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UNESCO decides on Centre for Human Rights in Graz

Last week the 192 member states of UNESCO unanimously voted for the establishment of an international centre for the furthering of human rights on the local and regional level, located in Graz, Austria. The centre is set to become the second location worldwide with focus on human rights, next to Buenos Aires.

“The decision to establish the centre brings a very positive end to the several years of negotiations”, Executive Director of the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (ETC Graz) Klaus Starl is happy to report. Also Renate Kicker, Director of the Centre, adds that now an impactful “human rights cluster” is developing in the region of Styria, together with the UNESCO Chair in Human Rights and Human Security at the European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights and Democracy of the University of Graz. Gerd Oberleitner, UNESCO Chair, emphasises that through cooperation with the UNESCO Centre the networking activities of the Chair are strengthened, and thereby more recognition and internationalisation in the area of human rights can be achieved for the University of Graz.

City of Human Rights Graz, ECCAR Commitment, and Human Rights Region of Styria

The establishment of the UNESCO Centre in Graz is built on one and a half decades of human rights efforts in Graz. Beyond that, it builds particularly on the commitment as City of Human Rights and the cooperation of the City and the ETC Graz in the European Coalition of Cities against Racism (ECCAR), founded by UNESCO. This is also acknowledged in Paris: “Graz can be rightfully called a UNESCO city owing to its commitment to several important undertakings of the Organisation. Among these, I would like to highlight in particular your invaluable support to UNESCO’s action in favour of urban inclusion. Your leadership was at the source of the proposal by the Republic of Austria to establish, in Graz, an International Centre for the promotion of human rights on the local and regional levels, and under the auspices of UNESCO”, it says in the letter UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova sent to Graz. A further important argument for Graz as the chosen location is also the Human Rights Region of Styria, which had been developed since 10th December 2013 and was decided upon in July 2017 in the Styrian regional parliament. In this context, the project was considered to be especially “robust” as it is jointly carried by all levels of government.

Also joy in the City of Graz and the State of Styria

President of the Styrian regional parliament Bettina Vollath sent her congratulations immediately after the declaration of the decision, and also the City of Graz is proud: “I am very happy that with the decision in Paris we are getting an important international organisation in Graz”, said Graz Mayor Siegfried Nagl (ÖVP) and continued that, together with ETC Graz, the work is now beginning. Already in December the first representatives of other countries are set to come to Graz. Local politicians and leading administrative staff members from Arab countries, from Morocco to Iraq, will discuss administrative procedures consistent with human rights during a study trip to Austria.

The work content

Both the UNESCO Centre as well as the UNESCO Chair work in the offices provided by the University of Graz in Elisabethstrasse 50b. The close cooperation between the two organisations can now be deepened and developed further. The content-related focus is on the contribution made to Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development of the United Nations with a focus on the dimension of human security, and another focus on the local and regional level.

In particular the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 (education), Goal 10 (reducing inequality between and among countries), Goal 11 (making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable) and Goal 16 (promoting peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, providing access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels) provide the content framework of the work conducted. For this purpose, current plans include a revitalisation of the regional city coalitions in the framework of the New Urban Agenda (currently especially in the MENA-region), networking and the exchange between regional city coalitions and capacity-building on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda (trainings and education, support, research, monitoring and evaluation), currently intensively in South-East Europe, the Arab World and in Africa.

The goals set in cooperation with UNESCO, the Republic of Austria, the Province of Styria, the City of Graz, and the University of Graz are:

  • To commit all seven regional coalitions to the implementation of the New Urban Agenda by 2022 and to work actively.
  • To establish a regular exchange (at least every two years) between the regions on the topics of the SDGs 4, 10 and 16 in connection with Goal 11. Inclusion and sustainability are understood as two topics of work that stand in connection with one another.
  • Until 2022 at least 25 cities/regions should have received a Human Rights Capacity Building training.
  • Until 2022 a complete and universally accessible eLibrary on all important and relevant materials should be established.

(23 November 2017)