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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Opening message to the 11th World Human Rights Cities Forum

Theme: "Human Rights in Times of Challenge: A New Social Contract"

07 October 2021

Delivered by

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet

It is a pleasure to once again address the World Human Rights Cities Forum.

I welcome this year’s particularly important theme.

COVID-19 has exposed the weaknesses of political, economic and health systems. It has laid bare deep structural inequalities everywhere, both within and between countries.

A multitude of human rights gaps have even become wider -  poverty, inequalities, discrimination.

But even before, demonstrations in many parts of the world had already been alerting us that without upholding social and economic rights, societies were in danger. 

In a context of shrinking civic space in many places, not addressing poverty, inequalities, discrimination and overall injustice has another consequence: the loss of trust between peoples and their leaders.

Establishing a New Social Contract is about rebuilding public trust through the protection and promotion of all human rights -- civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights – with the same emphasis.

That includes the rights to social protection, health, education, housing and water and sanitation. And the right to live free from discrimination.

As I said earlier this year to the United Nations Human Rights Council:  “Navigating a clear way out of the complex COVID-19 crisis, and towards an inclusive, green, sustainable and resilient future, will be the work of this generation of world leaders – or their downfall.”

We know what we need to do.

We know, from experience, that investing in human rights is investing in societies’ resilience to crises.

At the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, as President of Chile, I chose to steer away from austerity measures and experienced first-hand the enormous benefits of investing in social protection.

I undertook a pension reform to introduce fairer system for women, with redistribution and coverage to ensure that the most vulnerable could count on a basic income.

Economic and social data indicated that these policies were boosting economic growth and enhancing, not only basic justice, but also social cohesion and building trust in public institutions.

International cooperation and solidarity are key elements in achieving these objectives worldwide. 


This Forum’s emphasis is on how to build fairer and more equal societies. Better ones – for people and planet. This is at the core of “Our Common Agenda” put forward by the UN Secretary-General last month.

The experience of cities and local governments in protecting and promoting human rights, especially in times of COVID-19, is invaluable for the international community.

Some local governments have already developed a variety of human rights instruments and declarations; others are looking at prioritizing their budget to “leave no one behind”. Many delivered school meals to children’s homes when the pandemic forced classrooms to close or placed a moratorium on evictions for people whose income was impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.

Indeed, mayors and local authorities are the ones closest to the people. They are the ones people look at for solutions. But, often, they have no say in decisions that directly affect their constituencies. The voice of local governments needs to be heard at national and international levels. Your engagement will make multilateralism stronger.

I call on all of you in this Forum to work together towards building a strong community of local governments that support each other in solidarity and fight for human rights.

In that spirit, I look forward to hearing the outcomes of your discussions.

Thank you.