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World Human Rights Cities Forum (WHRCF) of Gwangju, South Korea

The World Human Rights Cities Forum (WHRCF) is held annually in the South Korean city of Gwangju. After various editions, it has consolidated as the main meeting point for the global movement of human rights cities. It is organized on a yearly basis by the Gwangju International Centre and our Committee, with a view to strengthen the links between different regional experiences and initiatives in field of human rights in the city. Accordingly, it also plays a major role in defining the global agendas of local governments for human rights, the right to peace and local democracy.

The Forum takes place after the initiative of the Metropolitan Government of Gwangju: A co-chair city of our Committee which is globally recognized for its commitment towards human rights and democracy. Indeed, the WHRCF aims at upholding the values of the ‘May 18 Gwangju Uprising (1980); A key event in South Korea’s modern history which played a major role in the democratization of the country. This and other past events in favor of freedom and human dignity contributed to the consolidation of what is now identified as the “Gwangju Spirit”.

The Forum provides a special attention to several key areas for the local implementation of human rights, such as the right to peace, the consolidation of local democracy, sustainable development or fostering municipal cooperation. It equally provides, through annual thematic sessions, an in-depth analysis of the following ten policy areas:

State Violence and Human Rights - Elderly - Child and Youth Education - Gender - Disability - Social Economy and Community Vitalization - Migrants and refugees - Environment and sustainability - Local or village democracy

The Gwangju Forum is a meaningful opportunity for multi-stakeholder networking on human rights between local governments, civil society and international organizations such as the UN human rights system. It is also seen as a reference for human rights defenders in the Asian region, as it is the forum responsible for the promotion of the Asia Human Rights Charter (1998).

Know more about the WHRCF 2019 (link in the image)!

Background: Previous editions of the Forum


The 2018 edition of the Forum was held under the title "Whom do we live with?", focusing on the relationship between human rights, diversity and migration. It saw an unprecedented level of representation by United Nations representatives, welcoming OHCHR's Deputy High Commissioner as keynote speaker. One of the key messages of this year's edition was also regarding the link between human rights and 2030 Agendas on sustainable development. 

The 2018 edition of the Forum gathered speakers from Korea and Asia, but also from other world regions. Our Committee delegation was formed by representatives from Amman (Ismail A. F. A. Bustanji, Deputy Mayor), Barcelona (Aida Guillén, Human Rights and Diversity Director), Grigny (Philippe Rio, Mayor and President of the French association of Mayors for Peace), Sao Paulo (Andrea Zamur, Coordinator of policies for migration) and Vienna (Shams Asadi, Human Rights Director).

Held under the theme “Do we live in Peace: Human Rights Cities, Democracy and Practice”, the 2017 edition of the WHRCF was focused on strenghtening the agenda of human rights cities by addressing its relation with local, participatory democracy and peace. Up to 700 participants attended its various sessions and debates focusing on recent democratization experiences, such as Korea’s candlelight movement or Madrid’s initiative on direct democracy “Decide Madrid”.

The Committee's 2017 Delegation was formed by Bethlehem’s Mayor Anton Salman; Madrid’s Deputy Mayor Mauricio Valiente; the Deputy Mayors of Grenoble, Mr. Emmanuel Carroz and Mr. Bernard Macret; as well as Ms. Stefany Campins, in representation of Mexico City’s Social Development Secretary, Mr. José Ramón Amieva. Representatives of partner organizations – Global Platform for the Right to the City, Observatori DESC, Kota Kita Foundation and the US Human Rights Cities Alliance – also took part in the Forum.

The 2016 Forum framed the notions of human rights in the city and the right to the city within the Habitat III process. This edition focused on “Building Human Habitat friendly Cities: Sustainable Development, Housing and Environment”. The Forum’s final declaration inspired the conception and development of the side event organized by the Committee at the Habitat III third and last Preparatory Committee: “Towards Human Rights Cities in the New Urban Agenda”.

The Forum gathered participants from Seoul, Jeju, Seongnam, Plaine Commune, Mexico City, Badalona, Barcelona, Delhi, Inhambane and Lampung Kimur, among many other local governments. Experts, activists and representatives of international organizations also attended the Forum. Among other organizations: Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights or the NGO ENDA-ECOPOP.

The 2015 edition highlighted the importance of expanding the human rights cities movement and to promote solidarity and city-to-city cooperation. The Forum recalled that human rights governance at the local level requires the participation of citizens to reclaim the city. Two special sessions took place on “Human Rights Cities Policy”. A Session was also held with the theme of “Human rights in Asia and the vision of a human rights city”. Furthermore, eight thematic workshops were organized by local civil society

More than 500 participants attended, mainly representatives of human rights cities, including members of the UCLG CISDP and UCLG’s Section for Asia-Pacific – ASPAC, human rights NGOs, community-based organizations, local parliamentarians and academics, as well as UN human rights experts.

The 2014 WHRCF was celebrated under the topic "Towards a global alliance of human rights cities for all". For the first time in Asia, participants explored the concept of the "right to the city", taking as a starting point the Final Declaration of the 1st World Summit of Local Governments for the Right to the City organized in Saint-Denis by the Committee and Plaine Commune. Various sessions and activities were organized to foster sharing of various experiences regarding human rights policy-making, monitoring and evaluation.

Several Committee members participated in these two debates, namely Ms. Rosa Icela Rodríguez Velázquez, Deputy Mayor for Social Development of Mexico City, Mexico; Mr. Eduardo Tadeu Pereira, President of the Brazilian Municipal Association, Brazil; Ms. Hanoi Sánchez, Mayor of San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic; Ms. Katharina Wallenborg, Municipal Commissioner for Equality, Democracy and Public Health of Huddinge, Sweden; and Mr. Gérard Perreau-Bezouille, representative of the Forum of Peripheral Local Authorities.

Under the theme “Sustainable Human Rights City for All: Guiding Principles for a Human Rights City”, the WHRCF 2013 addressed emerging challenges in the process of becoming a human rights city. A special focus was made on institution building and mechanisms including guiding principles for a human rights city. The Forum was also a good occasion to lay the basis of cooperation with the UN Human Rights system, with a special emphasis in the recognition of local governments as key actors in the promotion and defense of human rights.

Do not hesitate to contact us if you are looking for more information about the WHRCF or to take part in its next edition.