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A typology of local governments’ engagement with human rights: Legal pluralist contributions to international law and human rights


Local governments around the world have been engaging with international law and policy at an exponential intensity, with prominent engagement in climate change, migration and more recently human rights. This engagement cannot be adequately understood within the terms and framework of positive international law alone. This contribution aims to map and create a grounded typology of local government engagement with human rights, encompassing both activities within their localities and outside - at national, international or transnational scales. The article introduces local governments’ engagement in the Formation of Human Rights, Implementation of Human Rights, Defence of Human Rights, Coordination of Human Rights, Dissemination of Human Rights and the Contestation of Human Rights as empirical ideal types that have emerged from data through grounded theory. Analysing this engagement from the perspectives of both positive international law as well as legal pluralism, with specific focus on the New Haven School of Law, the article argues that local governments are now at the core of a newly formed norm-generating community. Local governments engage with local and international actors and processes both within the rules of inclusion of contemporary international law-making - seeking to expand these norms to include local governments themselves - but they also contest and challenge the very rules of the game in the first place, and resort to creating ‘‘human rights in the city’’ as a body of norms parallel to international human rights law. Whether we accept a pluralist understanding of international law to include local governments and their human rights engagement, or whether we consider these developments to be outside international law, forming a parallel normative order in the legal pluralist sense, local government engagement with human rights has already succeeded in reaching and influencing many established international actors and has already infiltrated recent instruments of positive international law.


  • Human rights
  • Integration
  • Refuge