Youth Participation: Human Rights Cities Concept

In December last year, young activists from Albania and Kosovo gathered in Tirana to learn about the concept of human rights cities. Their workshop was organized by Adela Hodaj and Erblina Selmanaj,  participants as of the Swedish Academy for Young Professionals (SAYP) held in Lund in 2022. Adela and Erblina organized the workshop with the intention that young activists will further engage on this concept with  their local governances/authorities, creating a multiplier effect in which human right cities are spread throughout Kosovo and Albania.

Picture from the project: Adela Hodaj (right) and Erblina Selmanaj (left) with a participant during the implementation of the project.

Adela is Head of Drafting and Coordination of Strategies Unit of Directory of Policies in Public order and Security. Erblina is a Junior Communications Associate at the United Nations Development Programme. They both met during the 2022 SAYP session in Lund. The idea of the project was a result of the lecture on Human Rights cities given during the session. Erblina hadn’t heard about the concept before. Given her background in development and international organizations, Erblina realised that even though the concept may be perceived as local, the impact is wide as it can be connected to the Sustainable Development Goals as well. Erblina and Adela felt an urgent need to implement the concept in their home countries, as it was a new concept in Albania and Kosovo.

The SAYP session gave Adela and Erblina an opportunity to create their own project with funding from the Swedish Institute, implementation by LUCE, and with contribution of RWI and LUSEM.

When asked what made them organise their project, Erblina said that:

“To take advantage of the opportunity wasn’t that hard, the hardest thing was how to create opportunities for others. When you become fully aware of the impact an initiative, activity or even can have to you, then you seek more, and decide to jump into deeper dedication.”

Lund, as Sweden’s first Human Rights City, served as inspiration to start working on the goal of creating human right cities in Albania and Kosovo. Erblina and Adela have chosen to do this by involving Local Youth Action Councils.

What is the outcome that you are hoping to achieve by arranging this project?

“Taking into consideration that the Human Rights Cities concept isn’t a very familiar concept to Kosovo’s local decision-makers, the idea was to bring it to the table and push it to a start. A start of a journey toward Kosovo’s Human Rights Cities. Ever since the first brainstorm of how this project would look like and what its outcome will be, the idea was to settle a start. Even though it is not an easily done process, the hope lies in the Local Youth Action Councils, the pioneers of this process, to whom first was open up this topic locally.”

Introducing human rights cities in Albania and Kosovo

Adela and Erblina were aware that they brought back from the SAYP session a very new concept in their respective home countries. Adela said that they knew that it would attract the curiosity of young people with decision-making roles in the community. For that reason, they decided to create a two-day workshop in Tirana.

“The thought and desire and desire to unite young people from Albania and Kosovo to organize a two-day workshop was very tempting for us, because we thought that we were giving young people the opportunity to exchange ideas and experiences, to make new friendships and also to visit Tirana.” Adela said.

First day

The first day introduced the participants to the concepts of youth participation at local level and human rights cities. The participants then partook in group exercises to use their new knowledge in a practical setting.

One of the participants were Qerime Miftari, who is a Secretary at Local Youth Action Council, Drenas, Kosovo. She has always had an interest in human rights but felt like that there weren’t a lot of opportunities. When asked about why she registered to participate she said:

As a small country, we do not have the opportunity to travel to other countries without visas, and this has limited many things, including such training [as these]. In Kosovo, as far as I know, not so many such trainings are carried out, and those that are carried out are usually for more qualified people who come from bigger cities. The natural progression for me was to start the next challenge, when I saw that such a training would be carried out, and especially when we had the expert Johanna Sjöwall as a trainer, not having that much knowledge about Human Rights, she pushed me to apply and to participate in such an important training like this.”

Qerime also said that the training gave her the opportunity to develop both in her knowledge of Human Rights but also on a personal level. According to Qerime, each topic during the training were covered in detail ensuring that the participants acquired the necessary skills for their rights, “because we as young people and me personally during the training have learned what are my rights. Earlier I did not know that I had these rights.”

The second day

The second day further improved the participants’ knowledge by having a session on “Youth Role in the Municipal Council of Tirana” delivered by a City Council Member at the Municipality of Tirana. Adela and Erblina also held a practical exercise on how to process messages to the local decision-makers.

Auron Gashi attended the second day of the workshop. Auron is president of European Youth Parliament (EYP) Kosovo initiative and has extensive experience in youth activism but hadn’t been directly involved in human rights before. He said that the training was a good opportunity, since he wanted to learn more about the impact of youth participation on local or city level.

The issue that resonated most with me during our workshop was the role that Cities could play in protecting and improving the basic freedoms of its own constituents even in Countries where the central government is not very keen on protecting the aforementioned freedoms.” Auron said.

Auron believes that all young activists that are active locally should use their influence as civil society actors to pressure their local government to commit to become a Human Rights City. He has seen first hand the impact that CSOs can play in regard to “inclusion and respect for freedoms of all citizens in the local region.”

Qerime has said that she will influence his city and almost every city in the Republic of Kosovo, as it was her first goal when she applied for the training. She says, that since she was one of lucky few to be accepted, she sees it as her mission to spread the concept of human rights cities, creating an impact for human rights for his community.

Erblina and Adela, through their project, have managed to spread the concept of Human Rights Cities to young, committed individuals that aim to integrate that in their activism to influence their local decision makers. This will help create more human rights cities in Albania and Kosovo, with a greater commitment to human rights in the Western Balkans region.

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