What is a Human Rights City?

Human Rights Cities are cities where local government, local parliament, civil society, private sector and other stakeholders are committed to ensuring the use and application of international human rights standards.  The concept has existed for decades, and generally means that local governments have adopted the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as guiding norms of governance.  

While there is not yet a single definition, the Gwangju Guiding Principles on Human rights cities offers a more concrete insight of what constitutes a Human Rights City.  A human rights city places the individual in the center.

This means that people are empowered to understand and claim their rights, as well as participate in decisions that affect them. All inhabitants, especially those marginalized and socially vulnerable, are fully able to take part in decision-making and policyimplementation processes that affect them, in accordance with human rights principles. 

Cities from all around the world have already begun taking steps into becoming human rights cities. Examples are York, United Kingdom; Eugene, United States; Jakarta, Indonesia; Barcelona, Spain; Rosario, Argentina; Gwangju, South Korea; and Lund, Sweden. 

Why do we need Human Rights Cities?

It is in the cities and local communities that life happens. Be it in an urban or rural area, 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 vindicated. 

Today’s world is witnessing an ever growing emphasis on the relevance of cities accompanied by the understanding that they are in a strategic position to address both local and global issues. Inclusion, sustainability, gender equality, environment, accessibility, good governance, delivery of public services, human rights – the local level is the meeting point for all these issues.

Human rights cities harness the strategic position of the local level to address such issues. It is the means to design better policies and empower individuals by guaranteeing that international human rights standards are translated to the local level. 

In the lecture below, Director Morten Kjaerum explains the concept more in-depth.


Human Rights Cities and the SDGs


To learn more about Human Rights Cities see our publications: 

Human rights cities and the SDG’s 
Human Right Cities and Regions
Global Urban Justice and The Rise of Human Rights Cities 

On the topic of Human Rights Cities, see also:

The World Human Rights City Forum
Gwangju Guiding Principles on Human rights cities.
Gwangju Declaration on the Human Rights City
UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights – Human Rights Cities

Podcast:The Rise of Human Rights Cities Is a Promising Development – with Barbara Oomen, Dean of University College, Roosevelt and Professor of Law at Utrecht University 

LectureHow are public spaces and human rights connected? – With Maria Andrea Nardi, Affiliated Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute.

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