Media release

New Maytree paper looks at human rights cities and how local governments can advance economic and social rights

Published on 10/12/2020

In the Maytree paper, “Human rights cities: The power and potential of local government to advance economic and social rights,” published today, Bruce Porter, a Maytree fellow and Director of the Social Rights Advocacy Centre, and Nevena Dragicevic, Maytree’s lead on cities, argue for local governments to turn to human rights as they begin to “build back better” in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

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 are 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.”

With this new paper, Maytree begins a discussion on the role of Canadian cities as critical human rights actors. The paper notes that local governments have an obligation to fulfill economic and social rights, and explores the ways in which cities in Canada and in other jurisdictions are developing human rights-based approaches to address systemic challenges. It also raises 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 Maytree looks to build its understanding of what a human rights city in Canada should look like, it offers a few key points for cities of all sizes to consider to protect, promote, and fulfill human rights:

  • Recognize and adopt international human rights law at the local level;
  • Mainstream human rights in policy through, for example, rights-based audits of programs, plans, and budgets;
  • Prioritize the needs of marginalized communities and ensure their active engagement in decisions they are directly affected by; and
  • Develop strong accountability mechanisms, such as local human rights ombudspersons, commissions, or citizen juries.

Access the paper.