Human rights cities: “walking the walk” or “talking the talk”? Analysing the responsibility of human rights cities for their human rights commitment

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Deklerck, Jasmien
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In the context of widespread urbanisation and glocalization the importance and the potential of the local level in implementing Human Rights Law are being increasingly acknowledged, both at the international, regional and local levels, with the Human Rights City as one of its upshots. Holding the local level, and more specifically the Human Rights City, responsible for its human rights commitment has, however, been largely ignored. No standardised way to verify whether Human Rights Cities are “walking the walk” instead of “talking the talk” is available. Consequently, this study focuses on the ramifications and the operationalising of the responsibility for the human rights commitment of so-called Human Rights Cities. First, the general ways by which urban actors translate human rights norms into specific courses of action are analysed; following that, the concept of a “Human Rights City”, its objectives and general practices are scrutinised. This analysis leads to the conclusion that the current operation of Human Rights Cities sometimes bears witness to the practice of ‘rhetoric without accountability’ and that some practices are more lenient towards and suitable for incorporating the enforceable side of human rights. Subsequently, it is questioned whether the international and regional levels provide some mechanisms to hold a Human Rights City responsible for not living up to its human rights commitment. The still too much state-centred focus of Human Rights Law, and the non-binding nature (entailing the need of support of the local level itself) and lack of focus on enforcement mechanisms of the documents specifically targeting the local level and urban actors, however, led to a negative answer. Therefore, after assessing some already established good practices in existing Human Rights Cities, the term “responsibility mechanisms” covering both monitoring and enforcement mechanisms is coined and some suggestions of such mechanisms are provided. Additionally, a list of principles that should be taken into account at all times when developing responsibility mechanisms is drafted. This study can be the first step on which further analysis regarding the responsibility of Human Rights Cities for their human rights commitment can build. Particularly, on the one hand, the identified principles that should be taken into account at all times, and, on the other hand, the specific suggestions regarding responsibility mechanisms can prove to be a useful starting point for more research by academia or the Human Rights Cities already eagerly willing to “walk the walk”.
Second semester University: University of Graz
human rights, cities and towns, local government, urban policy, regional human rights protection systems, universal human rights protection system, law enforcement, human rights monitoring, accountability