The EU NGO Forum 2023 through the eyes of GC Alumnae

The EU-NGO Forum is organised yearly by the European Commission and the European External Action Service, in partnership with the Human Rights and Democracy Network of Brussels-based NGOs. The theme for 2023 Forum, which took place on 4 and 5 December in Brussels, was “Youth as actors of change for human rights”. Cláudia Aguirre, 2022 alumna of the GC Europe Master’s programme (EMA), and Carolina Muzzillo, 2021 alumna of the GC South East Europe Master’s programme (ERMA), joined the event and shared with us energetic accounts of their participation.

«I had an exciting experience in Brussels, so thank you very much for this opportunity. I had never been in an event like that as an EMA Alumna, and I could see in practice how EMA makes part of a broader network with many possibilities beyond the academic perspective.

I did not get the chance to make a presentation, but it was not a disadvantage in the end, as I could participate and exchange ideas with the other participants. In fact, most of the activities were interactive and conducted in smaller groups. These interactive activities were basically of four kinds:

1) “Building the right future” sessions – where groups worked on specific themes and systematised suggestions to be sent to the EU. In my group we talked about gender and other identities, and polarising trends in public space.

2) Thematic sessions – I participated in the “Democracy and rule of law” session both days. Here, I made some suggestions related to access to justice mechanisms. There were also several discussions on youth participation and age discrimination, as well as other intersectional types of discrimination. On the second day, we discussed how the Internet and other media could help young human rights leaders’ participation, as well as issues on the shrinking of civil space (more acute in some countries like Nicaragua, Israel, and so on). Here I mentioned, for example, the difficulties of people in remote areas to get access to information and the important role of community radios.

3) Regional sessions – I joined “The Americas” session, where participants from Latin America and Caribbean countries mentioned the main threats to human rights and engaged in a dialogue with EU representatives. This was such an interesting session because we could see how some trends in the region were similar (for example, climate change and indigenous peoples rights issues) and others were different (for example, struggles in some countries in Central America with authoritarian governments). I mentioned some issues about indigenous lands rights in Brazil, access to justice for people in vulnerability, and the participation of Public Defenders Offices and the National Association of Public Defenders in the framework of the Interamerican Court of Human Rights (as this was previously mentioned by the EU representatives as a point of interest).

4) Learning and information sessions – I participated in the “Advocacy towards EU” session where I learned about how and when it is possible/appropriate to open some advocacy channels towards the EU. As a Latin American woman this was a completely new experience, and I learned how I could try to make connections between EU and Brazil – for example, exploring the possibilities of advocacy with the EU in UN Treaty Bodies, with which some Public Defenders’ Offices in Brazil have engaged recently.

Overall, I was surprised by the diversity of participants from all continents, which shows the willingness of the EU to listen to different groups; I also learned a lot from the other participants. Another very positive point for me was the possibility of networking with NGOs and UN and EU representatives: for example, I got the chance to talk with EU representatives who worked in Brazil and learned about some experiences from the Public Defender’s Office there, which was very, very nice. This experience was an eye-opener for me, as it gave me a view of possible exchanges/partnerships to enhance human rights initiatives as an EMA Alumna. So thank you again for the opportunity!»

Carolina shared with us her experience as a foresight facilitator. «In this role, I moderated two sessions, ensuring that discussions followed a specific methodology to be as enriching and inclusive as possible. This experience deepened my understanding of 'strategic foresight'—a future key methodology for multilateral systems and government institutions. It focuses on exploring, shaping, and anticipating future challenges using collective intelligence in a structured and systematic way.

The initial foresight session focussed on pinpointing present trends, challenges, and possible shifts in the landscape of human rights topics. The subsequent session was dedicated to deliberating on the findings from the first session, extracting pertinent information, and devising practical strategies to shape a future centred on human rights. The goal of these sessions was to formulate recommendations and actionable steps that can be adopted by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), the European Union (EU), or the United Nations (UN).»

Cláudia Aguirre is a young public defender with extensive experience gained at the Defensoria Pública do Estado do Acre (Brasil). From January to July 2023 she also worked as a human rights researcher with Adam Mickiewicz University, a Global Campus member university and lead of the project “Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights as Rights of the Child – Empowering Children in Building a Better Future". The project is still underway and aims to draft the Compilation of Principles and Standards of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights of the child and is funded by Right Livelihood in the framework of its cooperation with the Global Campus.

Carolina Muzzillo, currently working at the Human Rights Action Unit of the European Parliament, is a young professional experienced in fieldwork and ethnographic research. She is specialised in the study of the ex-Yugoslav space, with a focus on ethnonationalism and identity building through diaspora and citizenship practices in the framework of kin-state relations.

GC Alumna Claudia Aguirre and Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

Cláudia Aguirre (GC Europe Alumna) and Nada Al-Nashif (UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights)

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