Gwangju, Republic of Korea—The Human Rights City of Gwangju, Republic of Korea played host to the 5th World Human Rights Cities Forum 2015, 15–18 May 2015. The gathering convened under the theme “Toward a Global Alliance of Human Rights Cities for All,” showcased the Asian experience of democratic governance, while bringing together local governments, citizens, civil society organizations, academics and experts from all continents.

This year, the World Human Rights Cities Forum 2015 (WHRCF 2015) coincided with the 35th anniversary of the 18 May Democratic Uprising (the Gwangju Democratization Movement) in 1980, and commemorated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, and in the 67th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The participants met in plenary sessions and eight Thematic Workshops that enabled the exchange of experience at implementing human rights in the urban context, especially in close partnership with local governments. A final WHRCF 2015 declaration captured the determination to develop and apply the shared good practices, while reaffirming the commitment to the vision of a human rights city as adopted at the Gwangju WHRCF in May 2011 and 2012. The Forum also built on the concept of the declarations at the Gwangju WHRCF in May 2013 and 2014, expressing the hope that human rights cities should develop as a sustainable model for cities. This involved a commitment to expand and develop the “Global Alliance of Human Rights Cities for All” proposed in WHRCF 2014.

This year’s WHRCF especially recognized the efforts of creating human rights cities by city representatives, human rights activists and citizens of Seberang Perai, Malaysia, and Wonosobo, Indonesia, among others. It also incorporated the practical discussion to realize the right to the city through the Global Platform for the Right to the City in São Paulo (November 2014), related field research and the International Seminar for the Right to City held in Mexico City (April 2014) in collaboration with Mexico City and UCLG-CISDP (United Cities and Local Governments Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights).

Among the common features of the Thematic Workshops, like the historic occasions remembered, was a reminder of state violence in the daily lives of citizens. They also considered operational issues such as the development of waters and rivers, ensuring a sustainable environment, the human rights approach to economic issues, perspectives on the right to education as a responsibility of cities and the desperate need of local governments` efforts to fully implement the rights of the socially vulnerable, such as women, differently-abled, the elderly, migrants and minorities.

An Expert Group Workshop (EGW) on 15 May addressed the promotion of human rights at the level of local and central governments, in cooperation with the UN Human Rights Council Advisory Committee, which is preparing its final report concerning local governments and human rights is to be completed in September 2015. At that EGW, HIC President Lorena Zárate presented the Mexico experience and Latin American perspective on implementing the right to the city. Nelson Saule Junior, of Instituto PÓLIS (Brazil), expounded on the Global Right to the City Platform, and HIC’s HLRN Coordinator Joseph Schechla provided and overview of prospects for the Right to the City in the Middle East/North Africa, as well as a thesis on the extraterritorial dimensions of cities’ human rights obligations.

The events and developments at Gwangju this year helped to consolidate both theory and practice in the field of local governance and human rights. As explained in Land Times/أحوال الأرض No. 11, the approaches vary with local experience and in terminology [Arabic]; however, the universality of the principles form a basis for common efforts embodied in this year’s WHRCF and the inspired efforts to follow.

Download the WHRCF 2015 Declaration

Photo: Participants in the Expert Group Workshop, 15 May 2015.

• Access to natural resources
• ESC rights
• Extraterritorial obligations
• Immigrants
• Internal migrants
• International
• Legal frameworks
• Networking
• Refugees
• Right to the city
• Water&sanitation