As a member of the Mensenrechtencoalitie Utrecht, the Human Rights Coalition loosely supported by Utrecht municipality, I have been to and been inspired by two Human Rights Cafes/ Mensenrechtencafes organized by this coalition. I research the utopias and promises of human rights, supervise research on rights and social dreaming as enunciated in art and literature, and we have in our section at the university very successfully created courses about human rights and literature, as well as about social dreaming or utopia and literature.
On 8 December, the rights cafe, at the wonderful venue Het Huis Utrecht, open as a space to makers, freelancers, city-dwellers, was about Utrecht as a Human Rights city after the municipal elections too. 10 December is World Human Rights Day. Colleagues at the MR Coalitie took the feedback of many, including mine, for the new manifesto of the Human Rights Coalition, which we encourage concerned Utrechters to support. A number of speakers that evening addressed a large audience and several candidates for municipal elections. We heard about accessibility issues for the disabled, and how new buildings and complexes are not mindful enough about adhering to accessibility norms; we learnt also that objections may be raised with the municipality by citizens about such non-compliance. A spokesperson from a foundation working with people from disadvantaged migration backgrounds brought up truly disturbing issues such as why non-western migrants still get discriminated against on the job market in the Netherlands (see e.g. an account of recent university research on this subject: https://www.volkskrant.nl/binnenland/als-je-solliciteert-kun-je-nog-beter-een-strafblad-hebben-dan-een-buitenlandse-achternaam~a4504594/ ), but also of matters such as parents’ choice of ‘white schools’ or ‘black schools’, whether mixing up different groups of children in pre-school daycare would help. A Dutch social designer of Iranian origin and the director of Het Huis Utrecht spoke of the need to leverage talent and diversity, with examples of what can be done, but also of patterns of stereotyping that one needs to clean out of one’s head space. One of the points I made from the audience is that we need to get involved ourselves and involve others from many different migratory backgrounds, including the Kennismigrant or Highly Skilled Migrant category, in civic initiatives and civic conversations: there is then an even bigger pool of talent, voice, and expertise to speak about real achievements and continuing discriminations, and the ways to solutions.
A Nicaraguan activist for the land rights of indigenous peoples, now in Utrecht for a few months under the umbrella of Utrecht as Shelter City, spoke of the way in which legislation is endangering the rights of local communities in Nicaragua more and more, with less and less possibilities of environmentally-sensitive development; she also spoke of how vital it is for activists such as her that Utrecht remain a Shelter City.
Bright O. Richards, who came from Liberia to the Netherlands as refugee, and is now an acclaimed theatre-director, presented us with a very first draft of his show, The Bright Side of Life, about the lives of asylum-seekers, refugees, newcomers in the Netherlands. Here, he interacted with the audience throughout in a way that kept the show a two-way street; there were also guest dancers and singers, including haunting songs from a Congolese-Dutch singer and superb, energizing dabke by Palestinians in which everyone joined in at the end. The food, also made by a local organization, was delicious. The claims , promises, and hard work to realise human rights in the city today pulsed through the evening.