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Human Rights Cities



A striking development in human rights implementation over the past decades has been the rise of human rights cities. This contribution defines a human rights city as an urban entity or local government that explicitly bases its policies, or some of them, on human rights as laid down in international treaties, and thus distinguishes itself from other local authorities. It theorizes the background to this process and offers a typology of human rights cities. Some initiatives, for instance, are more top-down and others more bottom-up, and some cities emphasize a specific subset of rights, whilst others base their policies on human rights in general. The typology is followed by a brief discussion of the actual legal obligations that cities have in the field of human rights implementation. The main reasons for cities to engage with human rights are, however, more social and political than purely legal. This sociopolitical background is illustrated in referring to the city of Utrecht, in the Netherlands. Finally, the contribution offers some general conclusions on the potential and pitfalls of reference to international human rights in formulating urban policies.


  • Human rights
  • Refuge