What is a Human Rights City?
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.
The concept has existed for decades, but is still to be considered a rather new one. Generally, it means that local governments have adopted the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as guiding norms of governance - and that they are committed to following these when governing the city.
"A human rights city is an institutional and normative setup, where the human is at the center of the creation and the evolution of a city. A human right city is where institutions are constructed in a way that they will promote, fullfil and protect human rights. Not only are local norms in line with national and international standards, but the city seriously takes into consideration the needs and aspirations of its citizens." - Senior Researcher Alejandro Fuentes.
While there is not yet a single definition, the Gwangju Guiding Principles on Human rights cities offers a more concrete insight of what a Human Rights City really is.
Putting the Individual at the Center
A human rights city places the individual in the center.
This means that the city should help its citizens understand and claim their rights, as well as participate in decisions that affect them. All inhabitants, especially those marginalized and socially vulnerable, are invited to and able to take part in decision-making and processes for implementation of policies that affect them, in line 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 (August 2018). The first city ever to become a human rights city was Rosario in Argentina. Recently, Piteå in Sweden, was proclaimed a human rights city.
Why 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 social, political and economic issues come into being, where policies are translated into concrete actions, and where rights are vindicated.
It is in the cities that people meet, interact with and handle one another. It is the city, in the neigbourhoods that the human rights matter.
To quote Eleonor Roosevelt:
“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 neighbourhood 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”.
Creating Spaces for Citizens
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 practice, this means among other things, to create spaces for and to facilitate the citizens right to participate and consult - through inclusive processes - in important decisions affecting themselves.
Human Rights Cities Ambitions and the Sustainable Development Goals are Interlinked
A Human Rights City is the best way to implement and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals . An SDG is a guide and a direction for the future. In this case, we are mainly relating to Goal #11: Make cities and human settlements inclusive, resilient and sustainable. - Senior Researcher Alejandro Fuentes
Why cities want to become human rights cities
There are several reasons to become a human rights city. The main ones are to:
- Locally fight authoritarianism and populism
- Do better for ones citizens; to become a more human-centered and oriented city
- Counter-weight new public management; .i.e. to make sure to consider various perspectives before making important local decisions affecting citizens
- Strengthen the city brand; become the most attractive option among local cities
Video: What is Human Rights City?
In this video, RWI Director Morten Kjaerum explains what a Human Rights City is. You will also get acquainted with Alejandro Fuentes, Senior Researcher as well as Sabastian Singh. This video answers questions such as: What are human rights cities? How did they come about? How do you become a human rights city?
Relevant frameworks for human rights cities
- The European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City
- Global Charter agenda for Human Rights in the city
- Gwanju Guiding Principles on Human Rights cities
- Swedish Platform for policy and operational development of human rights at the local and regional level
Read more; A short history 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
How We Can Help
At RWI, we are committed to advancing the human rights city project in Sweden and as well as worldwide. We combine research with practice to provide academic expertise to the needs and priorities of practitioners, as well as to inform our research based on lessons learned.
Such knowledge exchanges have already resulted in a publication on the Swedish and international perspectives on human rights cities and regions, as well as a platform that lays out criteria for how to develop and perform as a human rights city in Sweden, which we developed together with the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions.
As of now, the city of Lund, where the RWI headquarters is situated, is Sweden’s first Human Rights City.
Among other things, we help make pre-studies, carry out trainings and in other ways help build capacity in cities, to help cities move towards becoming human rights cities.
Become a human rights city
Would you like to learn more about what it takes to become a Human Rights City?
Meet our Experts
In Human Rights Cities
Alejandro Fuentes is a Senior Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law. He received his PhD (in International Law) and LL.M (in Comparative and European Legal Studies) from Trento University (It.), and Law degree from the University of Córdoba (Arg.).
He is a regular lecturer at the Master’s Programme in International Human Rights Law at the Faculty of Law, Lund University, where he directs the course on Human Rights and Cultural Diversity, teaches International Human Rights Law I and II, and supervises master theses.
His research focuses on international human rights law, in particular on international and regional systems of human rights protection, cultural diversity and identity, groups, minority and indigenous people rights, and human rights education. He has authored a book on Cultural diversity and indigenous peoples’ land claims: argumentative dynamics and jurisprudential approach in the Americas (Trento University, 2012).
He is a regular peer-reviewer of international scientific journals, including the Journal on Minority and Groups Rights and the Nordic Journal of International law, Brill Nijhoff, Leiden/Boston.
Alejandro Fuentes also has extensive experience in developing and implementing international programmes aimed to strengthen institutional capacities of judicial authorities and academic institutions in different regions in the world, especially in the field of human rights applied research and human rights education (HRE). He is currently closely collaborating with institutional partners in South-East Asia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Belarus, and with different European academic institutions.
Dr. Fuentes started his career in the Judicial Power of the Province of Córdoba (Arg.), where he worked for seven years as a judge’s assistance.
Follow Alejandro Fuentes on Twitter: @A__Fuentes
Keywords: Cultural Diversity; Pluralism; Inclusion; Equality and non-discrimination; Minority Rights; Indigenous Peoples; Human Rights Systems; Judicial Interpretation; Human Rights Education.
Select articles & papers
Fuentes, A.; Vannelli, M. “Human Rights of Children in the Context of Migration Processes. Innovative Efforts for Integrating Regional Human Rights Standards in the Americas” Laws 2019, 8, 31.
Fuentes A., “Judicial Interpretation and Indigenous Peoples’ Rights to Lands, Participation and Consultation. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights approach”, International Journal on Minority and Group Rights 23 (2016), 39-79.
Fuentes A., “Exploitation of natural resources and protection of communal property over indigenous peoples’ traditional lands and territories. Jurisprudential approaches.” Conference paper presented at the 5th AsianSIL Biennial Conference 2015 (Bangkok, Thailand). Available upon request.
Fuentes A., “Culture Diversity, Indigenous People and traditional lands claims under the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights”, research paper presented at the 2010 Annual Meeting of the Law and Society Association – LSA (Chicago – US), 2010, pp. 36. Available upon request.
Fuentes A., “Culture Diversity and Indigenous People within the Inter-American Human Rights System”. Research paper presented at the Advance Course on the International Protection of Human Rights, organized by the Institute for Human Rights at Åbo Akademi University (Turku/Åbo – Finland), 2009, pp. 27. Available upon request.
Fuentes A., “Human Dignity and the Italian Constitutional Adjudication”, Trento University, Co.Co.A. Paper Series, 2006
Select popular dissemination:
Fuentes A., “Rights to Lands, Participation and Consultation of Indigenous Peoples. A summary of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights’ Judicial Interpretation”, RWI Research Papers (2016).
“Changing Interpretations to Accommodate Indigenous Peoples’ Cultural Differences”, RWI Dissemination/Speeches Series (2016)
“The Colorblind Society: An Obstacle to Fight Racism?” RWI Dissemination Series (2016)
“Combating Terrorism While Enhancing Fundamental Values: Finding the Balance”, RWI Dissemination/Speeches Series (2015).
Fuentes A.,”Letteratura e diritto: percorso esplorativo da Jean Valjean a Primo Levi” (Literature and Law: explorative journey from Jean Valjean to Primo Levi), Trento University (2006)
Ongoing research projects
This research project explores the recognition of the right to traditional lands and natural resources by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and their interrelation with Indigenous Peoples’ rights to cultural identity and dignified life.
This project analyses the rights to Participation and Consultation of Indigenous Peoples in all of those matters that could directly affect their rights and interests. Special consideration is given to the requirement of Prior, Free and Informed Consent (FPIC) in the light of international and regional human rights jurisprudence.
This project theoretically examines the contribution of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (UNDHRET) to human rights education programmes and modules. In particular, it focuses on education at university level about, through and for human rights and the role of university teachers as human rights educators.
This research project explores new thinking and theoretical approaches for dealing with the prevention of radicalization in a culturally diverse Europe, by means of interpreting the human rights framework from an inclusive perspective.
Anna Bruce has an LL.M in law, an LL.M in human rights law and a Ph.D. in human rights law from the Faculty of Law at Lund University. The focus of her work is equality and non-discrimination, particularly in relation to disability, gender, migration and intersectionality.
At RWI Anna develops and supports activities in equality and non-discrimination, disability human rights and gender human rights.
Her current research focuses the added value the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) can bring to the rights of forced migrants, the relevance for and application of the understanding of disability in CRPD in the Global South, the consequences of emerging technologies of human enhancement for human rights in general and equality in particular, and the practical consequences of the framework of intersectionality for human rights implementation and adjudication.
Anna teaches at the Ph.D. program at Human Rights Studies at the Department of History and on the Master Program at the Law Faculty.
Before joining RWI Anna has worked as a researcher and lecturer at the Faculty of Law and the Faculty of History at Lund University, at the Department for Global Political Studies at Malmö University and at the Centre for Disability Law and Policy at National University of Ireland, Galway. Alongside her academic work she has worked with civil society, public authorities as well as international actors such as OHCHR. She participated in the negotiations on CRPD as a consultant for the Swedish Disability Ombudsman. She is currently appointed as an expert advisor to the government investigation on disability policy and universal design.
- Procedural rights of the asylum-seeking child with intellectual and/or psychosocial disabilities according to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (Summary report, 2015)
- Which Entitlements and for Whom? The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Ideological Antecedents, MediaTryck, Lund, 2014.
- Jämlikhet och Icke-diskriminering, in Introduktion till Mänskliga Rättigheter, Anna Lundberg (Ed.), Liber, Stockholm, 2010.
- Negotiating the Monitoring Mechanism for the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: Two Steps Forward One Step Back, in International Human Rights Monitoring Mechanisms: Essay in Hounour of Jakob Th. Möller, 2nd revised ed., G. Alfredsson et al (Eds.), Brill, Leiden, 2009.
- Behövs en FN-konvention om funktionshinder och mänskliga rättigheter?, in Göran Gunner och Anders Mellbourn, (Eds.), Mänskliga rättigheter och samhällets skyldigheter. En antologi från MR-dagarna 2004, Ordfront, Stockholm, 2005.
- Towards Free and Inclusive Societies for People with Disabilities, Gerard Quinn and Anna Bruce, in Disability and Social Policy in Ireland, Suzanne Quin & Bairbre Redmond (Eds.), UCD Press, Dublin, 2003.
- Human Rights and Disability: The Current Use and Future Potential of United Nations Human Rights Instruments in the Context of Disability, Gerard Quinn, Teresia Degener with Anna Bruce et al., United Nations, New York, 2002.
Helena has a Master Degree in Political Science with focus on Human Rights, Peace and Democracy from Lund University. She has worked with development, human rights and in the humanitarian field since 2001, for Swedish Embassies/Sida and UNHCR in Central and South America; at Sida Headquarters Humanitarian Team in Stockholm; and subsequently with academic institutions and NHRIs in Sub-Saharan Africa; Middle East and North Africa; and South/Southeast Asia since she joined the Institute in 2010.
Morten Kjaerum has been Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Sweden since 2015. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary professorship at the University of Aalborg, Denmark. Mr Kjaerum was the first Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) in Vienna, Austria from 2008 to 2015 and he was Director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights (DIHR) from 1991 to 2008 and developed it within 17 years from a small organisation to a large internationally recognized institution. He started his career in the non-governmental sector at the Danish Refugee Council.
Appointed by the UN Secretary General, Mr. Kjaerum is Chairperson of the UN Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation (VFTC) in the Field of Human Rights and of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Trust Fund for Financial and Technical Assistance. He is currently also Chair of The Board of the European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE).
Mr. Kjaerum was the Chairperson of the Network of Directors of EU Agencies 2014-15. He was a member (2002-2008) of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). From 2004-08, he was chair of the International Coordinating Committee for National Human Rights Institutions.
Mr Kjaerum has written extensively on various human rights issues.
Human Rights: Early Days or Endtimes?, (Ikke kun retsfilosofi, Eds. Nis Jul Clausen, Jørgen Dalberg-Larsen og Hans Viggo Godsk Pedersen, Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag, 2016.
The Fundamental Rights Agency and Civil Society: Reminding the gardeners of their plants’ roots.
Co-author with Gabriel Toggenburg, European Diversity and Autonomy Papers, EDAP 2012/2
NHRIs in the European Union: Status Quo Vadis?
Co-author with Jonas Grimheden,
(Making People Heard, Ed. Asbjørn eide, Th. Møller & Ineta Ziemele, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2011)
Combating Racial and Related Discrimination,
(International protection of Human Rights: A textbook, Ed. Catarina Krause & Martin Scheinin, Åbo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights, 2009 – updated 2012.)
DJØF’er i det lokale og globale – en udfordring for demokratiet,
(Udsyn og fremsyn – en jubilæumsbog om DJØFERNE, JØF, 2009)
Racial Discrimination Convention and Monitoring,
(Encyclopedia of Human Rights, Ed. David P. Forsythe, Oxford University Press, 2009)
National Human Rights Institutions: A Partner in Implementation
(The First 365 days of the United Nations Human Rights Council, The UN 2007)
Diverse artikler til den Store Danske Encyclopædi
(Den store Danske Encyclopædi, 2006)
Schutz und Förderung der Menschenrechte durch nationale Menschenrectsinstitutionen: Eine lokale Verplichtung mit globaler Bedeutung,
(Jahrbuch Menschenrechte, 2006)
The UN reform Process in an Implementation Perspective
(Human Rights in Turmoil, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2006)
Article 4 – Prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, 2006
Article 5 – Prohibition of slavery and forced labour, 2006
(Commentary of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, EU Network of Independent Experts on Fundamental Rights, 2006)
The Protection Role of the Danish Human Rights Commission
(The Protection Role of National Human Rights Institutions. Ed. Bertrand G. Ramcharan. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2005)
Human Rights for Immigrants and Immigrants for Human Rights
(International Migration and Security, Opportunities and Challenges. Ed. Elsbeth Guild and Joanne van Selm. Routledge, 2005.
Reservations to Human Rights Treaties and the Vienna Convention Regime. Conflict, Harmony or Reconciliation
(The Raoul Wallenberg Institute Human Rights Library. Ed. Ineta Ziemele. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2004).
National Human Rights Institutions Implementing Human Rights
(Human Rights and Criminal Justice for the Downtrodden. Essays in Honour of Asbjørn Eide, ed. Morten Bergsmo, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2003)
Human Rights Organisations and the Formation of Refugees Regimes
(Global Changes in Asylum Regimes. Closing Doors. Ed. Daniéle Joly, Palgrave MacMillan, 2002)
Who is Supervising Human Rights?
(Menneskerettens udfordring – ideologi eller videnskab? Ed. Kirsten Hastrup, Akademisk Forlag, 2002. (In Danish.)).
Refugee Protection Between State Interests and Human Rights: Where is Europe Heading?
(Human Rights Quarterly, May, 2002).
Refugees: The Parakeets of Human Rights Standing
(Discrimination and Toleration, ed. K. Hastrup and G. Ulrich, Kluwer Law International. 2002).
Human Rights, State Security and Burden-Sharing: People or States First?
(Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 14, No. 2, June 2001, Oxford University Press).
Universal Human Rights: Between the Local and the Global
(Human Rights on Common Grounds: The Quest for Universality, ed. K. Hastrup, Kluwer Law International, 2001).
New Trends in the Prohibition of Torture at International Level
(Global Law Review, official Chinese law review, Vol. 23, Autumn 2001. (With Lisbeth Ilkjaer)).
Human Rights and Cosmopolitism
(Politologiske Studier, University of Copenhagen, Vol. 4, No. 2., May 2001. (In Danish)).
Non-custodial Measures and Alternatives to Detention
(EU-China Human Rights Dialogue, ed. Manfred Nowak and Xin Chunying. Verlag Österreich, 2000).
Refugee Law and Human Rights: the Non-refoulement Article in the Convention against Torture
(EU-ret & menneskeret, Vol 6, No. 2. Copenhagen: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag, 1999. (In Danish)).
(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: A Common Standard of Achievement, ed. Gudmundur Alfredsson and Asbjørn Eide. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1999).
Human Rights and Administration of Justice
(Beijing/Copenhagen: China Legal System Publishing House, 1999. (With Liu Hainian and Lin Li)).
Judicial Reform and Human Rights in Changing Societies
(Copenhagen: The Danish Centre for Human Rights, 1998).
Racial Discrimination and Other Forms of Discrimination
(Social kritik, No. 55. Copenhagen: Selskabet til fremme af social debat, 1998. (In Danish)).
Human Rights in the New Europe and a Globalised World
(Grundloven og menneskerettigheder i et dansk og europæisk perspektiv, 1997. (In Danish)).
Human Rights Implications of the Development of the Concept of Temporary Asylum in the Nordic Countries
(Nordic Journal of International Law, No. 64, 1995).
Refugees between Human Rights and Humanitarian Law
(Udlændingeret, ed. Morten Kjaerum and others. Copenhagen: Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag 1995. (In Danish)).
Civil Society and Conflict Prevention
(Den Ny Verden, Vol. 28, No. 2, 1995. Copenhagen: Centre for Research Development, 1995. (In Danish)).
Temporary Protection in Europe in the 1990s
(International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1994. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994).
The Contribution of Voluntary Organizations to the Development of Democratic Governance
(NGOs and Refugees: Reflections at the turn of the Century. Copenhagen: SOCPOL, 1993).
The Concept of Country of First Asylum
(International journal of refugee law, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1992. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993).
(The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – A Commentary. Scandinavian University Press, 1992).
Refugees and their Role in the European House
(International Journal of Refugee Law, Special Issue: 1990).
Visa Policies and Carrier Sanctions
(Asyl i Norden, ed. Morten Kjaerum and others. Copenhagen: 1990. (In Danish)).
The Procedure for Manifestly Unfounded Asylum Applications – the Danish Immigration Law §53a
(Juristen. Copenhagen: 1986. (In Danish)).
The Bottom Line of Decency
(Biskop for Herren og så mange andre. Festkrift til Kjeld Holms 60-års dag. Forlaget ANIS. 2005 (In Danish)).
National Human Rights Institutions: Overlap or supplement
(Festskrift til Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen. Jurist og Økonomforbundets Forlag. 2005 (In Danish)).
The Multiplicity of the Human Being
(Danmark på afveje. Kritik af den herskende orden. Ed. Stig Dalager og Per Schulz Jørgensen. Socialpolitisk Forlag, 2004 (In Danish)).
Dialogue with Authoritarian States
(Udenrigs, No. 2., 2004 (With Tina Johannesen) (In Danish)).
Human Rights and the European Charter
På vej mod Europas forfatning, ed. Charlotte Antonsen og Peter Norsk. Peter la Cours Forlag, 2003 (In Danish)).
Human Rights – A Living Reality
Verden i forandring IV – Temaartikler om menneskerettigheder. Ed. Henning Nielsen, Jesper Gronenberg and Tomas Bech Madsen. Odense Universitetsforlag, 2001. (In Danish)).
The EU-Charter on Fundamental Rights: Nice Words or Increased Protection?
(Udenrigs, No. 1, 2001. (In Danish)).
The Big Brother Society
(Lov & Ret; Vol. 8, No. 4, 1998. Copenhagen: Advokatrådet, 1998. (In Danish)).
The Fight Against Discrimination and Ensuring Equality
(Amsterdamtraktaten og menneskerettighederne. Ed. Eva Ersbøll and others. Copenhagen: The Danish Centre for Human Rights, 1998. (In Danish)).
Temporary Human Rights
(EXIL, Vol. 4, No. 2, 1995. The Danish Refugee Council, the Danish Centre for Human Rights, Department for Minority Studies, University of Copenhagen. Copenhagen: 1995. (In Danish)).
Global Responsibility and Global Solution: Asylum Policy
(Europa perspektiv 93: status og perspektiver for samarbejde i Europa, ed. Morten Espelund og Carl Thaarup Hansen. Copenhagen: Handelshøjskolens forlag, 1993. (In Danish)).
The Contributions of Voluntary Organisations to the Development of Democratic Governance
(The Role of Voluntary Organisations in Emerging Democracies: Experience and Strategies in Eastern and Central Europe and in South Africa, ed. Ann McKinstry Micou and Birgit Lindsnæs. Copenhagen: The Danish Centre for Human Rights, 1993).
Human Rights in Denmark
(Mennesker og rettigheter, Vol. 11, No. 1, 1993. Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1993. (In Danish)).
Minorities on the International Agenda: International Discourse on Minority Issues
(Geografisk Orientering, No. 1, 1993. Brenderup: Geografforbundet, 1993. (With Lene Johannesen) (In Danish)).
Human Rights: the Flight to Europe
(Social kritik, No. 22/23, Nov.1992. Copenhagen: Selskabet til fremme af social debat, 1992. (With Christian Horst). (In Danish)).
The Evolving Role of UNHCR in the Broader UN perspective
(Problems and Prospects of Refugee Law, ed. Vera Gowlland and Klaus Samson. Geneva: The Graduate Institute of International Studies, 1992.
Myth and Reality in the Refugee Debate
(Mennesker & rettigheder, No. 1, 1991. Oslo: 1991. (With Arne Piel Christensen). (In Danish)).
Minorities on the International Agenda
(International Horisont, No. 4, 1991. Copenhagen: 1991. (With Lene Johannesen) (In Danish)).
The Role of Airline Companies in the Asylum Procedure
(Ed. Morten Kjaerum. Copenhagen: The Danish Refugee Council, 1988).