Do you believe we shouldn’t force people to perform work against their will, throw them into prison with no good reason or discriminate against them because of their skin colour, gender or sexuality?

 Would you say children should have an education, elections should be free and fair and we should have the right to free speech?

 No matter what box we mark on election day, most of us agree about these freedoms and similar ones based on dignity, fairness, justice and equality.

 But when we bunch them together under the name ‘human rights’, sometimes the mood changes.

In the UK, we feel passionate about things like education and democracy but the phrase ‘human rights’ gets a bad press. Sometimes we think human rights are important for people in far-flung countries but not here.

In fact, the Human Rights Act helped in the struggle for justice surrounding the Mid Staffs Hospital scandal, the Hillsborough disaster and lots of other examples.

We think human rights matter in big cases like these and also in the way the government, the police and local councils treat people and make decisions that affect us all.

Human rights are the basic rights and freedoms that belong to everyone based on shared values like dignity, fairness, justice and equality. 

Of course, some of these freedoms go back hundreds of years but a big step forward in the idea of fundamental rights for everyone was directly born out of the horrors of the Second World War, with the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Various other laws and agreements followed, including the UK’s own 1998 Human Rights Act.

No matter where you live, councils and other authorities make plans and policies all the time.

Throughout the world over 100 cities and villages have so declared themselves human rights cities. From Bandung in Indonesia and Graz in Austria to Richmond, California in the US and Thies in Senegal, they have committed to putting the residents’ fundamental freedoms and rights at the heart of everything they do.

A Human Right City is one that seeks to engage with people’s real concerns by using a human rights framework to address local, everyday priorities -such as the right to good quality education, housing, health and standard of living for all its residents, without discrimination.

In doing so, its vision is to integrate human rights into policy, practice and local life, highlighting positive stories as well as areas needing improvement.

Examples include the use of priority indicators and impact assessments, staff training, work in schools and wide-ranging public events.

All this requires commitment from key people and organisations, including political parties, local government and other statutory agencies like the police, and a wide range of civil society groups.

What this actually means is different in every city. It could mean prioritising high quality healthcare for its citizens, promising brilliant education for its children, working to eliminate homelessness or challenging racism. The details are up to the people who live there.

A human rights city is something we will create and nurture together, over time.

York’s history of human rights goes back centuries. Faith groups, charities, businesses and universities have led the way in addressing poverty and social injustice in our city and beyond.

Today, York is:

  • a City of Sanctuary
  • a White Rose City
  • a Dementia Friendly City
  • a Living Wage city
  • and now – a Human Rights City.

Declaring that York is a human rights city definitely doesn’t mean we’ve got it all sorted.

Far from it.

The declaration marks an ambition. It represents a significant point in our journey but not a destination.

It means that enough people in York want to see our community become the UK’s first human rights city, putting those fundamental rights at the heart of our policies, hopes and dreams for the future.

We know we’ve got a long way to go.

But with your help, we can get people talking about human rights, use human rights in decision-making and work towards making sure all York residents’ rights are respected.

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