Strengthening Human Rights Through Youth Engagement: Views from Mongolia, Uganda, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Colombia

December 10, 2019
02:00 pm - 04:00 pm

About the event

As governments around the world tighten civic space in their countries, citizens are grappling with ways to counter the repression and reassert their human rights. Internal and external threats to individual rights and liberties have sparked spontaneous mass protests in some parts of the world, while in other settings, citizens have coordinated more systematic efforts through civic advocacy organizations. Youth have emerged as an essential part of the global struggle for human rights, as many engage in their own forms of activism and dialogue, whether on social media, through mass mobilization, or by way of civil society. Recognizing that youth constitute majorities in many parts of the world, it is critical to engage with young people to ensure the long-term success of human rights movements. In commemoration of International Human Rights Day, Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Dolgion Aldar, Catherine Kanabahita, Marvi Sirmed, Viktoriya Tyuleneva, and Pedro V. Villarreal discussed the role of youth in protecting and advocating for human rights in Mongolia, Uganda, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, and Colombia, respectively, including through civic education, activism, research, and digital literacy. Zerxes Spencer of NED’s International Forum for Democratic Studies moderated the discussion.



Dolgion Aldar, Independent Research Institute of Mongolia

Catherine Kanabahita, Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (Uganda)

Marvi Sirmed, Ideas Hub and Daily Times (Pakistan)

Viktoriya Tyuleneva, Freedom House (Kazakhstan)

Pedro V. Villarreal, Foundation for Press Freedom (Colombia)


moderated by

Zerxes Spencer, International Forum for Democratic Studies


About the speakers

Dolgion Aldar is a research professional focused on promoting evidence-based policy-making and social cohesion in Mongolia. She is a former CEO and current board member of the Independent Research Institute of Mongolia, one of Mongolia’s preeminent think tanks that promotes independent research and analysis of governance and social issues in the country. She also serves on the board of the Asia-Pacific Evaluation Association and is a member of the Social Well-Being Consortium in Asia and the EvalGender global network. For her dedication to promoting democratic governance in Mongolia, Ms. Aldar received the Asia Foundation’s Development Fellowship in 2018.

Catherine Kanabahita is the executive director of the Development Network of Indigenous Voluntary Associations (DENIVA), a coalition of over 700 civil society organizations in Uganda that provides a platform for collective reflection and advocacy in support of people-centered, democratic development and accountability in Uganda.  In this capacity, she facilitates partnerships between NGOs and citizens to ensure that calls for social justice, human dignity, and democracy are sufficiently strong and representative.  She has trained and mentored youth in nonviolent activism and transformative leadership and has spearheaded the NGO Quality Assurance Certification Mechanism, which assesses NGOs against a uniform set of standards to promote their credibility, professionalism and resilience.  In addition, she is an active member of Women4Uganda, a cross-generational network of women advocating for democracy in Uganda.

Marvi Sirmed is a democracy and peace advocate, human rights defender, and journalist who has dedicated her twenty-five year career to the strengthening of democracy, rule of law, and protection of fundamental freedoms in Pakistan. She is the founding president of Ideas Hub, an innovative model of social entrepreneurship aimed at supporting democrats and strengthening democratic institutions. A correspondent with the Daily Times, she is a member of the executive council of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and serves as board chair of Bytes for All, a digital rights organization. In recognition of her service to democracy, the government of Pakistan conferred upon her the National Human Rights Award in 2010, while the Speaker of the House awarded her the Friend of the Parliament Award in 2012.

Viktoriya Tyuleneva is the project director of the Almaty office of Freedom House in Kazakhstan, where she leads programs on civic education and youth mobilization, advocates for public engagement on human rights issues, and oversees the development of the course “Imagining Kazakhstan,” which seeks to train a new generation of civil society leaders in critical-thinking skills. From 2001 to 2013, she served as chief of the Human Rights Advocacy Center and as deputy director for strategy development in Kazakhstan’s Bureau for Human Rights and Rule of Law, where she utilized UN mechanisms to hold her government accountable and protect human rights and freedom of movement. At the Bureau for Human Rights, she also drew on her legal background to analyze policies and make recommendations focusing on the prevention of human rights violations.

Pedro V. Villarreal is the executive director of the Foundation for Press Freedom (FLIP) in Colombia, an organization that combats media censorship and attacks on press freedom, as well as assists journalists at risk. Prior to becoming executive director, he served as the organization’s legal advisor, litigating cases of human rights violations against journalists. A lawyer and media advocate with expertise in freedom of the press, regulation of means, and freedom of expression online, Mr. Vaca teaches courses on freedom of expression, politics, and media law at the Universidad del Rosario and the Universidad de los Andes and is a member of the Global Council’s International Freedom of Expression Exchange. From 2014 to 2015, he chaired the Coordinating Committee of the IFEX Network for Freedom of Expression in Latin America.

Zerxes Spencer is director of fellowship programs at the National Endowment for Democracy. In this role, he oversees the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program, an international exchange program based at the International Forum, which seeks to expand the knowledge, broaden the perspectives, build the capacity, and boost the morale of some of the world’s most committed and courageous democracy advocates. In addition, he oversees efforts in support of democrats at risk, working with journalists, democracy activists, human rights defenders, civil society leaders, scholars, and others under attack around the world and spearheading the implementation of strategic initiatives in support of their work. Prior to becoming director, he served as senior manager of fellowships at NED and as associate editor of the Journal of Democracy.


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