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Going local: benchmarks for a human rights city

Going local: benchmarks for a human rights city

Becoming a human rights city – Policy brief
by Kristiina Vainio, Lisa Grans, Mia Varho, Sara Strömberg and Elina Pirjatanniemi


The term ‘human rights cities’ is generally used to denote cities that have committed to uphold international human rights standards in their policies and practices. In this Policy Brief, a group of researchers at the Åbo Akademi University Institute for Human Rights suggest a series of benchmarks for potential human rights cities to take into consideration when adapting the concept to their local context. As case examples, the study focuses on four European human rights cities: Lund in Sweden, Utrecht in the Netherlands, Vienna in Austria and York in the United Kingdom. The selected cities are analysed in respect of five key issues, namely existence of an official commitment; processes to become a human rights city; human rights as legal standards or as values; human rights structures and resources; and human rights mainstreaming versus a sectoral approach. The study includes recommendations for future human rights cities. A key conclusion is that whatever approaches a city chooses, these should be implemented systematically. A human rights-based approach would be the main tool to achieve this.

The Policy Brief presents the central findings within the research project Human Rights Cities: A framework for localizing human rights, carried out at the Institute for Human Rights in 2021–2022. The project was funded by the City of Turku Urban Research Programme. One of its aims was to provide the City of Turku with background information which will enable it to assess the potential benefits of becoming Finland’s first human rights city. The study also contributes to the on-going discussion on localization of international human rights law and strives to encourage cities overall to integrate human rights in their work and the daily life of their residents.

Contacts: Dr. Lisa Grans, Postdoctoral researcher (lisa.grans@abo.fi) and Kristiina Vainio, M.Pol.Sc., Project researcher (kristiina.vainio@abo.fi), Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University