On 27 January 2023, the Geneva Cities Hub organized a side-event in the margins of the 42nd session of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Its objectives was to discuss the issue of local and regional governments (LRGs), human rights and the UPR, a mechanism which involves a peer-review of the situation of human rights in all 193 Member States of the UN. While the mechanism is State-led, it would have much to gain to better include LRGs. That’s what is argued in the UPR Tips for LRGs, published by the Coalition for LRGs in UPR led by the GCH, with others partners (OHCHR, UN Habitat, UPR Info, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and the Geneva Human Rights Platform).
The side-event was held just after the UPR of Switzerland and Swiss Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Jürg Lauber, emphasized that “many recommendations made during our review have direct links to the services provided by municipalities; they will thus have to be implemented at local level”. Due to its federal system, the Swiss cantons have been closely involved to the UPR process, but would be a challenge to add municipalities to the UPR national consultation process. However, Ambassador Lauber also said that closer coordination should be sought on many issues (ranging from the hosting of migrants and refugees in cities to the fight against climate change and measures against discrimination and domestic violence). Closer coordination should be sought from now onwards until Switzerland takes a position on each recommendation made, but also to discuss means and ways of implementation of the accepted recommendations, said Gianni Magazzeni.
Christof Meier, representing the Mayor of the city of Zürich, referred to an issue that does not feature in the Swiss national report for UPR: the situation of undocumented migrants. He insisted that there was no choice for cities, but to care for undocumented migrants, who were there, in the city. While no national legislation provides undocumented people with proper rights, international human rights law does ! That is why it is important to provide undocumented migrants with as many public services as possible (education, healthcare, etc.). One of the most important issue, which is not within the hands of the city, is access to justice. Here, Christof Meier referred to the lack of access to justice for undocumented migrants. None could report any abuse or testify, due to their undocumented status, which is a real problem to which the city had not found any solutions to date.
Representing the Mayor of Evian, Rodolphe Barbaroux told the audience about the work undertaken by the city of Evian to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, a priority for the city. Several initiatives had been put implemented at city level in favour of women’s rights (menstrual precariousness), the right to food (collective fridges), on waste management. He insisted that all SDGs must concur to human rights and the initiatives implemented by the city of Evian go in that direction.
Nargiz Arupova from UPR Info, a partner of the coalition for LRGs in the UPR, noted that in designing their strategies to implement UPR recommendations, civil society turned more and more often to LRGs, who are now among their main interlocutors, either as targets of UPR recommendations or partners for their implementation. She also referred to an increasing number of UPR initiatives involving LRGs, be it good practice at local or regional level implementing UPR recommendations or the Annex to the UPR National Report of Italy referring to the human rights work undertaken by subnational authorities.
The Argentinian Representative to the UN, Ambassador Federico Villegas, talked about his past personal experience, dealing with the implementation of the UN Durban Declaration and Programme of Action (DDPA), a major UN instrument to combat racism and discrimination adopted in 2002. A national plan was developed to implement the DDPA in Argentina and Ambassador Villegas said that “it would have been impossible to implement the DDPA, if we had not worked with the local level, to remove all discriminatory regulations”.
The Geneva Cities Hub will continue to engage on the UPR and the need for the mechanism to better include LRGs, who are crucial to implement accepted UPR recommendations and more generally crucial to implement human rights on the ground. The UPR Tips for LRGs just published will help spread the word in that regard.