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World Human Rights Cities Forum (WHRCF) of Gwangju, South Korea

The World Human Rights Cities Forum is held annually in the South Korean city of Gwangju. After various editions, it has consolidated as a paramount meeting point for the international human rights cities movement. It has thus become a meaningful bridge between experiences and initiatives aimed at the global defense of human rights, historical memory, peace and democracy from the local level.

The Forum takes place after the initiative of the Metropolitan Government of Gwangju. It is co-organized by our Committee and the Gwangju International Centre: a “non-profit organization for Korean and international residents of Gwangju to join together and collaborate on community building”.

It aims to “realize the vision of being a human rights city as articulated by the Gwangju Declaration of Human Rights Cities”, adopted in 2011. To do so, it promotes the concept that “both local and central governments need to be primary protectors of human rights, with the principles (…) defining human rights cities as facilitators of local community and socio-political process in which human rights play key roles as fundamental values and guiding principles”.

It upholds the vision and spirit of the ‘May 18 Democratization Movement (1980) and of the Asia Human Rights Charter (1998). In order to foster international multi-level dialogue on human rights cities, it works closely with the UN human rights system, independent experts and other stakeholders in international human rights governance.

In the last years, it has shifted its attention to areas such as peace, local democracy, diversity, municipalism or habitat and sustainability. Regardless of each year’s main thematic approach, the Forum has sustained parallel discussions on the concrete link between local governance, human rights and different thematic areas such as

State Violence and Human Rights | Elderly | Child and Youth Education | Gender | Disability | Social Economy and Community Vitalization | Migrants and refugees | Environment and sustainability | Local or village democracy

Gwangju Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City


The Gwangju Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City are a reference point for the promotion and the defense of human rights at the local level. Over time, they have also become a meaningful tool for advancing international recognition of local governments as key actors in the promotion and the protection of human rights.

They offer a set of principles aimed at inspiring the action on human rights of any given municipality: the Right to the City; Non-Discrimination and Affirmative Action; Social Inclusion and Cultural Diversity; Participatory Democracy and Accountable Governance; Social Justice, Solidarity and Sustainability; Political Leadership and Institutionalization; Human Rights Mainstreaming; Effective Institutions and Policy Coordination; Human Rights Education and Training; and the Right to Remedy.

[See the Gwangju Guiding Principles for a Human Rights Cities]

Background: Previous editions of the Forum


Explore the previous editions of the WHRCF and the way member-local governments of our Committee took part in it. For more information, you can also check the Forum's official webpage here.

Held under the theme “Do we live in Peace: Human Rights Cities, Democracy and Practice”, the 2017 edition was focused on strenghtening the agenda of human rights cities by tackling its relation with local democracy and peace. In this regard, up to 700 participants attended its various sessions and debates around meaningful experiences, such as Korea’s candlelight movement or Madrid’s initiative on direct democracy “Decide Madrid”.

As a partner organization, some of our member cities sent their representatives to the Forum. That is the case Bethlehem’s Mayor Anton Salman; Madrid’s Deputy Mayor Mauricio Valiente; the Deputy Mayors of Grenoble, Mr. Emmanuel Carroz and Mr. Bernard Macret; as well as Ms. Stefany Campins, in representation of Mexico City’s Social Development Secretary, Mr. José Ramón Amieva. Representatives of partner organizations – Global Platform for the Right to the CityObservatori DESCKota Kita Foundation and the US Human Rights Cities Alliance – also took part in the Forum.

The 2016 Forum framed the notions of human rights in the city and the right to the city within the Habitat III process. This edition thus focused on “Building Human Habitat friendly Cities: Sustainable Development, Housing and Environment”. The Forum’s final declaration was used as a basic document for the conception and development of the side event organized by the Committee at the Habitat III third and last Preparatory Committee: “Towards Human Rights Cities in the New Urban Agenda”.

The Forum gathered speakers from Seoul, Jeju, Seongnam,  Plaine Commune, Mexico City, Badalona, Barcelona, Delhi, Inhambane and Lampung Kimur, among many other local governments. Experts, activists and representatives of international organizations also attended the Forum. Among other organizations: Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights or the NGO ENDA-ECOPOP.

The 2015 edition highlighted the importance of expanding the global human rights cities movement and to promote solidarity and mutual city-to-city cooperation. The Forum recalled that human rights governance at the local level requires the participation of citizens to reclaim the city.

Two special sessions took place on “Human Rights Cities Policy”. A Session was also held with the theme of “Human rights in Asia and the vision of a human rights city”. Furthermore, eight thematic workshops were organized by local civil society organizations. Participants were given opportunities to get involved in special events such as a citizens’ rally and a culture tour.

More than 500 participants attended, mainly representatives of human rights cities, including members of the UCLG CISDP and UCLG’s Section for Asia-Pacific – ASPAC, human rights NGOs, community-based organizations, local parliamentarians and academics, as well as UN human rights experts.

The 2014 WHRCF was celebrated under the topic "Towards a global alliance of human rights cities for all". For the first time in Asia, participants explored the concept of the “right to the city”, taking as a starting point the Final Declaration of the 1st World Summit of Local Governments for the Right to the City organized in Saint-Denis by the Committee and Plaine Commune. Various sessions and activities were organized to foster sharing of various experiences regarding human rights policy-making, monitoring and evaluation.

Several Committee members participated in these two debates, namely Mr. Gillani, President of UCLG ASPAC and President of the Local Government Association of Punjab, Pakistan; Ms. Rosa Icela Rodríguez Velázquez, Deputy Mayor for Social Development of Mexico City, Mexico; Mr. Eduardo Tadeu Pereira, President of the Brazilian Municipal Association, Brazil; Ms. Hanoi Sánchez, Mayor of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic; Ms. Katharina Wallenborg, Municipal Commissioner for Equality, Democracy and Public Health of Huddinge, Sweden; and Mr. Gérard Perreau-Bezouille, representative of the Forum of Peripheral Local Authorities.

Under the theme “Sustainable Human Rights City for All: Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City”, the WHRCF 2013 addressed emerging challenges in the process of becoming a human rights city on the grounds of every local context. A special focus was made on institution building and mechanisms including guiding principles for a human rights city. The Forum was also a good occasion to lay the basis of future cooperation with the UN Human Rights system, with a special emphasis in the recognition of local governments as key actors in the promotion and defense of human rights.

For more information regarding the 2012 and 2011 editions, you can check the WHRCF official webpage here.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you are looking for more information about the WHRCF or how can you take part in its next edition.