York becomes first city in the UK to join Shelter City

News | Posted on Wednesday 20 January 2021

York is also only the eighteenth city in the world to join the network.

An image of york at night

The Centre for Applied Human Rights (CAHR) and Justice and Peace Netherlands have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) making the city of York the 18th Shelter City. York will be joining a network of cities around the world that provide a temporary safe space and tailored support to human rights defenders (HRDs) at risk. CAHR has provided support to human rights defenders at risk since 2008 and will be the coordinating partner of the new Shelter City.

As a Shelter City network member, CAHR will continue its work with local partners within York and partners more widely within the UK to offer safe spaces to human rights defenders at risk. Human rights defenders are at the core of CAHR’s interdisciplinary research and teaching and it hosts the Human Rights Defender Hub, which brings together its HRD research and work with human rights practitioners in partner organisations.

For over a decade, CAHR has provided support to human rights defenders through temporary relocation and research opportunities. CAHR runs the Protective Fellowship Scheme for human rights defenders at risk, through which it has hosted 91 visiting HRDs from across the world. The city of York also became the first Human Rights City in the UK in 2017.

CAHR provides human rights defenders at risk with temporary relocation, tailor-made support, training, advocacy, networking and outreach opportunities with local and UK-based partners. Justice and Peace and CAHR will work closely together through exchanging information, referring cases and meeting regularly with other partners around the world involved in the initiative. CAHR is hoping to receive its first HRDs as a member of the Shelter City network in September 2021. 

Over the last few years, Justice and Peace Netherlands and CAHR have worked closely together on the creation of the Barcelona Guidelines for temporary relocation providers, on research into the wellbeing of HRDs and sharing expertise and knowledge. The MOU signing is an important development to this collaboration and to expanding the support for human rights defenders at risk from around the world in Europe. CAHR welcomes this development and is looking forward to deepening its collaboration in the protection of at-risk HRDs with Justice and Peace Netherlands as well as other Shelter City partners.

Sebastiaan van der Zwaan, Director of Justice and Peace Netherlands, said: "We at Justice and Peace Netherlands are very positive about welcoming York as a Shelter City, and we look forward to strengthening collaboration with CAHR and other partners in York over the coming years. We are also looking forward to learning from CAHR’s extensive expertise and research, which will contribute to improving the Shelter City programme. With more defenders in need of the support that Shelter City offers, this development marks a meaningful and necessary step to increasing and enhancing this support to defenders at risk."

Professor Paul Gready, Director of Centre for Applied Human Rights, said: "We are delighted to sign the MoU with Justice and Peace Netherlands. It both builds on a strong existing partnership and will provide opportunities to deepen collaboration, in areas like training and research, to support human rights defenders. Global networks such as Shelter City have never been more important, and we are proud to sign up to its values of solidarity and collaboration."

About Shelter City

Shelter City is a global movement that creates safe and inspiring spaces for human rights defenders at risk where they re-energise, receive tailor-made support and engage with allies in order to reinforce their local actions for change.

The initiative was founded by the human rights organisation Justice and Peace Netherlands in 2012, with The Hague as the first Shelter City. There are now 12 participating cities in the Netherlands, and in Batumi and Tbilisi, Georgia, San José, Costa Rica, Cotonou, Benin, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Each Shelter City is coordinated by local organisations, including NGOs, municipalities and other government institutions, universities, and together with local support staff and volunteers.