Governing the city by human rights objectives: 3rd Academy and Conference “Human Rights Go Local – What works”

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From February 1 to 8 2023, the third Edition of the Annual Academy and Conference “Human Rights Go Local – What Works” took place on our online platform. The Academy and Conference Series aims at demonstrating and synthesising innovative approaches and proven practices for protecting and promoting human rights at the local level, with the goal of making cities and human settlements more inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable. This year’s Academy was titled “Governing the city by human rights objectives: Management concepts and instruments”. It brought together representatives of international organisations, local authorities, human rights practitioners from all relevant fields, and members of the next generation. Together, they elaborated on the question: “How can human rights objectives be anchored in public management at the local level?”. The Academy 2023 builds on the success and content of the previous two Academies, focusing in particular on how to foster governmental accountability via budgeting.

In total, 62 human rights experts from around the world attended the Academy, sharing valuable insights and experiences on instruments and approaches to implementing an HRBA in public management, the drivers and barriers to implementing such an approach, and encouragements for local governments. An special networking event was held to highlight the voices and perspectives of the next generation: several human rights professions were introduced to young participants during this session and highlighted as critical means of advancing human rights locally. An additional networking day held after the Academy’s content-related days further allowed participants to engage with one another informally and to find collaborators for future projects, thus bridging vital gaps in human rights attainment at the local level.

The event also introduced and expanded on the brand new publication “Governing the City by Human Rights Objectives: Embedding Human Rights in Public Management”. It is in fact the fourth volume in the series “Human Rights Go Local, jointly edited by the UNESCO Chair on Human Rights and Human Security and the UNESCO Category 2 Centre for the Promotion of Human Rights at Local Level. The book presents the benefits of using a human rights-based approach in public management, specifically through outcome orientation. It gives an overview of existing management instruments implemented at the local level worldwide, presents a guideline on how to apply outcome orientation in local level public management, and a step-by-step perspective on how to strategically and procedurally embed human rights into the local management process.

The expertise and best practices gathered during the Academy’s discussions are compiled and published in the Academy’s Outcome Document. As last year, the document is a collection of encouragements made by the Academy’s participants to local governments. This year’s Outcome Document includes 12 encouragements for action to local authorities. Further, they can be used as a blueprint to effectively and sustainably integrate human rights into local public management practices in line with the UN’s goal of “leaving no one behind”.

95% of participants said they will use the knowledge offered during the Academy in their daily work. Participants praised the diversity of regions, governance levels, and activities. Further, they stated that hearing about global best practices was encouraging and highly relevant for municipalities. 95% of participants would recommend for their colleagues to join future Academies, while 90% liked the Academy’s blend of plenary and interactive sessions, saying it encouraged open dialogue and helped bring human rights to local communities.

At the end of four intensive Academy working days, the closing Conference took place on 8 February 2023. A total of 386 online guests from 34 countries attended this public event. They witnessed statements by dignitaries from the Federal Republic of Austria, the Federal Province of Styria and the University of Graz, as well as the presentation and discussion of the Outcome Document with representatives from international organisations and local governments. Gabriela Ramos, UNESCO’s ADG for Social and Human Sciences, held a keynote speech on the importance of the local level in strategizing to advance human rights promotion. Michael O’Flaherty, the Director of the European Union’s Agency for Fundamental Rights, gave an impulse statement on the many direct human rights responsibilities of cities and their vast area of competency. The following discussion of the Outcome Document was attended by Elke Kahr (Mayor of Graz, Austria), Koubonou Touni (Mayor of Defale, Togo), Susana Araceli Ángeles Quezada (President of the Municipality of Tizayuca, Mexico), Uus Kuswanto (Governor’s Assistant to People Welfare, Indonesia), Harald Bergmann (Mayor of Middleburg, Netherlands, and Human Rights Spokesman of the Council of Europe Congress of Local and Regional Authorities), Todd Howland (Chief of the Development and Economic and Social Issues Branch, OHCHR), and Robert Lewis-Lettington (Chief of the Urban Legislation Unit, UN-Habitat).

The discussion was moderated by Wolfgang Benedek (Professor of International Law and International Relations, University of Graz, Austria). The event was rounded off by video messages from local authorities from around the globe, who sent their statements and commitments to human rights in management practices at the local level.

You can rewatch the entire 2023 Conference here:

This video is also available in German, French and Spanish.

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