WHRCF: Human rights cities respond to poverty and inequalities

What is a human rights city? How can and should cities respond to poverty and fight inequality? Co-organised by our Committee together with our co-chair Gwangju Metropolitan Government and the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, the 13th edition of the World Forum on Human Rights Cities took place from 4 to 7 October 2023. Under the theme "Human Rights Cities Responding to Poverty and Inequalities," representatives of local and regional governments from around the world gathered to share their experiences in ensuring people's full access to their rights.

"We need to promote inclusion to overcome inequalities and provide opportunities to ensure that everyone fully enjoys their rights," said Gijung Kang, our Co-Chair and Mayor of Gwangju Metropolitan City, at the opening session of the WHRCF. Cities such as Warsaw, Leipzig and Eunpyeonggu shared their human rights approach which is mainly based on the provision of basic services, with a special focus on disadvantaged groups. Sumastro, Mayor of Singkawang, explained that his city's innovation in human rights is to promote tolerance and collaboration, which is why his city has been named the most tolerant city in Indonesia in 2023.


On Thursday 5 October, our Committee led the Plenary Session of the Forum: "Human Rights Cities Responding to Poverty and Inequalities." Our coordinator Amanda Fléty described our work, highlighting our focus on addressing inequalities and human rights through social inclusion. She added that, rather than implementing national policies, local governments are political actors with the capacity for analysis and action. In this regard, Morten Kjaerum, Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, drew attention to the key role of cities in development conversations with a human rights perspective, especially since 2015 with the setting of Sustainable Development Goal 11 "Sustainable cities and communities."

Olivier de Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, outlined the unique possibilities of local governments to alleviate poverty by ensuring access to basic services: horizontal and inter-departmental coordination, proximity to communities which, in turn, helps to develop more informed, legitimate and effective local public policies.

In reference to the challenges faced by local governments in this area, participants highlighted the insufficiency of resources to invest in people, as agreed by Anyang Nyongo, Mayor of Kisumu, Meghna Abraham, Executive Director of the Centre for Economic and Social Rights, and Todd Howland, Director of the Development and Economic and Social Rights Division of the United Nations Human Rights. Olivier de Schutter brought to the forefront the perpetuation of territorial inequalities that comes with increasing fiscal autonomy and decentralisation.

Despite the challenges they face, many local governments are taking bold and energetic action to alleviate poverty and inequalities with a human rights approach. In Sao Paulo, Montréal and Marseille, they coincide in their implementation of specific strategies for vulnerable groups, such as migrants, women, children and youth. Even in Montréal they go beyond national frameworks to ensure that migrants fully access their human rights and basic services. In Sao Paulo they turn emergency measures for food security during the pandemic into policies. In Marseille they help children and youth achieve academic success by supporting them with canteens in their schools.

Olivier de Schutter called for better multi-level coordination and the implementation of fiscal solidarity mechanisms. The Rapporteur stressed that the role of local and regional governments in reducing poverty is key to preventing populism, as this reinforces trust between politicians, institutions and citizens by ensuring full access to human rights. Constanza Lizana, Mayor of San Antonio (Chile), urged to avoid the repetition of any kind of human rights violation, by paying attention to the complex realities of our territories to understand the past and build a future based on trust, memory and the reconciliation of democracy.

Session “Inclusive Procurement Launchpad: Reducing Poverty and Inequalities through Inclusive Digitalization and Human Rights-based Procurement.”

On Thursday 5 October, Federico Batista Poitier, UCLG Accessibility Policy Officer, led this session to present the learnings from Kisumu, Istanbul, Quito, Sao Paulo, Valongo and Los Angeles, the first group of cities to adopt the model policy for inclusive public procurement of accessible information and communication technologies (ICTs). Participants shared their tangible efforts to ensure that digitisation and smart city public policies are shaped by human rights.

The session brought to the forefront article 9 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which calls for the recognition of ICT accessibility as a human right and a precondition for inclusion. Thus, the Inclusive Procurement Launchpad is a prominent human rights localisation strategy. Similar to the calls made in the Plenary Session, this session made visible the need for inter-departmental coordination, integrating a human diversity approach in policy action, including ensuring that persons with disabilities have a key role in decision making, and giving more tools to local authorities on how to localise human rights concretely.

Special Session "Eradication of Poverty through Human Rights Economy".

On Friday 6 October, our Committee co-organised this session together with the United Nations Human Rights Office, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute and the Gwangju International Centre. In this session, Olivier de Schutter shed light on the need for local engagement to make economic decisions with a human rights approach, as well as to pay attention to vertical stigmatisation (addressing inequalities between people of different heritage). Both Olivier de Schutter and Todd Howland brought transparency and participation to the forefront as principles that should guide the local economy. Morten Kjaerum proposed consolidating progressive taxation based on trust to have a good tax system. José Cuesta, Lead Economist of the World Bank's Sustainability and Social Inclusion Global Practice, urged a focus on vulnerable groups.

Makeni, Ciudad Juarez and Barcelona shared their experiences as cities whose human rights-based local economy strategies to eradicate poverty already include the aspects mentioned above. In Makeni they include communities in decision-making and development, and also implement participatory budgeting, explained Zipporah Wambua, Director of the Department of Decentralisation and Public Service. In Ciudad Juarez they focus on vulnerable communities such as migrants to ensure that no one is left behind, shared Veronica Gonzalez. In Barcelona, they implement an innovative approach to pay attention to extraterritorial rights by considering the external impacts of internal policies, for example in the global supply chain, noted Carla Canal.