April 29, 2022
Together for the 10-year anniversary of Shelter City
Last Thursday 21 April we kicked off the celebrations of our 10-year anniversary by welcoming many Shelter City partners, the current Shelter City guests and others dedicated to human rights and its defenders to The Hague.
During the celebration, we looked back at the impact made together in these 10 years and looked forward at the future of Shelter City: the growth of our movement to include more cities and organizations around the world.
We were honoured to welcome esteemed speakers such as the Dutch Ambassador for Human Rights, Bahia Tahzib-Lie; the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, Mary Lawlor; the current Shelter City guest Numan Afifi; the Head of the International Department of the Municipality of The Hague, Wim Jansen; and the Director of Justice & Peace, Sebastiaan van der Zwaan.
The Dutch Ambassador for Human Rights Bahia Tahzib-Lie and the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs have long been active supporters of Shelter City. The Ambassador explained the important role of human rights defenders in inspiring change and uplifting their communities.
In her words: “The power of repression is immense. Yet so is the strength of human rights defenders. They have the courage to defend our inalienable rights. They are fearless drivers of change and have a meaningful impact on people’s lives.”
“The power of repression is immense. Yet so is the strength of human rights defenders” – Bahia Tahzib-Lie
Bahia Tahzib-Lie also reflected on the important and necessary work of Shelter Cities, and she voiced her hope for more citites to join the Shelter City movement: ” I therefore hope this anniversary will inspire many more cities in the world to join the inspiring Dutch Shelter City program or similar programs”.
Mary Lawlor is the founder of Front Line Defenders and since 2020, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders. During her speech she argued for increased support to human rights defenders by national governments and for governments to ensure flexible visas for human rights defenders.
She also underlined the importance of relocation initiatives such as Shelter City. In her words: “we live in the shelter of each other”.
The next speaker was Numan Afifi, a LGBTIQ+ rights defender from Malaysia and the president of an advocacy group for gay, bisexual and queer men. He is now a guest of Shelter City Amsterdam.
Numan voiced the concerns of human rights defenders, thanked Shelter City and gave a powerful message of hope: “We must remain hopeful, because the people who want to stop wants us to give up. Yes, things can seem bleak and it is easy to give in the hopelessness. But they will weaponize our hopelessness and us it against us.”
“We must remain hopeful, because the people who want to stop wants us to give up” – Numan Afifi
The event proceeded with the contribution of Wim Jansen, the Head of the International Department at the municipality of The Hague, which supports Shelter City The Hague. The local level has always been at the core of Shelter City and Wimn Jansen highlighted the fruitful contribution between Shelter City and the municipality of The Hague.
Our final speaker was Sebastiaan van der Zwaan, Director of Justice & Peace Netherlands and co-founder of Shelter City. He explained how and why Shelter City was created and the impact that Shelter City has made.
In his words: “We asked ourselves how we, as a human rights organization in the Netherlands, could contribute. And the answer for us was that we can and should support those who are already making a change at the local level all over the world: human rights defenders.”
“We can and should support those who are already making a change at the local level all over the world: human rights defenders.” – Sebastiaan van der Zwaan
Sebastiaan van der Zwaan also reflected on the great impact that Shelter City has made and his hopes for the future of Shelter City. According to him, more Shelter Cities are needed to provide safe spaces to the great number of human rights defenders who apply to Shelter City every year, a well as policies and actions that support human rights defenders in continuing their work.
The director of Justice & Peace argued for the importance of changing the negative narratives around human rights defenders and instead highlight their value. According to him, as everyone can become an ambassador, a police officer or a minister, people can also aspire to be human rights defenders.
“You can also aspire to be a human rights defender, a crucial part of any working society that commits to human rights.” – Sebastiaan van der Zwaan
The event ended with an opportunity for participants to network, share their experiences and get involved in our movement and its growth.
We thank all of you who participated in the event and support Shelter City.
What can you do?
There are many ways for you to support Shelter City and be part of the Shelter City movement.
Shelter City is coordinated by Justice & Peace Netherlands. We are committed to support human rights defenders, but we need your help to continue to do so.
Start a Shelter City in your own city
Despite Shelter City has offered safe spaces to 400 human rights defenders at risk in ten years, more cities are needed. For example, the applications for relocation to Dutch Shelter Cities are on average 600 per year, but only around 30 to 35 people can be welcomed to the Netherlands.
Justice & Peace Netherlands has created a manual to share their experience with organizations, national or local governments, universities or any other parties interested in setting up a Shelter City.