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Putting cities at the heart of International Human Rights Day

Published on 10/12/2020

On this day, seventy-two years ago, on December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We now mark this date each year as International Human Rights Day.

While 2020 has been unlike any other year in living memory, the principles outlined in the Declaration remain as relevant today as they have been for the past seven decades. The theme of this year’s International Human Rights Day is “Recover Better: Stand up for Human Rights” – specifically by promoting and protecting economic, social, and cultural rights.

In Canada, we often see the lack of protections for human rights and human rights violations as problems for other countries, not for “us.” Largely, this is because we tend to pay attention to civil and political rights, and we don’t think much at all about economic and social rights. These are the human rights that relate to employment, social security, access to housing, food security, water and sanitation, education, health, and an adequate standard of living.

The COVID-19 crisis has shown us the many ways in which social protections are failing in Canada. It has shown us that many people – too often racialized people and people living in poverty – do not have access to these basic human rights. It has shown us that we have much work to do.

But the pandemic has also shown us one promising path forward. During this crisis, people have turned to their local governments to fill the gaping holes in our social safety net.

People experience their economic and social rights at the local level – cities and towns are where we live, work, go to school, and get our groceries. Cities, therefore, have the opportunity to act as champions for our economic and social rights. They can become human rights cities.

Local governments cannot bear the duty of fulfilling human rights alone; federal and provincial governments must do their part. But local governments can act, and they must act now. As we highlight in a discussion paper on human rights cities we published today, Canadian cities can learn from what their peers are doing, both here in Canada and around the world. By building local systems and recovery efforts on a foundation of human rights, cities can play a vital role in fulfilling economic and social rights.

As we mark International Human Rights Day, let’s work with our local governments so they can be major drivers of a lasting, equitable recovery founded on human rights.

Topic(s)

Cities and communities, Human rights

Summary

People experience their economic and social rights at the local level – cities and towns are where we live, work, go to school, and get our groceries. Cities, therefore, have the opportunity to act as champions for our economic and social rights. They can become human rights cities.