barcelona - a human rights city

Human Rights City Project

A Human Rights City is a place where local government, local parliament, civil society, private sector and other stakeholders ensure the application of international human rights standards.

 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.

A human rights city places the individual in the center, so that people are empowered to understand and claim their rights, as well as participate in decisions that affect them. Aware of the relevance of such approach, cities from all around the world have already begun taking steps into becoming human rights cities. Examples are York, in the United Kingdom, Eugene, in the United States, Jakarta, in Indonesia, Barcelona, in Spain, Rosario, in Argentina, Gwangju, in South Korea, and Lund, in Sweden.

Our work

RWI is committed to advancing the human rights city project both in Sweden and 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.


For more information about the project, please contact:

Martha F. Davis

Martha F. Davis

Affiliated Professor


Professor Martha F. Davis teaches at Northeastern University School of Law, where she is also a faculty director for the law school’s Program on Human Rights and the Global Economy and the NuLawLab, which she co-founded. She is an affiliated professor at RWI, where she works on issues relating to local human rights implementation.

Professor Davis has written widely on human rights, federalism, and women’s rights.  Her co-edited volume Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities (with Barbara Oomen and Michele Grigolo) was published by Cambridge University Press in 2016.  She co-edited the award-winning Bringing Human Rights Home, a three-volume work chronicling the U.S. human rights movement, co-authored (with Risa Kaufman and Johanna Kalb) the law school casebook Human Rights Advocacy in the United States, and authored the prize-winning book Brutal Need: Lawyers and the Welfare Rights Movement, 1960-1973.  Professor Davis’s articles have appeared in the Yale Law Journal, the Fordham Law Review, the University of North Carolina Law Review and many other law reviews and practitioner journals.

Professor Davis has testified numerous times before the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, and has appeared on national TV and radio.  She is a frequent blogger and op-ed author on issues relating to economic and social rights and women’s rights, and she co-edits the Law Profs Blog, Human Rights at Home.  An experienced litigator, she argued Nguyen v. INS before the U.S. Supreme Court and served as co-counsel in five other Supreme Court cases.  Prior to joining Northeastern, she was the Vice President and Legal Director of the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Ongoing projects

Human Rights Cities Project

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