Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Micro-Multilateralism: Building on the Human Rights Cities Initiative

Harvard's Belfer Center recently published a short paper titled Micro-Multilateralism: Cities Saving UN Ideals.   Noting the role that cities are playing in combatting climate change, the essay also credits the important work being done by human rights cities, particularly in Europe.  But, the authors argue, ask whether, "[l]audable as these efforts are, could more be done on a concrete “operative” action level? Could sub-states become independent actors in the human rights arena next to states?"

The answer they give is yes, and they cite two models of micro-multilateralism.   The first is an example of coordination between a German federal state and its cities.  According to the authors, "with the active support of 22 of its urban communities, the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg created deliberate and concrete sub-national human rights-based action by integrating more than 1,000 Yazidi women persecuted in Northern Iraq."  More information about the program is here

A second example is a similar initiative in Canada, with Toronto, London, Calgary and Winnipeg serving as host communities for Yazidi refugees. 

In the U.S., the dynamics are different, with the federal government often fighting local governments every step of the way as mayors and city leaders, as well as some governors, attempt to follow human rights principles in areas ranging from immigration to climate change. Yet micro-multilateralism persists, as state attorneys general coordinate litigation efforts to stave off federal human rights violations, and cities coordinate formally and informally on the same issues.  How much more good could be accomplished if the federal government simply allowed local governments to take action consistent with US human rights obligations!  In the meantime, micro-multilateralism in the U.S. has the potential to at least provide a counter-weight and an important brake on the current Administration's efforts to defy national human rights obligations.


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