Opening statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights,
Gwangju 7 October 2020
I am pleased to address this tenth World Human Rights Cities Forum, which also marks the 40th anniversary of the Gwangju grass-roots, pro-democracy uprising. By declaring itself a human rights city, Gwangju has transformed painful memories of the past into a positive force for human rights at local and global levels.
In recent years, we have seen worldwide demonstrations for universal rights, often taking place in urban public spaces.
People are demonstrating for the right to live free from discrimination and deprivation. The right to a healthy planet. The right to participation and to an inclusive future.
Local governments are at the frontline as direct interlocutors for their residents.
Cities have a great potential for enabling social mobilisation and wider participation in policymaking, including from excluded groups.
They are paramount in promoting and implementing local public policies that are human rights based, ensuring that every person can live in security, peace and dignity.
Local authorities and municipal governments play a critical role. That includes in localizing the New Urban Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals, in particular SDG 11 which calls on us to “make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”.
To live up to this Goal, cities and local governments need to embrace human rights as a guiding post and a common framework for accountability towards their citizens.
That will be essential to ensure we leave no one behind.
Globally, COVID-19 has generated an unprecedented health, economic and social crisis that has made these challenges even more pressing.
COVID-19 has exposed pervasive inequalities and structural discrimination in every society.
We cannot ignore these challenges – nor should we aim at going back to a “normality” that made us so vulnerable in the first place.
We have a duty, and a lifetime opportunity, to build back better.
That gives us an opportunity to rethink and transform cities, making them more inclusive, sustainable and resilient to future crises.
With this common goal in mind, I call on cities and local governments to:
- Place the rights of the most marginalized urban residents at the centre of local government policies and budgets, including by making new technologies work for all.
- Promote participatory, transparent and accountable governance that involves residents in all of public policies processes and upholds fundamental rights and freedoms;
- Engage with the international human rights system to implement the recommendations at local level.
More than ever, this is a time for solidarity and strong cooperation.
Building back societies with human rights at their core demands the mobilisation and active participation of all.
It will require decisive action and deep collaboration between local and national authorities. Stimulus packages and other relief should boost local government capacity and tailored support.
A strong network of human-rights committed mayors will be critical in moving forward the human rights agenda, which could be guided by the elaboration and adoption of guiding principles or global common standards.
The “human rights cities” movement serves both as an inspiration and a network for sharing experiences and best practices.
You can count on my support.
I am committed to working with you to ensure cities are a vibrant space in which the rights of all residents are respected, protected and fulfilled.