“Human dignity and social cohesion: youth policy responses to violence”
(To be checked against delivered speech)
Violence is the most common and widespread violation of human rights and dignity. It is an issue which concerns society as a whole, but young people are particularly vulnerable, and they are often affected by violence, either as its victims or its perpetrators.
I, therefore, welcome the choice of the theme of this conference. Violence is at the top of political agendas and popular concerns in many European countries. While it is not a new phenomenon, it is a growing threat to social peace and cohesion in our societies which are founded on freedoms and respect for the individual. As Ministers responsible for Youth, you have both the power and the responsibility to make a difference. As politicians we cannot control human character, but we can help to create an environment which brings the best out of human nature and allows people to be like they are and who they wish to become.
In certain respects, the level of violence in a society is a mirror of society itself. While it always develops as a result of an individual’s state of mind, this state of mind is often influenced by social, economic, family or other circumstances related to an individual’s personal history. Violence affects all segments of society, but those who are socially and economically deprived are hurt more often and hurt more deeply.
Responses to violence must therefore take into consideration the social and economic context within which violence develops. These responses should not only emphasise security, but should also focus on enabling individuals to cope with the stress caused by what they desire and what society expects from them, allows them or refuses them.
As I have already said, young people are often victims or perpetrators of violence. They may very often be both, because research shows that those who are victims are also more likely to commit acts of violence themselves. But young people can also help to break the vicious circle of violence. They can help to prevent violence amongst their peers and within society as a whole.
The Council of Europe has always stressed that effective responses to violence should involve prevention strategies based on awareness-raising, education – particularly in the non-formal sense, the strengthening of democracy, social cohesion and inclusion. But an education campaign on the prevention of violence has no chance of succeeding if politicians fail to practice what they preach. Respect for democratic rules and tolerance with regard to political opponents are of crucial importance in the effort to promote non-violence among young people and not only among them. How can you – after all - expect people to refrain from aggressive attitudes in their daily lives if political life is swamped with violence, and states so often behave like armed giants and ethical dwarfs?
Policies for education and social inclusion, which are among the most important tools for the prevention of violence, cannot be successful if they do not take into account the specific characteristics of adolescence and youth, and do not involve young people as active participants. Education – both formal and non-formal - can help people to understand that non-violence may not always be an effective solution, but that violence never is.
Youth policy can and should contribute to the effort to curb violence in all its expressions and help young people to learn how to handle conflicts in the wider society, in the family and in their inner selves.
Youth policies have tools and mechanisms which have great potential to combat violence, but these tools and mechanisms are often underestimated and underemployed. This is particularly true for youth organisations and networks, within which young people can experience and develop their skills in the fields of participation, solidarity, tolerance, intercultural dialogue, respect for diversity and conflict management.
Nevertheless, youth policies alone do not have all the answers to overcoming violence and violent behaviour. These are issues which touch all public policy areas. Therefore, cross-sectoral co-operation is a key element for developing effective strategies to curb violence. Youth policies should play an active role in promoting such co-operation and ensuring that measures and programmes initiated by other public sector structures are implemented with the active participation of young people and youth organisations.
The Heads of State and Government of Council of Europe member states who met in Warsaw last May, agreed on a range of measures which should help Europe face the challenges of our century. The conclusion of the Summit included a decision to launch a campaign to eradicate all forms of violence against children. Your endeavour to develop youth policy responses to violence will be an important contribution to this campaign and to our permanent effort to foster a more humane and inclusive Europe.
The Council of Europe plays a leading role as an organisation which leads campaigns on issues at the heart of the lives of our citizens today. I am particularly pleased that the Warsaw Summit agreed to launch the Youth Campaign to promote Diversity, Human Rights and Participation, as part of our on-going fight against racism, discrimination, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. A major element of the youth sector’s resources will be devoted to this Campaign over the next two years, and I should like to take this opportunity to call upon you to support the campaign activities in your own countries to the greatest possible extent.
All these actions are part of the wider framework of cultural co-operation which has underpinned so much of the work of the Council of Europe since the European Cultural Convention was drawn up 50 years ago. Various programmes are underway to promote this Convention as a living, breathing instrument to advance cultural co-operation in Europe and beyond. They include work on questions such as how cultural policies can help in combating insecurity and social exclusion.
To say that young people are our future is certainly a worn out cliché, but a cliché is not necessarily wrong. If we want a Europe of tomorrow which is inclusive and diverse, vibrant, tolerant and at peace with itself and with others – our work with young people – and this conference is included – is a good way to start.