Building Human Rights Cities

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human situation - new city in Brazil interested in HR Cities

This is a very complex theme. One of the strongest challenges. Willhem Reich has written something about this is his later work: "The Murder of Christ". (He himself died in prison not much long after.) Other author speak of a "will of death". More superficially we all can see and agree about some allways recurring "will of power". Let's focus in this layer of existence and behavior in order to be able to keep it a brief dialogue.

On one hand we need to provoke "will of power" in large populations that are taught since childhood that power is for politicians. On the other, we have to build channels to control the will of power of those who adopt politics as their way of living - and self-assuring. 

HR Learning is a great tool to achieve the first objective. But the other point is a real problem as elites always resist as much as they can. Be they capitalist or socialist, people in power nneed to be controled. Collective mechanisms of transparency, plebiscitary pools, open reports on expenses. 

This morning I was invited to move to another city to start a process of Local Governance which  a similar process to the Participative Budget. so, very soon i wil be glad to extend this dialogue, because your comment has made it more clear for me where to focus.

Also, good news, Folks. This city is interested in the HRC Program! It is a new start for us at Rio Grande do Sul. Maybe Porto Alegre starts moving when they realize another city is willing to get in.

remaking participation

One last point about rescueing quality of the participative budget: many seminars are being held to capacitate grassroots delegates. (As I said, the early generations of local delegates were composed by experienced political activists that were appointed to government positions and the new delegates were "ordinary" block leaders, sometimes even illiterate.)

After some years, these people are better prepared to make good debates and decisions that go beyond sewage or transit problems. Otherwise, direct democracy that PB means - a real new governing tool - might become a flat administrative instrument.

HR learning can help them to be better capacitated. At this point we have not been able to care about this.  Two years ago, with PDHRE support, we tried a first approach to make HR workshops, but delegates did not attend to it! Is was absolutely frustating. The entry point should have been bellow them - at local assemblies that elect them.  This dialogue has been stimulating - I will re-add this strategy to our HR City plans.


Inventing and Reinvigorating Participation


You raise such an excellent point and experience regarding how target populations can shift and change - from experienced and invested political activists to block leaders with literacy challenge. That is exactly why New Tactics advocates that human rights advocates need to be constantly expanding your "tool box" of tactics. This can help you to have more ideas and methods for changing ways to invent and reinvigorate those you are hoping to get involved and participate in your efforts.

New Tactics is excited to hear that you have found the dialogue stimulating and want to add this kind of idea to your own Human Rights City effort! 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Resource Guide on Rights-Based Budget Analysis

Here is a step -by -step guide developed for A Rights-Based Approach towards Budget Analysis that I think might be of interest.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

participatory budget

Developing a participatory budget is one of the four pillars on which a Human Rights Cities stand. These are:

Laws -  having the people of the city know the norms and standards that countries have ackknowledged through ratifying various covenants and conventions and learning if these were put into laws.

Policiies - In the learning process, people analyze whether policies are within the framework of these laws. 

Resources - participatory budget. People participate in preparing and prioritizing issues within the social budget of the community. They do not do it as individuals or as advocating one issue or the other according to their specific interest, but working together and in agreement of representatives of the community in the steering committee, prepare a budget. 

Relationships - This is clearly understood within the materials we have shared about the Human Rights City. 

 As to participatory budget, very often the needs identified by the community are larger than the cities social budget. It is therefore important that these be discussed with local economists with a projection of three to four years within available budgets. However, in a very small village in India, when looking at the budgets needed for building a new school, and employing better teachers, they have collected for a full year one penny per inhabitant (a total of 1000 people) to raise 365,000 rupees, which was $8000, which was matched by the local authorities and assisted them to build a school.

 Especially in these hard economic times, a minute amount from each citizen makes it really "participatory" and moves charity to dignity.

Using budgets for building equity and social justice

This aspect of communities being aware of and involved in the budgetary process of their communities is not only critical, it is very empowering. Budgets provide the best window of opportunity for tracking progress on equity and social justice (see my post regarding the example from South Africa). This is not the only way budgets can be utilized. Here are two additional examples - a short example from Ghana and an in-depth tactical notebook from India on how communities get involved in the budget process:

I'm interested to learn from the estabilshed Human Rights Cities how much access and participation they have been able to gain in the local level budetary process. 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

needs assessment practice and process

One of the first steps in carrying out needs assessment is engaging the community. I worked directly with this process in Mali where PDHRE worked with the city of Kati ( 20 K from the capital , Bamako) carrying out community - learning. We used a participatory action research model that was in keeping with the Freirian model of learning. As an initial step representatives from each of the 14 neighborhoods in Kati attended a training based on discussion of dignity , the relationship of human rightas to human dignity and then naming the way in which the articles of the UDHR are relevant to the local conditions. The next step was a mapping that members of each neighborhood carried out in the particular neighborhood in collaboration with inhabitants of that neighborhood. Once all 14 representatives retuned with their human rights community maps it was fairly easy to discern the critical issues related to HR in each neighborhood and , by extension, the town of Kati. 

Needs assessment in Mali


Please share more about this process of "mapping" that you refer to that brings forth the key issues related to human rights in neighborhoods. The New Tactics uses a tactical map tool to assist people and organizations in identifying points of potential leverage within our human relationships and institutions.

I'm interested to learn more about the process of mapping that you are describing here.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

the time is right for human rights cities

Susan Atwood, Instructor, University of Minnesota’s Leadership : Leadership for Global Citizenship.

 Before entering this dialogue, I was completely unaware of the concept of Human Rights Cities. In looking at the website of PDHRE, Peoples Movement for Human Rights Learning, I was struck by the following formulation:

"The city, its institutions, and its residents, as a complex social economic and political entity, become a model for citizen's participation in their development. This process leads to the mapping and analysis of causes and symptoms of violations such poverty and the designing of ways to achieve well being in their city. Appropriate conflict resolution is an inevitable consequence of the learning process as women and men work to secure the sustainability of their community as a viable, creative, caring society. "

This seems to fit perfectly with the need for societies in financial crisis (all of us), to take another look at what constitutes the essence of our societies. It also fits well with the call by President Barack Obama for community service. Human rights as a concept often seem nebulous, something on the one hand to do with the United Nations and maybe on the other hand at the individual level, such as Amnesty International's prisoner by prisoner approach. But as increasingly we live and work in cities, it makes sense to define ourselves as members of that community and to approach human rights in that unit as a whole.  If we framed some of the problems we face in urban infrastructure, education, health as human rights in which citizens should have an active say, we could move a long way toward understanding the holistic nature of these issues and how they are all interconnected. The framework provided by the concept of a human rights city cuts across and connects all sectors and gives citizens a much more concrete sense of how they could have a hand in making their city community one in which they have a stake and in which they take pride.

As increased financial hardship strikes many citizens, rather than retreating into isolation, there seems to be a move toward seeking out more connections with neighbors and community and looking for meaningful ways to contribute to the common good. Human Rights cities offer a framework for channeling this energy. It is certainly time to identify more cities to move in this direction.  Are there any in the US other than Washington DC? Come on mid West! we are usually ahead of the curve in this type of initiative.



Building Human Rights Cities

I agree  fully with Susan that now is the right time to build  Human Rights Cities throughout the US. For one thing, the process brings people together, builds solidarity and once united - people break their silence and become partners in planning their one  economic and social future. Currently Washington, D>C is the only fully committed HR City in the US. Other cities are considering taking on the initiative . These are : Cambridge , MA, Portland, OR , San Francisco, CA and Worcester, MA. Now that you know the  process why don't you speak to people and organizations in your Minnesota town?

the time *is* right.

I couldn't have hoped for a better understanding of what Human Rights Cities are about. We are trying to bring forth the idea that DC as a Human Rights City-proclaimed as such on the 10th of December 2008 by the city council after two years of preparatory work-can become a model for all the Obama plans in the US. Let's remember well that the Convention on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights speaks of food, education, housing, health, and work at livable wages as interrelated needs and wants recognized as human rights. You correctly speak about organizations that limit the understanding of human rights. It's our task for which we're hoping for your collaboration to create more and more programs to have people understand human rights as a way of life. Indeed, all of Obama's plans for the US are anchored in the covenants and conventions of human rights. It will be great if we can convince him to start speaking the human rights language, not only in Latin America.  

re: the time is right

Hi Susan,

Thanks so much for your excellent comment.  While the idealist in me says that it's always the right time to foster greater awareness of human rights and do all in our power to prevent violations,  I certainly agree with you that if there were ever a time to create more human rights cities and rethink the concept of the role of community in our lives, that time would be now. 

 I think that the idea of involvement within the community to enhance the common good is certainly not a new one.  And yet, I think when part of integral movement such as building a human rights city, it can have a really important impact on human rights throughout a city, and also provide a really great example for other communities.

I volunteered as a teacher's aide for a kindergarten class and it was one of the most rewarding experiences I've had in my  life.  If you can imagine a classroom with twenty-eight extremely energetic 5 year-olds and one teacher, you can definitely imagine the importance of even one extra helping hand.  With one extra hand, the teacher could better prepare for lessons, better manage the classroom, and kids that needed extra help were able to get it.  Just imagine the possibilities that extra hands in lots of needy classrooms could provide.  I saw that this was the case even for some of the volunteers who came in for only 2-3 hours a week.  I think this just goes to show that even small steps can have an important and lasting impact. Because human rights cities really seem to encompass a "rethinking" of the idea of community and an individuals involvement in that community, I think it is so essential to get involved and realize the potential that we have in community building.

My experience volunteering in a school also helped me recognize the systemic nature of rights abuses and inequality within the U.S. (and elsewhere too), especially within the system of education. I think this has a lot to do with Shula's comment in a previous post about the importance of recognizing the causes of violations, and not just the symptoms.  Right here in Minneapolis, the graduation rate in some public schools just over 50 percent, and this overwhelmingly affects minorities.  The right to an education is an essential one in human rights doctrine, and yet, so many people aren't given access to an education.  This is the case even here in the U.S. According to an article in the Star Tribune, which examined a study done last March, Minneapolis ranks 45th out of 50 major cities in the United States in terms of high school graduation rates (the study listed Minneapolis' high school graduation rate at 43.7% for the 2003-4 school year).  

My work in education helps me to recognize the possibilities that human rights cities present. So many people are unaware of the fact that right in their own city, there are terrible injustices occurring.  Through the process of building a human rights city I think that not only would awareness be drawn to the issue that human rights violations can occur within your own town, but also recognizes the fact that this can and must be changed and creates a forum for positive change.  In becoming an active member in your community, I think injustices such as these become much more apparent and much harder to ignore.  I think human rights cities are a great way of getting people to rethink of their role as a member of a community, and also a great way to interrupt this system of inequality and violations of human rights.

I agree with Susan that rather than isolating ourselves, this should be the moment to reconceptualize community and look for meaningful ways to get involved, connect with others, and create a more positive environment for the entire community. I think the idea of living in a human rights city is empowering, and give community members a better idea of how to make a lasting impact within their own community and also a better forum to do so.  I wholeheartedly support Shula and PDHRE's goal of developing 100 human rights cities in the next 10 years (see her post), and think that the world will be a much better place for it.

Process &Steps

I found out that the key to sharing and presenting the idea and purpose of a human rights city is your own convinction in the importance of human rights learning as a way of life.

Also, you should spend considerable time to identify key stakeholders who have a record in human rights work at all levels, including community partners, government officials, organizations, and individuals.

human rights organizations

Allow me to add a comment to Jean-Louis' response. In my humble experience, human rights organizations in the US tend spontatenously to speak of political and civil rights, i.e. civil liberties and the rights of individuals rather than of communities. I strongly believe that human rights is all about how communities live together, and the "traffic regulation" that enables them to move freely--free from fear and free from want. Much of this work, without calling it human rights, is done by economic and social justice organizations, who have to be convinced and who must learn that basically they are engaged in implementing the human rights vision and its practical mission. Therefore, in my opinion I would suggest to use human rights organizations for the learning process in the community if they are ready to speak of the indivisibility of human rights. But the actions in the Human Rights City and the steering community, have to include as many organizations that deal with pertinent issues such as labor, women, children, food, housing, health, wages, education, etc. even though they do not at this point speak of it as a human right.

health as a human right

Susan Atwood, Instructor, University of Minnesota’s Leadership : Leadership for Global Citizenship.

In response to Shula's words:

"I strongly believe that human rights is all about how communities live together, and the "traffic regulation" that enables them to move freely--free from fear and free from want. "

It strikes me reading the increasingly hysterical tone of the news concerning a potential swine flu pandemic that ,either now or with a future pandemic, communities will find themselves fundamentally challenged by the tension between what is good for the community and what for the individual and family. There is a compelling book: Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks, based on a true story from 17th century England. It describe the behaviour of inhabitants in a rural community as it is hit by the bubonic plague. Some inhabitants are all about saving themselves by fleeing the community and therefore of course putting others at risk while others demonstrate extraordinary altruism and courage.

It seems to me that we would all be better equipped to handle a global health pandemic (or indeed global threats of any kind) within the framework of Human Rights cities that have a steering committee dealing with economic and social justice issues as Shula mentions. In a crisis, it is all too easy to revert to our perceived rights as individuals and isolate ourselves from our communities.  Organizations that specialize in writing scenarios tend to have three: Market world (basically continuation of status quo); fortress world (countries and communities retreat into isolationism in face of threats) and transformed world - the kind of world where there would be not just 100 human rights cities but NOT living in one would be considered abnormal...........Voices like Shula's and the other participants in this dialogue are the ones we need to pay attention to.

This posting is not written from the perspective of doomsaying, just a sense of urgency about how the time is now for Human Rights cities and what they represent in terms of how we look at our human rights - what it means to be human - and  to become part of our collective way forward.


During my reading about this process of establishing human right's cities, I noticed only cursory menitons of using art to promote the idea.  I know some cities have plenty of symbols of human rights and strong community, such as murals or statues in prominate places.  It seems that projects such as this would be an excellent to engage local politicians.  Does anyone have such experience with projects such as these?

to present the idea of HHRR learning to victims of HHRR violatio

People  that received a state fellowship for university studies, and an economic assignement after being in prison and /or tortured  by the Chilean Reparation Law, had the idea of HHRR referred to HHRR violations rather than HHRR as a tool for building comunity or social transformation. The University Program was specially designed considering their experience. It has three areas: personal development, new tecnologies and some contents on mathematics and language, and ends in a project they have to develope.  All of them reported that learning procesess has  helped to heal them, because they can stand again not as victims but us persons that can connect with others. The dimensions of learning processes in Reparations are a clue to movilize bonds, desires and abilities.

In workshops they (mostly 60 year old men) were asked to open their family photographic albums and bring  photograhs of themselves. All of them brought pictures, when they were young, so the conversation was about their experience and the conversation was about their practices at the time of the picture. They realized that  they had dreams, projects and practices for social justice, that had taken them to be pursued by the dictatorship, rescuing past senses of life.

After this sessions we asked for the legacy they had for the future generations, and what they  had learned during  their prison/torture. It was simple and profound humanity: solidarity, almost all of them had memories of an "other" giving a hand, a smile, a cigarette that restablish their humanity, and meant they could trust in other. Critical reflections about  power abuse, respect of differences and the need of a  HHRR notion to build new relations.

The second step was the colective organization of comunity dialogues about HHRR for a better daily living (convivencia) with people in 50 comunities in Chile in order  to open a conversation in  diversity. They organize dialogues with different actors: women, inmigrants, young and adults, indigenous, including local authorities. The result was that they all felt legitimate to talk about concrete experiences and suggest actions to live better and work colectively  in the comunity. They also mentioned the  importance of memory for the future, not in the language of pain, but in creative formats: theater, stories, and of intergenarational bonds that give sense to their experience. Also the idea of building a HHRR comunity is actually being developed and will end in a web page that is actually being built.

The relationship between human rights cities and healing memory


Your comment about HHRR as a tool for building community or social transformation is very interesting and important. I can see now how building a human rights city in a post-conflict situation helps to 'rescue past senses of life.'  I hadn't made the connection between building community - restoring dignity - learning - and human rights cities, until I read your comment.  As I am following this dialogue, the power of learning is becoming more and more apparent.  

New Tactics recently hosted a featured dialogue titled Healing of Memories: Overcoming the wounds of history.  For this dialogue, we partnered with the Institute for the Healing of Memories (IHOM) based in South Africa. IHOM uses many of the same types of creative communication that you listed - theatre, stories, art, music, etc.  Many of these examples can be found in the archived dialogue (link above).  You mention the use of photos to help the participants tell their stories.  Similarly, IHOM asks participants of their healing memories workshops to draw their memory. This allows the participants to reflect on their story and communicate it in a different way - without words. Then, when they are asked to talk about their memory, the drawing gives them "something to hold on to." Allowing participants to communicate their memory through drawing and recalling stories by looking at photos is such a powerful way to build trust and relationships with others - therefore restoring dignity and "rescuing past senses of life."

Building a human rights city can serve as an important step in the process of healing individuals, and a community. Furthermore, healing memories of inviduals and communities is an important step in building human rights cities!

Lastly, I also wanted to point out another featured online dialogue New Tactics has hosted on Truth and Reconciliation Processes: Aiding community healing through addressing impunity.  Your point regarding people having the idea that "HHRR referred to HHRR violations rather than HHRR as a tool for building community or social transformation" is very interesting.  (By the way, what exactly does HHRR stand for?) Justice, reperations, and punishment is only part of the process -- we must also focus on rebuilding communities and restoring human dignity by healing memories. 

 Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

CHALLENGES - Lessons Learned

Please share the challenges that you have had to face and overcome in the development of your human rights city including:

  • What personal challenges or barriers have you had to overcome?
  • What systemic challenges or barriers have you had to overcome?
  • Do you think are common challenges that others will likely need to confront when they are building their own human rights city?
  • What lessons have you learned that can help others to overcome these challenges?
Barriers to education

I have a question to add to these that I am interested in hearing your answer to:

It seems that one of the most important purposes of human rights cities is to educate the population on the rights that they have as human beings.  Education can give people empowerment to them claim those rights. I imagine, though, that there are many challenges to educating and training a population. (the loss on money when children are brought away from farms into schools, stigma attached to girls and women being educated, location and basic needs of a population in poverty that in some cases may need to be addressed before education, etc) I have learned about many of these barriers to human rights education and education in general at my university, but I would love to hear from people actually working to make it happen.  What are some of a barriers you face? How do you get past these barriers to ensure that people are educated and trained about their rights as human beings? How does cultural sensitivity factor in?

Thank you!

Alexa Horwart,

Recent college graduate in International Relations (with a human rights specialty)

Education: or more preferred creating space for learning


In Edmonton, one of the best and most successful things we did was to create a 10 week human rights 'facilitator' program which has been amazing in spreading the idea of human rights in the community.  After initial assessments in the community we realized that a lot of the marginalized communities are dealing with very similar issues and struggles and they weren't connecting across sectors or issues.  We felt there was a real opportunity here to bridge groups as well as provide space for learning.  Using the 24 Exercises for Popular Education on the HREA (Human Rights Education Associates) website, this program has now been delivered for three consecutive years and those that have taken the training have become the truest and committed of human rights advocates in our community.  The beauty of these exercises is that they explore a diverse range of issues but because they are experiential and participatory, they require the invidiuals in the training to be the experts. 

We pulled together individuals who work in community service agencies throughout the communities - as they are the front line workers (a side note is what we heard in our assessments was that marginalized individiduals tend to get 'lost' in vicious referal circles in the community - if they have a human rights issue they want to deal with, when they ask for support from a community service agent, they get refered somewhere that refers them again adn they are never refered to the right place... and it was clear that community service workers were not aware of the services available for marginalized individuals or communities or where to send them)... so it was our priority to create awareness of human rights within the front line workers and for them to understand how their work relates to promoting human rights as well as to know what to do when their clients have an abuse or human rights issue to address.  Not only this, but by bringing together front line workers across issue areas - disabilities, sex trade, indigenous, immigrant and refugee, mental health, and so on -- the participants develop RELATIONSHIPS throughout the ten weeks, learn about each other's work and issue area, develop the capacity to know what to do for their clients as well as how they can work more collaboratively in the community.  The intention is that these individuals become human rights 'brokers' in their communities... so that individuals know them as a resource. In order to do this, after training, each facilitator facilitates at least 4 sessions in their community from the participatory exercises.  This has been a transformative experience for most.  I get stories from the facilitaotrs when they come back from sessions at our prostitution awareness agency etc and it has opened up their eyes even more to the human rights in our local community. 

The training also integrates more 'traditional' forms of education as well - we bring in speakers and guests, as well as past facilitators, to give them more experience and ideas.  One of the critical pieces is bringing in someone from our human rights commission and some legal experts to really explain the complaint process and the various human rights documents internatinally, nationally and provincially.  This component is really critical and we are excited to transition this whole training program in winnipeg next month, the only other Canadian Human Rights City that I am aware of anyway. 

Another education component we felt was critical as we went along was to create a space for youth to engage in human rights learning.  There has tended to be a lot of opportunity for youth to engage with more global oriented issues in Edmonton but very little opportunity for them to lean about their own community.  We have developed an 8 month training program which is in its second delivery.  Every two weeks, the youth meet and they do a study tour of Edmonton. They visit local organizations undertaking work in diverse areas related to human rights - seniors, disabilities, racism etc... - so they learn about the issues, but also what is happening in relation to these issues in the community.  I think this is a fundamental link - often the 'action' piece is left out of learning about issues... so people may feel frustrated with and issue in the community and wonder 'why isn't anything being done?' but usually there are programs and services which people are not aware of.  We realize that we need to build awareness and profile of organizations doing good work in our community to promote human rights.  This is a critical piece.  Following the 8 months of training, the youth then have to undertake a volunteer placement with one of the organizations from the training.  It again has been and INCREDIBLE success.  The dialogue and discussion in these sessions is amazing and again it is very experiential and participatory to ensure a learning approach versus only infomration sharing.

Both of these program are in high demand in the community and we are finding really surprising people are taking it!  People from the human rights commissions are even joining - which is really exciting.  The great thing aboiut the Facilitator program one is that we have this committed loyal group of people who are strong advocates for the project.  They are the foundation to the city being a human rights city. And, they have a ripple effect.  Recently in the past session, I did a brainstorming session with the group so we could develop new roles in the community and to build strategies for 'building community' and I'm excited to see where this takes us!

We have created a toolkit for the Human RIghts Facilitator one just recently so any community can take this and implement it - and is available for all!  We are now working on creating a toolkit for the youth program as well. It's been a fabulous experience and all involved, even me everytime, have learned so much from each other.


Re: Education: or more preferred creating space for learning

Hi Renee,

Thank you for such a detailed description of the different ways that your project carries out learning opportunities for the communities of Edmonton. It is inspiring and encouraging to hear that you have received so much positive feedback from the participants!  Well done!

I especially like how the project has intervened on different levels at the community level - the youth, the 'front-line workers' from community service organizations, marganalized communities, etc.  The 'facilitators' program sounds like a great way to create those dedicated partners that I would expect anyone working on building a human rights city would need! 

I am curious to learn more about the 'Human Rights Facilitator Toolkit' that you mentioned. Where can one find this Toolkit?


Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

HR Facilitator Toolkit

Hey Kristin,

We just finished the draft of this last week and are going to put into a 'package' that will be put on the website.  For now, best way to access it is I guess to contact me and we'll make sure to get it out! We'll have it ready and complete by May 6th when we are in Winnipeg to train them onthe program.

Cheers, Renee

Human Rights Learning Ideas


Thanks for pointing out the resources at HREA (Human Rights Eucation Associates) - here is the link to their Resource Centre.

Those following our dialogue can use this link to the HREA that I believe Renee was referring to: Popular Education for Human Rights: 24 Participatory Exercises for Facilitators and Teachers by Richard Pierre Claude, Professor Emeritus, University of Maryland, with illustrations by Emma Ridgway, London, England.

I also found another great resource from Australia for human rights learning with youth that offers 107 ideas. It looked like a great way to spark ideas for participatory learning.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager


Professor Claude's work was one of our textbooks in Taiwan during PDHRE International Seminar and is a very good source. I apreciate very much PDHRE's effort to make such "user-friendly" tools available because I think this is the right way to go. One important step is to exchange like we are doing now, then, besides writting down the history of HRC movement, we will be able to compile some best practices in the field of HR learning.

Something that I have been planning is to have such a HRC handbook published in portuguese and I hope I can as soon as other previous stones are better founded. I am old enough to have heard McLuhan and I agree, at least partially, that midia is the message. To stand and say human rights is important because you stand. Handbooks are made for action.

Toolkit from Edmonton

It  seems as though you have had a wonderfully successful experience with the facilitator training. I'd like to know how you created the Toolkit. Was this a participatory process undertaken with the community?

Toolkit from Edmonton

This toolkit was developed after three years of implementing the human rights facilitator training program - so is almost like a step by step tool for implementing this trianing program in your community and has been altered over the three years based on experiecnes and lessons learned.  It has sample PSAs, application forms etc .


Dear Akafeera,


Kathleen and I are working on developing a training manual for young people. Is there a way you can email me a copy of your training toolkit at



Securing Government Support at the Municipal Level

One of things I need to hear from the other Human Rights City partners - particularly those that have secured an official recognition and proclamation from the City - is how did you go about securing municipal government support for this?

 We have struggled with this in Edmonton and it has remained a very grassroots community level project because of our challenges of creating buy in at the government level where they don't see immediate tangible outcomes or where they are afraid to make a commitment in fear of a price tag being attached later. 

 Can some of you tell me about hte process you took? What lessons did you learn here?  This is the area we have been unsuccessful, or have not developed a clear strategy and some advice is very welcome!



Dear! The first words that I could say about this issue are CENSORED and CENSORED.

 (Well, better to be self-censored than having othes to make it for you...)

 This issue can drive you to extreme situations. Here, right after  joining the International HRC Program a new government was elected. A very wide composition that has taken a logn time to decide who would care for what in the city. And that ngo that was anchoring the process has had elections too. That's democracy. Then, in both sides of the contract, changes have made commitment weaker. Fortunatly some other ngo's have backed the process and it helped to start a steering committee which we have called ComCoord (abreviation of Comite Coordenador that reminds of the word concordance). 

We were able to make a few public activities supported by PDHRE and by Local Governance Secretary - our main victory was to grow as a group and be able to hold together. Recently a new election changed for better the composition of this same governing front and we are moving again. We are moving forward, but we are also moving out! After being kept in dusty drawers, we had decided to search for neighboring cities to transfer the program (Porto Alegre is in the center of a huge metropolitan area, and there about 4 other cities that could adopt the Program). Now, it is good that the first city decided to honestly adopt actions, but horizon and negotiations is already open - the former exclusivity is over.

And that is an interesting point. In capitalism, everymind is in somemeasure contaminated by the elan of competition. We are for cooperation and we do not enjoy competition as a main value - but as Shula reminded us earlier "One trains dogs", you do not talk about Voltaire with them. When you are dealing with officials, the role they are living is their authority (and their vanity many times), you should try to learn with that person and try to teach something about human rights, but as a negotiator you have to also pay a tribute to the role they are living and that means to provoke their  "natural" politician's competition. Point (to end this endless note): it is interesting to play with more cities than just one. To be open and friendly to neighbors - no special seats, no reservations. The city has to go for it, otherwise the next gets the title. (And to make this title glows is a task for all of us.)

Ideas for securing government support at the municipal level

I am intrigued by the question Renee poses in a previous comment titled Securing Government Support at the Municipal Level. The questions is - how have other secured municipal government support for an official recognition or proclamation from the City?  I think this is a challenge for many human rights organizations. I enjoyed reading Carlos's comment above, and his comment on competition vs. cooperation made me think more about strategies for engaging government.  As I think Carlos would agree, the 'cooperation' strategy is probably your best bet, but maybe also a touch of healthy competition. 

Though I have no experience building a human rights city, I would like to share some ideas from a New Tactics notebook (in-depth case study on a tactic) titled Making Allies: Engaging Government Official to Advance Human Rights.  I think you may find a few tactics in this notebook helpful for you to think about your strategy for working with your municipal government officials. 

This case study comes from Russia, and describes the development of a positive and collaborate relationship between Citizen's Watch and government insiders - not an easy task!  "These relationships encourage the development of a democratic and
participatory connection between the state and its citizens, one in
which human rights are respected and the government functions to serve
the people, rather than to rule over it."

Some of the key techniques Citizens’ Watch used to implement this arduous task included:


  1. An individualized and diplomatic approach – carefully selecting
    promising and influential players in the administration and approaching
    them in a respectful and supportive manner.

  2. The effective use of the "carrots" of invitations to domestic and
    international seminars, trips and meetings. Potential collaborators
    inside the administration were invited to interesting and useful
    gatherings outside of Russia, where they would meet international
    colleagues in their profession who would encourage their personal
    political transition. Meanwhile, educational events and conferences
    inside Russia would bring them together with academics and other
    experts in their field to help them see alternatives to the way the
    government currently functions.

  3. The provision of helpful resources and information to the
    bureaucrats, such as translations of documents and training materials
    from other countries, etc.

  4. Finally, in some cases, the creation of a collaborative
    allowing for the development of joint strategies to
    address shared problems.

The first step listed above - carefully selecting and approaching individuals - reminds me very much of New Tactics' tactical map tool.  This tool guides practitioners through a process that maps out all the relationships that are present regarding the issue that you are trying to change.  Then practitioners can deliberately choose their targets where they want to intervene given their expertise and their resources.  In your situation, Renee, it might be helpful to map out those individuals in the municipal government so that you can focus your energy on those targeted individuals strategically. 

Have other used something similar to the first step above, imlemented by Citizen's Watch?

 I am eager to hear from other practitioners that have successfully
partnered with their government officials to officially recognize their
community as a 'human rights city.'

Kristin Antin, New Tactics Online Community Builder

we are getting there

Tomorrow I will have a meeting with a State HR director to talk about an International Seminar of HR Good Practices where we can insert an HRC Meeting. I want the cities can expose their work. We are discussing about another city to be partner of Porto Alegre on this project. It is taking a long time to have decisions (meeting call more meetings and I need some yoga breath techniques to take it easy sometimes...).

I do think that we can get goverment support because we can do better projects - that means projects that bring measurable results and that DO bring votes. We have to learn too. A second project we are dealing with is a literacy contest for college students ("How to Apply the UDHR at Porto Alegre?". College students vote. And the city govmt. could have no cheaper consultancy services than tens of thounsand college students thinking about new laws and public campaigns. To win, the propposal should also include low costs - or course with some billions any city can apply the UDHR...) And students learn that everything has a cost - this is something that can be adapted to other target-populations like the participative budget assemblies. After one contest is done, this could be another excellent focus. Thanks, Group.


Creative Thinking Contests


This is an excellent idea to bring to bear the very creative, "out of the box" ideas that young people can generate. It can provide an excellent opportunity to really infuse human rights ideas and values into not only the creating thinking processes but also in terms of concrete plans of action. What a great way to invest resources and confidence in engaging young people to address the challenges of their own future! 

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

College Students

I think using college students to promote this (and other) ideas is a great tool. Students are much more likely to be active and take a stance on these issues. A few ways to get them involved: a contest or project, like the one mentioned above, a  one time lecture or discussion, a campus group or organization, or even a class where the goal would be to design a campaign to promote the issue.

On my campus, all of these ideas would be recieved well and would have participants. On college campuses there are a variety of ways to get to college students. These college students are a great way to get through to the rest of the world. Once they become passionate about something, it stays with them.

Securing local government support

Dear Kantin,


Your comments are very helpful. I agree with you on the importance of individualized and diplomatic approach. That proved to be critical in our process in Washington DC, where as you know, local and federal governments cross paths and often compete for the political space. What proved to be a winning sound bite was the historic prospective for the City to become the first ever human rights city in the United States!

Notoriety of being FIRST


The notoriety of being "first" can certainly be a great advantage and has tremendous appeal. Now that Washington, DC has claimed this "first" the rest of our North American cities will have to find another way to make our appeal! When an idea really catches fire, "joining the bandwagon" sometimes works too. We'll definitely hope that the Human Rights Cities idea catches fire!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Keeping Morale up

In my limited experience observing the creation of human rights cities (or communities) I have noticed that one of the greatest challenges is keeping those that will stand to benefit most interested and engaged.  During a visit to Ecuador we spent time with a community that was having their land stripped by a large mining company.  While many agreed there was a need for action, they were discouraged at the percieved power for the mining company.  Has anyone else had such difficulties?  Are there creative ways of dealing with this problem?

RESOURCES & TOOLS - Building and Sustaining a Human Rights City

Please share what resources have been most helpful to you in the various stages of building your human rights city including:

  • PLANNING STAGE - What resources are needed in the planning stage of building your human rights city?
  • IMPLEMENTATION STAGE - What resources are needed to actually implement a human rights city?
  • SUSTAINING STAGE- What resources have you needed for the on-going work of sustaining your human rights city?
resources - campaign

In every city people develop their own resources. Of course the
UDHR and the various covenants and conventions are basic tools to
share with people . It is often the pedagogy or the methods chosen
that play a major role such as the various campaigns held in Rosario
which I hope our friends from  Rosario can tell us about. .

The UDHR itself is a very important resource if it is "used"
to have people look at the realizations and violations in their
lives  . Local poetry, legends, art and literature etc can be an
excellent  resource to demonstrate how the hopes of people
coincide with the holistic vision of human rights, to overcome the
'gossip” about human rights that it comes fro the North. On our
website you can find several manuals and books that can lead you 
to integrate your own methods. Same can be found on other websites of
our members who could share it further. . 

Allow me to evoke another thought: It is imperative to introduce
discussion on gender equality and patriarchy. One can not understand
the full dimension and meaning of human rights as relevant to our
lives unless we develop with the learners systemic analysis and
critical thinking about  gender equality and the lack of that
undermines all human rights.  . 


These three points should be actually y answered by our
colleagues in the field, but I will try to give some answers to
evoke further thinking. . .

The idea is to develop 100 human rights cities in the coming ten
years. Am I crazy? YES! I am!!

Short answers t above three points:

-Human resourceful . Committed community workers are the engine
that moves this process forward. These are people – from various
local organization - who will join a steering committee to service
the community mostly on a volunteer plan the specific community
program that will introduce the idea of a human rights city to raise
the initial necessary conscientiousness.

implementing stage: The implementation needs to move obviously
from the steering committee to the community to have the
learning process enable people participate in the decision of what
actions need to be taken. .. also as part of the mapping as various
parts of the community attend specifically to develop on going

Needless to say that funds, which were easier to get in the past,
are very important. Even when funds were more available a lot of work
has been done on a volunteer basis by local organization those who
are committed to integrate both the learning and actions that
follow ( implementation) as part of their daily activities. This is
the best scenario.

In short committed people each giving time for this effort  make up the neccesary  celebrated resources. 


I am not worried you are crazy. I am worried you are convincing.

Let's do it!

Yes, again.

Let's all be convincingly crazy!

Success Story about Human Rights as a way of life


You are right - Shula Koenig is very convincing, and especially inspiring in her passion for promoting her vision of "human rights as a way of life".

On the PDHRE website you can find a wonderful publication by Shulamith Koenig, "In our hands:
human right as a way of life: Human Rights Cities – a personal view",
that was originally published in Our Freedoms: A Decade’s Reflection On The Advancement Of Human Rights, Published by The International Bar Association in March 2007. 

Shula states:

What is a human rights city? Imagine living in a society where all citizens learn about human rights and make a pledge to build a community based on economic and social justice, on equality and non-discrimination; where all women and men actively participate in the decisions that affect their daily lives guided by the human rights framework; where people have consciously internalised and socialised the holistic vision of human rights to overcome fear and impoverishment; a society that provides human security, access to food, housing, education, health care and work at liveable wages, sharing these resources with all citizens, not as a gift, but as the realisation of human rights. A human rights city is a practical, viable model that demonstrates that developing and living in such a society is possible.

As a message of hope, here are some voices from the human rights cities:

  • ‘When I learned that education is a human right I learned that I must claim my human rights, so that in dignity I can support myself and my parents when they are older.’ (Child from human rights city – Nagpur, India)
  • ‘If you know human rights, you know that health and food are included, and it makes me feel good for my family and all the people that this is not charity.’ (Women from human rights city – Thies, Senegal)
  • ‘What we learned about human rights allowed us to reduce misunderstandings among ourselves. Before we married, women were looked at as slaves. Now we understand, we each have roles in the family. Women now understand they are equal, and men agree with it.’ (Man, human rights city – Kati, Mali)
  • ‘We want human rights to be discussed in the newspapers, radio and television to motivate people to take actions for human rights for all the people in the city.’ (Women from human rights city Rosario – Argentina)

Shula illustrates beautifully not only the purpose of a human rights city but the concrete way in which people understand how human rights really are an integral part of their daily life, not some writing on a document storied in a building far away. But alive and active in everything we do.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

Sowing Cities Across the Southern Cone

Dear Shula and folks.

Yesterday at a meeting with HR government director, I was informed that they enjoyed a lot our project  of an International Seminar for HRCities. It may be held in the first days of December. The focus is to introduce HRC as Best Practices to southern latin-american activists and mayors (etc). We have set ten days to have it decided.(If Porto Alegre does not embark in the project, it may be held by Santa Maria, my new city)


Resource - Human Rights Training Manual from Gratz

The European Training Center for Human Rights in Gratz has put together an excellent resource manual "Understanding Human Rights" that provides material for classroom use and in many languages (in alphabetical order):

The manual provides resources and presentation materials on the following topics and this structure:

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager

ETC Resource

Thank you Nancy for pointing out this great resource - some activities that we will definitely use!!!

Cheers, Renee

Resources for the process of building a human rights city

In every city there is a person, an organisation or a network who is the promotor of the initiative. It is possible that this role continue for a little while. Nevertheless, the skill for creating and sustaining alliances is indispensable.

These alliances should involve the governmental and non governmental field. Nevertheless, the streng of the non-governmental actors is crucial. If we rely only in a good relationship with several governmental actors, the initiative will be very fragile. This due to several factors, mainly, the fact that each 4 years governmental  functionaries change with municipal elections.

The possibility of connecting with municipal functionaries without being swallowd by political parties manipulation is  another challenge. But is needed. This requires some skills that we also need to learn (and include in our learning process).

That is why,  in spite of the importance of the participation of the governmental representatives in the alliance, promoters of the human rights city should always have in mind the need of balance.


Susana Chiarotti

Maintaining Rosario's partners - civil society & government


Thank you for bringing up this very important point in terms of building effective human rights cities. As you point out, ""the fact that each 4 years governmental functionaries change with municipal elections."  This raises the critical need of on-going collaborative partnership building that is necessary to sustain and build a human rights city initiative. The critical vibrancy of change needed in democratic processes creates a challenge for on-going development and growth for human rights cities.

Please share with us more about how Rosario has been able to build and maintain the alliances, collaborations and partnerships necessary to keep your human rights city vibrant.

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager


I am Irfan Ali and I work in a human rights organization
called “Human Rights Commission for Social Justice and Peace”. I teach human rights education to students and youths in Quetta Pakistan, who really need human rights awareness, and training programs .The concept of the human rights city is quite new, rather I would say that when I teach the students and youths that they have also got human rights as any one in America or Canada guaranteed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Constitution of Pakistan. The students and youths can not believe their ears; the reason is they live in society which is backward and ruled by tribal chiefs and religious minded
leaders who just inculcate the seeds of hatred, extremism and fundamentalism, where girls and women are like cow and sheep. In such society where human rights word does not exist, learning about ideas like human rights city is
really interesting experience to share with the students and youths , they will get inspiration by knowing that people in other parts of the world struggle for better human rights reforms and achievements.

Inspiring new ideas

Dear Irfan,

Thank you so much for sharing how this idea of building a "human rights city" can provide inspiration to you and the young people you are working with in Pakistan.

I was particularly inspired by the vision outlined by the Human Rights City of Edmonton, Canada in its report stating that for Edmonton and its surrounding communities is: 

embarking on a human rights journey without ever intending to declare a final destination...a continuous process of life-long human rights education and learning, evaluation and action, with the goal of moving as close as possible to the fullest implementation of the Universal Declaration [of Human Rights] and other instruments.

This recognition that our work for human rights is indeed a beautiful, life-long and rewarding journey because we are always seeking to address our ever-changing needs and improve the lives of individuals as well as our collective endeavors in which we engage with each other as human beings.

Thank you again for sharing that this idea of building a human rights city is one of interest to you there in Pakistan!

Nancy Pearson, New Tactics in Human Rights Program Manager


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