Human rights cities: The power and potential of local government to advance economic and social rights

Posted on December 10, 2020 in Governance Debates

Source: — Authors: – Publications
December 2020.   Bruce Porter & Nevena Dragicevic

In a new paper, Bruce Porter and Nevena Dragicevic argue for local governments to turn to human rights as they begin to “build back better” in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because of their proximity to the people they serve and their responsibilities in key areas such as housing, education, public health, and planning (among others), cities and municipalities are exceptionally well-positioned to champion human rights. In particular, the pandemic has highlighted the important role cities play in protecting economic and social rights, as local governments have been called upon to deliver safe accommodation for homeless persons and ensure local food banks are able to meet a surge in demand.

Ensuring economic and social rights are situated at the core of urban governance can help prevent and eliminate the inequities that have disenfranchised so many in the past, especially Indigenous and racialized communities and people living in poverty. Indeed, a growing number of local governments from across the world are turning to human rights to affirm a vision of more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable communities. Such places may be broadly categorized as “human rights cities.”

In this new paper, we begin a substantive discussion on the role of Canadian cities as critical human rights actors. We note that local governments have an obligation to fulfill economic and social rights, and explore the ways in which cities in Canada and in other jurisdictions are developing human rights-based approaches to address systemic challenges. We also raise important considerations with respect to intergovernmental cooperation and coordination, which is required to ensure rights-holders benefit from consistent protections, no matter where they reside.

As we look to build our understanding of what a human rights city in Canada should look like, we offer a few key points for cities and municipalities of all sizes to consider to protect, promote, and fulfill human rights:

Download the paper

About the authors:

Bruce Porter, a Maytree fellow, is the Director of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre and a founding and active member of ESCR-Net and the National Right to Housing Network. He has been a consultant with the Office of the High C ommissioner on Human Rights, co-directed a ten-year research project on social rights in Canada involving multiple universities and NGOs, published many articles and book chapters, and co-edited three books on economic and social rights.

Nevena Dragicevic leads Maytree’s work on cities, focusing on approaches that build more equitable, sustainable and prosperous communities for all. Her previous experience includes work with the social innovation foundation Nesta UK and the Ontario think-tank, Mowat Centre.

Human rights cities: The power and potential of local government to advance economic and social rights

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