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Human Rights Cities: local governments promoting and defending human rights in the city

Worldwide local governments gather in the framework of our Committee in order to share points of view and experiences on their commitment to become human rights cities. For some, this notion mainly refers to policies of non-discrimination and rights equality, while others focus may be on promoting historical memory and education as a way to build a robust local democracy or to explore topics such as migrations, housing or culture through specific human rights lens. Despite these differences, they all tend to share several basic features, which is their commitment to put human rights principles at the core of local governance by establishing strong cooperation mechanisms with local civil society and citizens. At the global level, acting as a network, they have not only been able strengthen their own policymaking capacities, but also to become a global stakeholder in the defence of human rights.

Our Committee has supported the worldwide human rights cities movement throughout more than a decade, by providing a space where to exchange practices and learn from each other, as well as to articulate shared messages and defend a common political agenda. Thanks to the support of its member-local governments, the Committee has promoted the following projects related to human rights cities.

Charters for Human Rights in the City

The Committee promotes the adoption, implementation and monitoring of two different charters for human rights in the city: the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City and the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City. Both documents spring from different historical and political processes, yet share a similar reasoning: offering concrete guidelines for local governments interested in promoting and protecting human rights in the city.

[Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City]

[European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City]

 

International advocacy

On the basis of the commitment of its member local governments, the Committee has become an advocacy platform for human rights cities at the international level. The main goal in the process has been to advance the recognition of local governments as key actors in the promotion and the protection of human rights. Advocacy efforts in this regard have focused in the process opened by the United Nations Human Rights Council after the report “Role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights” (2015).

[Advocacy: Local governments are key for the promotion and the protection of human rights]

 

International meetings and forums of Human Rights Cities

The Committee supports local governments willing to provide a space exchange between worldwide human rights cities, be it in small formats (policy exchange or debate meetings) or larger ones (as an international forum). These seminars offer the possibility to value initiatives undertook by a city, and to establish global conversations with like-minded local authorities. In the last years, the Committee has facilitated various meetings of human rights cities and has been involved in the organization of the World Human Rights Cities Forum of Gwangju.

[International meetings and seminars of Human Rights Cities]

[World Human Rights Cities Forum of Gwangju]

 

Human Rights Monitoring Programme

Local governments are able to assess the situation of human rights in their city through a monitoring programme offered by the Committee: our Technical Secretariat facilitates the establishment of an international team of experts working with concrete indicators and a methodology able to assess the situation of human rights in a given local context. A pilot initiative was launched in Bogotá in 2016, resulting in the publication of “The Rights approach through the Bogotá Humana development plan: Towards a new construction of the public sphere”.

[Human rights monitoring programme]

 

Progressive recognition and public attention towards the role that local governments play in the protection and the promotion of human rights emerged throughout the nineties after the first wave of human rights cities. A landmark event in this regard was the drafting process and further adoption of the European Charter for Safeguarding Human Rights in the City, which showcased the commitment of European municipalities towards human rights and called for “a stronger political acknowledgement as key actors in safeguarding human”. Initiated in Barcelona in 1998, the Charter was finally adopted in Saint-Denis in 2000, and has been signed so far by almost 400 hundred European municipalities.

The movement of human rights cities took ground in Asia by the same time, as civil society organizations were about to launch the Asia Human Rights Charter (1998). Initially endeavored by grassroots movements, Asian local governments progressively engaged with its spirit and the document has already been embraced by Asian networks of human rights cities. Both charters would come to highlight the increasing role of local actors in promoting human rights as a way to reinforce local democracy and the place of human rights in the city in an increasingly urbanized world.

The progressive “localization” of human rights and its concrete link with notions such as the right to the city would take special ground in Latin America. Back in 2001, Brazil’s “City Statue” pioneered a renewed framework for guaranteeing the democratic management of cities and the fulfilment of the “social function of the city”. Mexico City promoted a Charter for the Right to the City to guarantee the full exercise of human rights in the city. North-American cities also carried out effort in this sense: that is the case of Eugene, Montréal and its Charter of Rights and Responsibilites (2006) or San Francisco, which has been implementing a human rights-based gender strategy since 1998.

"The Montréal Charter is rooted in the values of human dignity, justice, peace, equality, transparency and democracy. These values are shared by Montrealers and constitute the underpinning of those fundamental human rights (...) The Charter uses an innovative approach to establish the principles of both rights and responsibilities. It is for all intents and purposes a social contract that calls for the concrete commitment of Montréal"

Montréal Charter of Rights and Responsibilities

From 2010’ onwards, the human rights cities movement benefited from a renewed impetus. The city of Gwangju pioneered the establishment of a municipal system to protect human rights in South Korea (2009). In Latin America, Bogotá promoted an Economic, Social, Environment and Public Works Development Plan (Bogotá Humana) based on the defense and the promotion of human rights and Mexico City approved a new constitution strongly influenced by the rights based approach. All around Europe, cities such as BarcelonaGraz or Utrecht established mechanisms to guarantee human rights and monitor their responsibilities under the light of international human rights standards.

After 2011, a Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City would be promoted in the framework of the UCLG Committee on Social Inclusion, Participatory Democracy and Human Rights. Approved by the UCLG World Council of Florence, this Charter was the result of a five-year process which involved local officials, human rights experts and civil society representatives. In perspective, the Charter represented a great advance for the human rights cities movement, as it was the first global document to provide a concrete action plan for supporting local governments in their promotion and defence of human rights in the city.  

"The Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City aims to promote and strengthen the human rights of all inhabitants of all cities in the world. All Charter-Agenda provisions apply to all inhabitants, individually and collectively, without discrimination. For purposes of this Charter, all inhabitants are citizens without distinction"

Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City

In parallel to these advances, international solidarity and collective action between human rights cities not only led to a deepening of policy exchange, but also for the United Nations to increasingly recognize the role of local governments in the promotion and the protection of human rights. On one hand, successive World Human Rights Cities Forums (such as the ones of Gwangju and Nantes) have been instrumental for strengthening the global network of human rights cities. On the other, the Human Rights Council report on “The role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights” (2015) showed a great advance in terms of international recognition.