Human Rights Cities: Committed to Addressing Human Rights

A human rights city is a place where local government, local parliament, civil society, the private sector, and other stakeholders are committed to making sure that the city applies international human rights standards. In 2020, RWI co-organized the World Human Rights Cities Forum, a platform where local government, CSOs and other stakeholders from all over the world exchange experiences.

Life is in the Cities

It is in cities and local communities that life happens. It is at the local level where social, political and economic issues come into being, where policies are translated into concrete actions, and where rights are vindicate.

A human right city is where institutions will promote, fulfill and protect human rights standards at the local level. In practice this means – among other things – that the city should make sure that its citizens are empowered to understand and claim their rights.

They, especially those marginalised and socially vulnerable, should also fully be able to take part in decision-making and implementation on decisions that have a great impact on their life.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
Eleonore Roosevelt, 1958

A Human Rights City puts the individual at the centre. Human Rights Cities are a mean to create better policies.

“A Human Rights City is the best way to implement and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals” ;
says Senior Researcher Alejandro Fuentes. “An SDG is a guide and a direction for the future. In this case,
we mainly relate to Goal #11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, resilient and sustainable.

“The Raoul Wallenberg Institute decided to be part of this process six years ago and is actively working with the human rights city concept; for and together with cities.”
Morten Kjaerum, Director of RWI

World Human Rights Cities Forum
(WHRCF) 2020

As a part of the work that RWI does in relation human rights cities, the Institute co-organised the
World Human Rights Cities Forum 2020 in collaboration with United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), the city of Gwangju, UNESCO and OHCHR.

The conference is the main global forum for local governments to exchange experiences of working with human rights locally. Since its inception in 2011, the forum is annually hosted by the city of Gwangju – a human rights city.

“It is a platform where cities, international organisations experts, human rights organisations, activists and other stakeholders in the field of human rights connect, share knowledge and network”, says Morten Kjaerum, who was both organiser and speaker at the conference. RWI co-organised and participated in multiple sessions during the 2020 forum.

One such session was the panel The role of cities in combatting corruption and strengthening human rights, coorganised with the Embassy of Sweden, Seoul. Corruption is a significant impediment both for the realisation of human rights and for the wider sustainable development agenda. The session highlighted the human rights based approach to anticorruption – an approach that is victim-oriented and helps make corruption a public issue, as well as allowing for different methods of litigation and monitoring. Local Government officials presented their concrete measures and practical strategies for
combatting corruption within their cities.

The Institute also participated in the Human Rights Paper Presentation where new research was presented, and held a Blended Learning Course on Local Governments and Human Rights-session. The latter was part of a six month project where local government in the Asia Pacific Region developed human rights projects and strategies to implement in their cities.

A Global City Network: A Key Future Factor

The opening panel was co-hosted by OHCHR and RWI. Human Rights Cities: Addressing Social Unrest and Learning from the Historical Past, suggested that the future of the cities is likely to present increased frustration and unrest, due to the climate crisis and the pandemic.

It was stated that local governments need to be prepared to address these matters proactively and inclusively, based on human rights and democracy.

The speakers unanimously agreed that a growing city network and movement of human rights cities are hopeful forces for the future. The speakers underligned the importance of the strong connection between local governments and citizens and hence called for a deepened dialogue between duty-bearers and rights-holders. Local governments play a crucial role in protecting and making human rights a concrete reality.

“We need to persist in defending democracy and human rights by making ‘the city’ flourish as a lever for development and economic progress […] which will help promote a narrative and understanding of inclusion, human rights and democracy.”
Fadhel Moussa, Mayor of Aryanah,Tunisia.

Read more

Human Rights Cities Indicators (publi)

Human Rights Cities and the SDGs

Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities

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