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Cities are and will be the safeguards of people’s rights

Human rights. The Conference of Cities for Rights brings together experts from around the world to reflect on and discuss the role of cities as places of resistance against the hate speeches that are being promoted by the extreme right.

To mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Barcelona has played host to the international Conference of Cities for Rights. Taking place on 10 and 11 December and promoted by the Area of Citizen Rights, Participation and Transparency at the City Council, the event saw municipal activists and politicians sharing strategies and reflecting on the role of cities in the fight for safeguarding people’s rights and freedoms.

Given the rise of populism, xenophobia and the extreme right, the main forces undermining our present-day rights, cities are becoming places of resistance that are championing, guaranteeing and safeguarding everyone’s rights. “It’s our responsibility to defy the politics of cruelty. This is something we can do, as municipalities. But we need to make an effort if we are going to share life-defending strategies and stand together against the hate speeches being promoted by the extreme right”. This was how the Mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, opened the conference affirming that cities are the first point of port of call for specifying and guaranteeing people’s rights and bringing about transformations, thanks to their active citizens.

Cities as a local counterforce

To speak of cities and how municipalities are taking on xenophobic, intolerant and fear-mongering speeches, the conference’s attendees were able to meet the testimonies given at first hand by representatives of Cadiz City Council, Seattle City Council, Athens City Council, the Saint-Denis commune and Tunisia, Naples and by the Deputy Mayor for Citizen Rights at Barcelona City Council, Jaume Asens, who, among other things, highlighted the importance of having active citizens who are committed to democracy in all its successful outcomes.  

Repression at borders and deportations

Citizen resistance against repressive border and deportation policies were also discussed by representatives of human rights organisations, such as Cristina Jiménez, a co-founder of United We Dream, the United States’ biggest young-immigrant association and whose successful actions include a national campaign that led to the creation and implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the most important victory for immigrant communities in 30 years; Cecillia Wang, from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); Andrés García, a criminal lawyer and co-director of Iridia, and Albert Bitoden, a coordinator at the Cepaim Foundation for Community Life and Social Cohesion in Algeciras.

Interculturality, right to housing and extremism

Other issues discussed were to do with interculturarlity, as a commitment to achieving a more cohesive society; right to housing, one of the fundamental rights most violated in most big cities, as a result of which the dignity of life of millions of people around the world are being threatened; and even violent forms of extremism. It was in the latter topic that the philosopher and writer Santiago Alba Rico, the writer and philosopher Djamila Ribeiro, the Charlottesville Municipal Councillor Wes Bellamy and the Councillor for Feminism and LGBTI Affairs at Barcelona City Council, Laura Pérez, reflected on the global challenges for fighting against intolerant and extreme-right movements and the local responses we have at hand.

And, when we recall that it was the 1st European Conference Cities for Human Rights held in Barcelona in 1998 which concluded with the adoption of a European Charter for Safeguarding Human Rights in the City, attendees also discussed the challenges facing the Cities for Human Rights over the coming 20 years. In addition, we were able to discover examples of good human-rights practices in cities, such as Nuremberg and Sant Boi.

Besides talks and roundtables, the event also saw several of Barcelona’s organisations, such as Iridia, Acathi and the Catalan Red Cross, holding workshops on some of the issues dealt with during the conference.

“Umbral” project: art and human rights

It was under the framework of the conference that an artistic and educational project, entitled “Umbral”, was launched, offering a series of activities for reflecting on the phenomenon of migration as a feature of any contemporary society.

The project brings together the works of a dozen international artists and three social organisations and which are being installed in three metro stations and distributed throughout the city’s districts.

Projects from Barcelona’s participating organisations include “Frontera sur”, “Sueños refugiados” and “Un regal per a Kushbu”, which, thanks to financial aid from Barcelona City Council and the “Barcelona, Refuge City” Plan, has developed artistic materials (videos, photos and comics) showing the socially active side to Barcelona’s culture, a city for human rights.

The artistic interventions can be seen until 6 February 2019.

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