The Beginning of an Historic Process:
Sustainable Human Rights Communities
to Claim and Secure Our Right to Be Human
by Shulamith Koenig
On June 30, 1997, the city of Rosario, Argentina declared its commitment to become a Human Rights Community. More than 100 people gathered in the City Hall of Rosario for the ceremony. this included NGOs representing academic, religious, women, children, labor, disabled, economic, cultural, social and indigenous groups, as well as many other community action groups and members of the municipality.
They signed an official proclamation "to manifest their commitment to build a Human Rights Community in Rosario. Such a community must promote, among women and men that live in the city the respect for human rights, equity and peace, activities which are inscribed in the framework of the U.N. Decade for Human Rights Education, 1995–2004."
With other cities poised to follow suit in Chile, Tanzania, Palestine, the Philippines, Croatia and India, it is clear this idea of Sustainable Human Rights Communities has touched a live flame in many hearts.
This historic proclamation highlights the opportunities that ordinary citizens and community activists have to use the powerful space for actions provided by human rights norms, standards, and instruments. These commitments are undertaken by governments to promote, implement, and enforce political, civil, economic, social, and cultural human rights of all women, men, and children.
Moving beyond the Rosario commitment to implementation requires a process that spans learning, monitoring, and taking actions to weave a human rights way of life and bring about economic and social change necessary for sustainable development with human rights education across the community as an imperative. This process is under development. It includes:
1) Learning and Planning Sessions by a Citizens Committee;
2) Human Rights Education Training for all constituencies and concerns of the community to identify human rights needs and violations;
3) Training for parliamentarians, municipal workers, police, judges, business people, teachers, and health care workers;
4) Monitoring and Development of Action Plans;
5) Documentation and Mapping with published analyses of human rights violations for the broadest dissemination;
6) Activism and Advocacy for Implementation in law, policy, resources and relationships; and
7) the Creation of a City Development Plan in a human rights framework that ensures that the institutions that govern the community become human rights institutions.
As "human rights citizens," the people of Rosario will demand that their governing and law enforcement institutions abide by the plan to implement and enforce it within a human rights framework. This human rights "strategic plan" will address all actors, both state and non-state, impacting on human rights from the community level to national and international levels. People will focus on those impacts from the locus of the home and community, public and private. The plan will be concrete with a sense of urgency for the creation of a community that fully abides by human rights norms and standards as they relate to the specific needs of the community and all of its citizens. In this process they may also develop a human rights court and mechanisms of checks and balances as well as a human rights ombuds-person office, and a human rights education program committee.
It is an imperative that the community works with its elected municipality to ensure that the institutions that govern the community become human rights institutions. Specifically, local and national government, the judiciary, police, financial, and industrial institutions and regulators fulfill their obligations to prevent human rights violations and promote the realization of human rights for all.
In that process of learning, contemplating, and acting, the community becomes a Sustainable Human Rights Community that devises its mechanisms to check itself by the construct of human rights.
As the people themselves define what a human rights community is all about, they also become agents of social change. This new understanding and analysis will lead, in the words of Nelson Mandela to, "creating a new political culture based on human rights," where every injustice is understood and acted upon as a human rights violation. Moreover, social justice becomes the fulfillment and protection of the human rights of every woman, man, and child in the community.
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Shulamith Koenig is Founder and Executive Director of People’s Decade of Human Rights Education (PDHRE). PDHRE has launched The Campaign to Reclaim and Secure our Right to be Human: Solidarity, Education and Cultural Activities Towards and Beyond the 50th Anniversary of the UDHR. To date over 40 organizations have joined.