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Background: Twenty years of human rights cities municipalism

Progressive public attention towards the role that local governments play in 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 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 rights”. Initiated in Barcelona in 1998, the Charter was finally adopted in Saint-Denis in 2000.

"The commitment which we undertake concerns all people of today. It does not claim to be exhaustive and the breadth of its application depends on how far the citizens make it their own. It is merely an outline response to the aspirations of those citizens, aspirations which arose in the cities. This Charter contains a set of points which will enable all citizens to access their rights, and local government, at the subsidiary level, to facilitate their delivery and to recognize and put an end to any violations of those rights"

European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City

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 in Gwangju (1998). Endeavored by civil society, local governments progressively engaged with its spirit and the document has already been embraced by Asian networks of human rights cities.

The link between human rights and 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 “social function of the city”. Mexico City promoted a Charter for the Right to the City to guarantee the full exercise of human rights. North-American cities also carried out efforts in this regard, as in the case of Montréal's Charter of Rights and Responsibilites.

"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 movement of human rights cities entered into a second phase. Gwangju pioneered the establishment of a human rights municipal system in South Korea (2009). In Latin America, Bogotá promoted a Development Plan based on the promotion of human rights and Mexico City approved a new constitution strongly influenced by the rights approach. All around Europe, cities such as BarcelonaMadridGraz or Utrecht established mechanisms to guarantee human rights and monitor their responsibilities under international human rights standards.

After 2011, our Committee promoted the Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City. 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 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 one of Gwangju and Nantes) have been instrumental for strengthening the global network of human rights cities. On the other, specific progress has been made in the last years in terms of recognition by the UN.