25th EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights

4–5 Dec 2023 | Brussels, Belgium

4 December 2023 - 5 December 2023

Brussels, Belgium

25th EU-NGO Forum on Human Rights

25th EU-NGO Human Rights Forum 2023 Theme: Youth as actors of change for human rights

Co-organisers: European External Action Service (EEAS), European Commission (DG INTPA), Human Rights and Democracy Network (HRDN) 

Dates: The Forum will be a two-day event held on December 4th- 5th in Brussels. 


Around the world, Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and their movements and organisations challenge oppression, abuses, violations and more generally the status quo. They collectively work for a better present and a better future, for more just and peaceful societies in which everyone is free to express themselves and to pursue and achieve their full potential. 

Youth are an essential part of human rights movements: they have the greatest interest in a better future; several issues, including for example climate change and environmental preservation can potentially have a greater impact on their lives than on any other group. Youth are particularly open to change and to challenging existing social norms. 

Young people all around the world are key actors of emblematic human rights fights such as the promotion of gender equality and LGBTI rights, they are defending the right to live in a healthy environment and combating racial discrimination, corruption, extreme poverty and social inequalities. They are typically engaged on migrants’ rights, land rights, and promoting human rights in the digital sphere. 

Through innovative methods of action, they are pushing international, national and local decision-makers to improve public policies. 

Like other HRDs, young HRDs face harassment, attacks and intimidation. However, they also face particular threats and challenges. Youth engagement can be limited by exclusionary norms and structures, legal barriers, financial challenges, ill-adapted partnership models, and often vulnerable social positions in high-risk contexts. Girls and youth from vulnerable backgrounds face additional specific barriers. Young HRDs or young prospective HRDs struggle to get a seat at the table. It is often hard for them to share their lived-experiences and voice their opinions with the relevant stakeholders and decision-makers. The exacerbation and deepening of social inequalities are particularly damaging to young people as it impacts all areas of their lives and curtails their potential. Additionally, other phenomena such as migration and brain drain significantly impact the potential of youth activism. 

The 25th EU-NGO forum will look into different aspects of the work of young HRDs and of the struggles and threats they face. In particular, it will explore the conditions and ways of working together — both as youth HRDs and with youth HRDs — that will better enable impactful engagement by current and future generations of young activists and intergenerational cooperation throughout the HRD community. Participants will exchange with representatives of EU institutions, Member States and other international organisations that (can) support young HRDs. 

Through interactive discussions, young human rights defenders, including from within EU countries, will share their experience and discuss what inspired them to activism and what barriers exist that prevent or dissuade many other young people from engaging in human rights work. How are human rights understood by young people from different parts of the world? They will also discuss what ways of working are more relevant to young HRDs and whether there are ways in which the human rights community and decision-makers can become more inclusive and open to the contributions and leadership of young people. They will share their experiences of working, inter alia, for social justice, environmental protection, democratic accountability, and combatting non-discrimination. According to an intergenerational approach, the forum will also bring experts, activists and organisations who work with and for the enhancement of youth participation. 

The Forum will also assess the physical, financial and social risks that young HRDs face. 

Following the 2022 European Year of Youth and the adoption of the EU Youth Action Plan, the focus of the EU turns to implementation. The forum will allow to reflect on how the EU can improve the protection of young human rights defenders, promote their role as human rights and democracy watchdogs and their civic and political participation in the public sphere, including for young women. 


  • Support young HRDs in building a wider network by connecting them with other HRDs from different countries and regions, including the EU, and EU officials and UN experts 

  • Support networking and peer learning of young HRDs, including with inter-generational panels - involving knowledge transfer between different generations of HRDs). 

  • Understand better how States and international organisations can tailor specific measures to protect young HRDs 

  • Gather inputs from young HRDs and youth associations on key human rights topics, including practical recommendations on EU external action. Identify ways to rebuild the constituency and engagement for human rights among young people and reflect on future human rights challenges and needs. 

  • Awareness-raising of EU youth policies 

  • Identify ways to give visibility to young HRDs, foster partnerships and identify ways to engage with young people meaningfully in decisions affecting them. Identify ways to engage and support youth in their civic and political participation in the public sphere.