Societies must engage meaningfully with young people and empower them with the skills and education they need as the standard bearers of democratic principles, Secretary-General António Guterres said, commemorating the International Day of Democracy. The UN chief affirmed that democracy, rule of law, and respect for human rights underpin freedom, promote sustainable development and safeguard the dignity of every person. “On the International Day of Democracy, we celebrate its promise to societies – and recognize the many threats it faces at this time of tension and turmoil,” he said on Friday. Guterres drew attention to the alarming trend of shrinking civic space. Misinformation and disinformation are major concerns, he warned, noting they “poison public discourse, polarize communities, and erode trust in institutions.” The theme for this year’s International Day, “Empowering the Next Generation,” spotlights the pivotal role of children and young people in safeguarding and advancing democracy, both today and in the future. The Secretary-General stressed that merely listening to young voices is insufficient. “We must support them with massive investments in education, skills-building, and lifelong learning, and we must protect human rights and advance gender equality,” he said. In conclusion, the UN chief called for unity across generations and urged collective efforts to build a more just and equitable world for all. Commemorated annually on 15 September, the International Day of Democracy is an opportunity to review the state of democracy globally. It was established in 2007 by the UN General Assembly, which reaffirmed that democracy is a universal value based on the freely expressed will of people to determine their own political, economic, social and cultural systems, and their full participation in all aspects of life. Also on Friday, UN human rights experts highlighted the link between the digital world and fundamental democratic rights, urging States to ensure that they are protected in cyberspace. Special rapporteurs on freedom of expression, the situation of rights defenders, and freedom of peaceful assembly cautioned against the misuse of evolving technology to curtail human rights, shrink civic space, and target rights activists. “Digital space is not neutral space. At the levels of its physical architecture, regulation and use, different groups exert their interests over it,” David Kaye, Michel Forst and Clement Voule said. “The principles of international human rights law, however, should be at the centre of its development,” they emphasized. In conclusion, they reaffirmed that human rights should be at the forefront of considerations regarding the present and future of technology and the internet.