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9th World Human Rights Cities Forum
Gwangju, Republic of Korea
30 September 2019

Video statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet

Greetings from Geneva to Gwangju.  I send my support to everyone involved in the forum, and my thanks to the Mayor of Gwangju for the leadership you have shown on Human Rights Cities.

All of you – as mayors, local government staff, members of civil society and human rights advocates – are demonstrating that committed leadership can bring global laws to life in local settings.  In fact, the role of local government in delivering States' human rights obligations has never been more important.

This year's theme of Reimagining Human Rights Cities is particularly resonant in an international environment of increased pushback to human rights. Our cities have much to teach our world.

My vision is for Human Rights Cities that set an example for States to follow. This means introducing policies based on cooperation, not competition. It means working together for the common good, not individual benefit. It means addressing the root causes of violence and social unrest – like inequality and discrimination. It means becoming beacons of human rights best practice that others can follow.

Gwangju is a great example of this. It's been putting human rights principles into practice for a number of years, including by establishing a Human Rights Ombudsman to investigate citizens' concerns about the administrative process.

Vienna has made its own human rights declaration, established a Human Rights Commissioner, and ensured that human rights are placed centre-stage in its actions and local laws.

Montevideo has recognised housing as a human right, and is working with civil society, academia and the national government to turn abandoned properties into affordable housing.

The most heavily populated district in Cameroon – the third district of Douala, with a million residents – is directly involving people in decisions on how to use limited financial resources.  

Many other examples were highlighted when my Office and UCLG organised a meeting with local governments in Geneva this year: support programmes for women victims of violence in Mexico City; equal access for women to job opportunities in Jember in Indonesia; adequate housing for migrants in Atlanta in the US; ensuring basic income for older people in Kathmandu.

The World Human Rights Cities Forum has played a major role in inspiring, driving and coordinating these initiatives.

We still have much work to do – encouraging local governments and human rights mechanisms to work more effectively together; developing closer dialogue between different levels of State authorities; and building stronger partnerships with civil society.

It's also vital that local governments are included in international discussions that affect them directly. Their voices are not heard nearly enough at the moment.  

I wish you an extremely productive forum as you address these issues, so Human Rights Cities can flourish and spread – for the benefit of all.