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World Human Rights Cities Forum: Addressing Social Unrest and Learning From the Historical Past

History tells us what has been, and provides insights in what may come. It can unite communities and it can divide them. We learn from it, and it gives us a chance to reflect on how to proceed when building our future.

This was exemplified in the first session of the World Human Rights Cities Forum: “Human Rights Cities: Addressing Social Unrest and Learning from the Historical Past”. Local government representatives shared their cities’ local history, and their experiences of creating inclusive human rights cities.

Local leaders on the past and its reflection in present, local human rights work

The past and present are not separate. The Mayor of Nuremberg, a city  that hosted both Nazi party meetings and the Nuremberg trials, stressed the need for educational work tha connects the past and present, and the need to recognise the signs of violence and alienation that preceded past atrocities.

Marcus Koenig portrait

“We should think about how to connect the horrible past events with actions to be taken in the future” – Marcus König, Mayor of Nuremberg

Past events can also strengthen a city. The mayor of Gwangju reflected on how the spirit of solidarity that marked the period of the Gwangju uprising continues to benefit citizens to this day. He further highlighted the future plans for the human rights work in the city. Gwangju is taking new initiatives to keep and expand its role as a representative human rights city and its promotion of human rights.

Furthermore, the Chairperson of the National Human Rights Committee of Korea spoke of a suggested equality act in Korea. The act would bring an opportunity to rectify discriminatory practices and systems. She also highlighted the necessity of legislation in order to make equality a core principle of society.

mayor of ariana fadhel moussa

An increased public understanding of discrimination against social  minorities will reduce the risks of such practices occurring.”  –  Young-ae Choi, National Human Rights Commision of Korea, Chairperson

The Mayor of Aryanah addressed how the Jasmine revolution of 10 years ago led to change in government and legal reforms, including a new constitution with explicit human rights provisions. He shared his concerns that while civil and political rights have advanced, economic and social rights have not kept equal progress. This discrepancy has created a sense of disappointment among citizens.

“We need to persist in defending democracy and human rights by making ‘the city’ flourish as a lever for development and economic progress […] which will help promote a narrative and understanding of inclusion, human rights and democracy’.” – Fadhel Moussa, Mayor of Aryanah

We then heard from the Mayor of Bogor who described Bogor as a pluralistic and previously harmonious city, but said that attacks, hatred and discrimination against religious minorities have increased. The Mayor shared how he works to prevent the recurrence of violence, developing local regulations and facilitating inter-religious and community dialogue.

The Mayor of Bogotá spoke about her ambition to make Bogotá a center of reconciliation, after 60 years of civil war. Impunity and police brutality were lifted as central issues that need to be addressed. The mayor explained how her office works to support victims and promote a genuine police reform, to change the culture and build forgiveness, truth and reconciliation.

What does the future hold for local governments?

The session suggested that the future is likely to hold increased frustrations and popular unrest, due to the climate crisis and the current pandemic. It was stated that local governments need to be prepared to address these matters proactively and inclusively, based on human rights and democracy.

However, the speakers united in the thought of a growing network and movement of human rights cities as a hopeful force for the future. The speakers also highlighted the importance of the contact between local governments and citizens; a call for a deepened dialogue between duty bearers and rights-holders. Local governments play a crucial role in protecting and making human rights a concrete reality.


See the full session here. 

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