NEW YORK (CNA) — “Usually when that sort of thing is read, there’s booing or hissing. But it was all applause,” said Tyler Ament, director of the International Youth Coalition, about the initial reaction to the presentation of his group’s “Statement of Youth to the U.N. and the World” at the U.N.’s General Assembly on July 25.
“There was a voice missing from the discussion when this (U.N.) International Year of Youth started,” said Ament at a July 26 press conference. “We wanted to make sure, through the International Youth Coalition, that the voice which promotes life and family and integrity would be heard in the conversation.”
The International Youth Coalition gathered in New York from July 24 to 26 for events that coincided with the United Nations’ High-Level Meeting on Youth and included a presentation of the group’s statement at the General Assembly.
On July 25, the group announced that its founding statement had received the endorsement of 57,000 people under the age of 30. The document, formulated at last year’s World Youth Conference in Mexico, became a part of the discussion at the U.N.’s General Assembly on July 25 and 26, as organizations and state officials from around the world gathered to discuss issues facing young people.
The “Statement of Youth to the U.N. and the World” affirms young people’s need for strong family and community bonds, as well as ties their rights to the “evolving capacities” developed in the process of maturing.
The statement also speaks of the inviolable right to life at every stage of development, noting that many members of the last two generations “consider themselves survivors by virtue of our being born at all.”
Its authors and signers affirm the naturalness and complementarity of the two sexes, and hold that a “proper understanding of sexuality and healthy relationships” is essential to society’s common good.
Ament told CNA that the declaration received positive responses both at the popular level and in the General Assembly.
“Countries were applauding the statement being read,” he recalled.
Katherine Nikas, who worked with the coalition as part of the Alliance Defense Fund’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship, said it was “incredible to see the amount of young people who are actually on our side — the young people who wanted a different voice, who stood up for family values.”
Nikas said she has found that many members of her generation are “tired of the pain and the heartache of just having abortions pushed at us and condoms thrown at us.”
But Ament expressed disappointment at the U.N. meeting’s outcome document, saying the international body “still isn’t taking seriously the mutual dialogue with people who don’t value abortion and things like that.”
“Unfortunately, the U.N. documents — especially the one that’s reaffirmed by the high-level meeting on youth — promote a disintegration of the family,” he said.
“They want parental consent rules and things like that to be abolished wherever they’re found, and they want youth to have rights outside the context of their families, which is in contradiction to larger documents from the U.N., like the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”
And while the International Youth Coalition’s statement received positive responses in the assembly, Ament said many of the group’s associates face administrative hurdles that may indicate hostility to their viewpoint.
“A lot of our fellows who came to participate had their confirmation letters revoked because the U.N. said there wasn’t enough space for them,” he said. “As we’ve looked in the General Assembly over the past few days, the non-governmental organization galleries are empty except for a few people. So there’s plenty of space for our fellows, but they weren’t allowed in.”
He believes the meeting’s structure also tends to block the kind of discussions the U.N. claims to be facilitating.
“If the U.N. really wants to have a mutual dialogue and understanding, then they need to set up discussion panels, instead of meetings that only have the country representatives speak and don’t have any youth speak.”
The coalition’s director said he still intends to “keep pushing forward” at the U.N. “The pro-life and pro-family movement hasn’t paid enough attention to these international institutions,” he said. “We have lot of work to do.”
“The system at the U.N., at lower levels, tries to filter us out. But if we were able to actually get in there, I think we’d have a lot more support than they would like.”
Ament said some of the unexpected positive responses to the statement gave him hope for building a consensus.
“When we were doing the signature campaign, we had people — particularly in France — who really liked the statement. But they had one problem with it: They didn’t like the mention of God in the preamble.”
Those were the people, he said, “that we really wanted to touch,” by speaking about “natural values that even someone who doesn’t believe in the religious beliefs we believe in can see.”
He valued these readers’ responses to the principles of natural law, despite their ambivalence to make a public statement of faith.
“That was something we really appreciated, even though some of them said they wouldn’t sign it because of the mention of God.”
“I think that really says … that it’s not just our side saying something that we believe. It’s something that’s fundamental.”