In an online conference co-organized by the Geneva Human Rights PlatformUN-Habitat, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Geneva Cities Hub,  around 60 experts – local activists, academics as well as  representatives from local authorities, civil society, international  organizations and the private sector – exchanged around best practices  to ground the development of cities in a human rights framework.

 The Role of Local Government in Promoting and Protecting Human Rights 

‘Participants in the meeting stressed the importance of local  governments to promote and protect human rights at the local level.  While cities and local government are currently not represented in  international fora like the UN, their voice could be brought via other  actors like UN-Habitat or the Geneva Cities Hub‘ explains Kamelia  Kemileva, Director a.i. of the Geneva Cities Hub.

The meeting also discussed categories of vulnerability at the city  level such as elderly people and people with disabilities but also  people living with HIV/AIDS, migrants and LGBTQI people.

‘For some of these groups, their very own ‘illegality’ or  ‘criminality’ is a primary barrier to inclusion in cities, housing  rights frameworks, and to their access to basic services and rights. The  COVID-19 crisis only exacerbates these inequalities, pushing members of  these groups to find informal solutions, which at the end of the day  are counterproductive to their intentions and needs’ explains Kamelia  Kemileva.

Participants also reiterated that human rights are not aspirations,  or social objectives but legal standards that can and must be built into  the legal architecture of different systems – housing, public health,  transport, etc. They stressed that rights can only be fully respected  and enforced if they are embedded into legal norms, notably at the local  level.

 Towards Inclusive Cities for All 

This meeting is the first of a longer series that aims at developing  operational documents for local governments, city-level practitioners  and decision-makers, as well as national governments interested in the  local governance issues.

These documents will provide guidance on how to translate human  rights standards at the city level, notably in relation to gender;  inclusion of children and youth; inclusion of older persons and persons  with disabilities; as well as the inclusion of groups at risk of  marginalization like refugees or indigenous peoples, but also within  city contexts groups that are less-mentioned but also vulnerable like  sex-workers and drugs-users.

‘This expert group meeting is the first of a series on inclusive  cities. Of course, we have a selfish motive: we want to pick the brains  of the best human rights thinkers, practitioners and get them to tell us  how we can mainstream a human rights-based approach across our work  through these domains of change and the outcome areas of our Strategic  Plan. The engagement doesn’t end here, it just begins here. We also want  to bring this group together as a wider community of practice to work  with us as we go about developing some of the ideas further into guiding  principles, key indicators, tools, methodology, etc., implementing them  over the next three years’ stresses Shipra Narang Suri, Chief, Urban  Practices Branch, UN-HABITAT.

‘It is key to ensure that the international human rights framework  and decisions taken by Geneva-based human rights bodies are implemented  at the local level. We are therefore thrilled to be involved in this  project as it represents a new dimension for us that includes local  governments. This can help bridging discussions between Geneva and the  field’ explains Felix Kirchmeier, Executive Director of the Geneva Human Rights Platform.

‘The Geneva Cities Hub fosters this dialogue and facilitates  relations between organizations in Geneva and local governments’  underlines Kamelia Kemileva.