Photo: Young Bled Strategic Forum 2021

By Maya Szaniecki, new intern at AEJ Belgium

“Young people are the future, but they’re also the present,” – with this Michael O’Flaherty, Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, set the tone for the Third Fundamental Rights Dialogue at the Young Bled Strategic Forum.

The aim of the Dialogue was to create a space for young people to voice their opinions and ideas, to then be raised at the Fundamental Rights Forum in October this year. Taking place on the 31st of August in Bled, Slovenia, the Dialogue allowed O’Flaherty to answer questions posed by young people and engage in conversation with them, regarding human rights issues.

A wide range of themes were raised by the attending young audience, including the environment, COVID-19, artificial intelligence, misinformation and economic inequality, and the impact of all of these on human rights.

O’Flaherty was also more personally questioned on what he thinks of the efficacy of his Agency, and whether the EU itself is flawed in its approach to human rights. He was quick to defend the work which the Fundamental Rights Agency has done, but acknowledged that the EU and its member states still have a lot to learn, both from within and outside of Europe. 

The impact of COVID-19 on individual rights was something discussed at length. O’Flaherty explained that human rights may sometimes be reduced, without necessarily being violated. This was the case, he argued, during the pandemic, in which rights such as the right to privacy and freedom of assembly, amongst others, had to be reduced in the name of public health.

He explained that tests need to be passed in order for human rights to be legitimately restricted, such as checking the legality, necessity and proportionality of the restriction. 

Despite some fears about the future being raised by the young people in the audience, O’Flaherty seemed optimistic in his belief that many of these issues could be solved, if international states and institutions join together to tackle them.

The Dialogue ended with O’Flaherty urging young people to “be indignant” and fight for a fairer world, reiterating his message that young people must be involved in discussions about our future and present world.