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UCLG Barcelona 17 November 2021

UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s Statement

It is my pleasure to address, for the very first time, UCLG’s World Council.

All around the world, people are seeking to make their voices heard and their rights realised. In many places, inhabitants denounce racism, discrimination and inequalities, lack of access to health and food, limited accountability or widespread corruption.

Taking to the streets of cities, youth is also demanding immediate action, including to save this planet.

They expect to be heard. They demand that their human rights are respected and protected.

This is the essence of a new social contract that we desperately need between citizens and their Governments.

Local and regional governments are at the frontline of these demands. They play a crucial role in building fairer and more equal societies. By concrete actions, local and regional governments can combat inequalities, fight climate change, promote sustainable development and ensure that no one and no place is left behind.

The COVID-19 pandemic, that we are all still struggling with, has exposed further the pervasive inequalities and structural discrimination in every society.

But it has also shown how local governments and communities can come up with creative solutions to mitigate the effects of this multi-faceted crisis.

During the last annual World Human Rights Cities Forum in Gwangju, jointly supported by UCLG and my Office, we heard many examples of how local governments are trying to protect those most affected by the pandemic.

In the city of Sfax,1 a campaign was launched to identify the needs of migrant residents and find ways to distribute solidary food baskets or food vouchers to sustain their basic needs during the lockdown. In Barcelona, whose Mayor is hosting this World Council, many measures were taken to avoid evictions and homelessness during the pandemic.2

Sometimes, local initiatives were replicated throughout a country. In Jeonju, for example, the local Government persuaded landlords to decrease the rents of small businesses, which then became a national movement among Korean cities.

Local governments are also taking stock of the lessons learned and build fairer and more equal societies.

Montreal is reviewing its normative framework and public service delivery standards. Mexico City is stepping up its work on combatting domestic and other forms of violence against women and children. Subang Jaya3 is working towards offering social protection to the most vulnerable.

In view of the active role of youth in the COVID-19 crisis, cities like Bignona4 and Baguio5 are increasingly engaging them in public matters and at city councils. And there are also encouraging collective initiatives among local governments, like UCLG’s Lampedusa Charter for dealing with human mobility and migration in conformity with dignity and human rights.6

The role of local government in delivering States’ human rights obligations has never been more important.7

The international human rights framework goes beyond norms and abstract concepts. It can guide a shift from technocratic and bureaucratic to people-centred processes. It is a tool to empower people and engage citizens in contributing to the development of their society and their future.

Building on the existing partnership between my Office and UCLG, I am encouraged that our collaboration will be formalized through a letter of agreement aimed at protecting and promoting human rights; addressing all forms of inequalities and discrimination at local level; and developing a right-based approach to the COVID-19 pandemic recovery.

In “Our Common Agenda”, the United Nations Secretary-General, highlighted the importance of a more inclusive multilateralism that would include cities, local and regional governments.

The letter of agreement of aims to contribute to this vision of a new era of multilateralism. It establishes dedicated spaces for dialogue between local and regional governments, UCLG, my Office and the United Nations human rights mechanisms to facilitate interactions and cooperation.

The United Nations need to learn about your vision, work and experiences in protecting and promoting human rights locally. At the same time, the work of the United Nations may be useful for designing human rights-based local policies and processes that leave no one behind. Through these exchanges, we can identify how to support each other locally and globally to build better, more equal and prosperous societies.

It is also important to strengthen an international community - a network of local and regional governments - that are committed to the protection and promotion of human rights at the local level. The Human Rights Cities movement needs to expand with a common vision for grounding human rights locally and building solidarity among local actors towards this objective.

I believe our continued collaboration will be crucial to bring human rights home and to make positive changes in people’s lives.

You can count on my support.

Thank you.