronger response of unity and solidarity, if we are to get through this pandemic together and build a safer, more stable future. 

That said, I can assure you that young people now and, in the future, will play a big role in how our world adapts to these challenges.

UNDP and Youth Parliaments

Over the past few years, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Pacific Office in Fiji has supported Parliaments of Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Tonga, the Cook Islands and Fiji in designing and implementing youth parliaments during the last few years.

The youth parliaments, to which you have participated, have proved helpful to increase your political awareness and participation. I understand a few of you have gone on to contest the national elections in your countries.

UNDP has received very positive reflections on the youth parliament programme, especially from former delegates – the “alumni”. You remain keen to follow-up on your experiences and to stay engaged with your parliaments in some way.

This is the very reason UNDP has developed the Youth Parliament Engagement and Outreach Activities to which you will participate in the coming days.

Young people’s potential as agents of change

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) acknowledge the significance of youth and their role in the path towards sustainable development. Youth are part of the nine (9) major groups with which the UN closely collaborates to ensure broad participation and representation of all corners of the society. They are one of the keys if we want to “leave no one behind”.

The young people of today will mature in the next 15 years, right alongside SDGs.  They are the people who will experience the success or failure of the 2030 Agenda. Therefore, it is particularly important to engage with youth and empower you in our endeavors for a more sustainable future.

International Day of Tolerance

With youth comes energy, innovation, and optimism – if there are supportive environments and opportunities. These lay the ground for major positive contributions by youth in your respective countries and our region. The opposite reflection is also, unfortunately, a very real risk: alienated, frustrated, marginalized, and excluded, youth can’t make the positive contribution societies and our world as a whole do need.

My colleagues from the UN Office of Human Rights have spoken earlier today on the International Day of Tolerance but I’d like to highlight that UNDP, as part of the greater United Nations family, is committed to strengthening tolerance by fostering mutual understanding among cultures and peoples. This imperative lies at the core of the United Nations Charter, as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and is more important than ever in this era of rising and violent extremism and widening conflicts that are characterized by a fundamental disregard for human life.

You have today and you will tomorrow, learn more about the significance of International Day of Tolerance and its relevance to youth as agents of positive change, for the region and in your respective countries.

Who is better placed to be allies of tolerance in our society than young people? Your positive energy, passion and commitment will be instrumental in affirming and harnessing our diversity and to ensure the survival of mixed communities in our Pacific and every region across the globe.

This programme presents you with an excellent opportunity to reflect personally on the last time you had a different view than one of your friends. When was the last time you learned something about someone else’s culture? When was the last time you witnessed the rejection of people whom we perceive as different, for example members of a social or ethnic group other than ours, or people who are different in political or sexual orientation? Maybe it wasn’t that long ago. 

There’s no doubt that a world free of tolerance would not be a good place to be. Tolerance is one of those qualities that forms the bedrock of society. As budding leaders and politicians, it is very important that you embrace diversity – be it for differing political views, religious beliefs, ethnicities, gender, sexual orientation or even age. Tolerance encourages mindfulness and faith in human rights; it strengthens respect for diversity, empathy and peace.

I understand that over the next week, you will be engaged in outreach activities in the Western Province of the Solomon Islands and communities outside of Nukualofa. This is your opportunity to learn from, and engage with, people with their own ideas, thoughts and dreams. I urge you to appreciate and embrace diversity in your society!

Conclusion

In a concluding note, I would like to emphasize that UNDP support for this activity was made possible through the generous assistance of our international partners and donors, the Governments of Japan and the government of New Zealand. We thank them for their steadfast commitment to supporting parliamentary development efforts, and parliamentary outreach, in your parliament and more broadly in the Pacific region.

I wish you well in your interactions during this series of activities.

Vinaka vakalevu, tankiu tumas, malo aupito!

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