Human Rights Go Local Vienna, the City of Human Rights



Policy areas

Organisation name Vienna City Administration

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Contact person: Shams Asadi, Head of Human Rights Office

Nowadays most of the global population lives in urban areas, which puts the cities at the forefront in promoting human rights, innovation and progress in the society. Goal 11 of the Sustainable Development Goals states ‘make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable’. The role of the cities in this context is tackling poverty and providing equality measures for social justice and education.

There is not yet a clear guideline at local level regarding human rights, although cities such as Vienna are committed to helping the design and implementation of a human rights centred approach across a wide range of policy areas, to improve people’s lives. With the declaration of Vienna as the ‘City of Human Rights’, the city administration commits to respect and protect human rights in all areas of its competence and wants to serve as a role model at the local, national and international levels. It is a unique example of a city that has established a ‘Human Rights Office’ for coordination of this subject.

Vienna’s Human Rights Office has a main goal to implement the Vienna Declaration for all areas of action of the city administration. To pursue this aim, good governance and the holistic cooperation among political and administrative decision makers, the scientific community and civil society are essential; those are the elements that make the Human Rights City innovative.

The Vienna Declaration sets five strategic areas:

  • The human rights approach, which is based on four pillars: transparency, accountability, non-discrimination and participation. The City of Vienna has a cross-cutting commitment to human rights in all its areas of competence, including the management of the Covid-19 crisis. The Human Rights Office acts as a connecting link between departments of the city administration, human rights organisations, NGOs and civil society.
  • International cooperation and networking: the Human Rights Office is member of international networks. It hosts delegations, participates in international sessions, cooperates globally with the Human Rights Cities Network to exchange good practices and advise those who want to become members. It provides mutual support for capacity building in administrations and has an active role at the global level in cooperation with the UN, the EU and the Council of Europe.
  • Human rights are promoted through learning activities such as conferences, events, training for city administration employees and cooperation with schools to build awareness among the younger generation.
  • Dialogue with the civil society: the Human Rights Office promotes activities and new forms of participation, which aim to shape an urban culture on human rights such as round tables.
  • Institutional provisions, action plans and monitoring include a steering group that has been established – ‘Human Rights City’ – which acts as an advisory board and provides strategic advice on the implementation of the declaration.

The outcomes of round tables, panel discussions, recommendations of the NGOs and civil society and other exchanges have been documented in policy papers. An action plan will be developed as a guideline for future activities.

‘Human Rights Go Local Vienna, the City of Human Rights’ was established back in 2015, long before applying for European Public Sector Award (EPSA) in 2021. During this time, the City of Vienna has implemented various projects, covering the topic of human rights from different perspectives.

To establish a culture of human rights the Human Rights Office constantly integrates human rights into the educational programmes of the administration’s employees, offered by the academy of the city. Since 2015, a training course under the title ‘The Human Rights City of Vienna’ has been offered to interested employees of the city.

Since 2017, human rights have been included in the existing seminar ‘Administrative Procedures’ as well as special courses on human rights that have been established, targeting lawyers of the administration.

Since 2018, newcomers can pass a module on human rights within their education to be an officer in the City Administration. An online education is also being planned and will be offered from the coming autumn.

The Human Rights Office actively contacts civil society and inhabitants of Vienna, and prepares and opens new forms of participation that promote the advancement of human rights. ‘Speed dating’ for human rights is a method that the office has developed and practised until 2020 for the mainstreaming of human rights through low-threshold ways.

Education of pupils and students: In the past years, over 3000 pupils and students have taken part in different activities. Since its establishment in 2015, the Human Rights Office has established a strategic cooperation with the Vienna Federal School Board. This authority is an important partner facilitating access to teachers, pupils and their parents. Moreover, it serves as a platform for dissemination of the outcomes.

The Human Rights Office of Vienna also created a project ‘Vienna, Rays of Hope, 160 Days Art for Human Rights’ light installations with an artist from November 2020 until May 2021. This project combined arts with human rights and was an outdoor exhibition in 10 locations of the city, opened for everyone to visit and explore the city through the human rights lens.

The approach of Vienna as a declared City for Human Rights is a transferable model for all cities, since the cities have the same responsibilities and duties, although in global context they may have different challenges. This was evident in meetings for the preparation of the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council (6 October 2020) for local governments and human rights. The participating cities from different continents have started a process for implementation of the Charter of the United Nations. Vienna’s model is considered a good practice in UN discussions as well as at the EU level within the process of the ‘Framework for Human Rights Cities’. The Fundamental Rights Agency of the European Union works on this framework for supporting human rights at the local level by offering guidelines on minimum standards for a human rights city in the EU. Vienna takes a core role in this process and on the preparation of the ‘Framework’ due to the practical experiences of the past years. The Framework for the Human Rights Cities was presented and discussed with the mayors of the involved cities at the Fundamental Rights Forum in October 2021 in Vienna. This is the result of a solid consultation and the contribution of about 30 cities and 10 related European networks.

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