As part of BIHR's March for Human Rights campaign, Heidi Chan from the York Human Rights City Network blogs about how York will soon become the UK's first human rights city, and what she hopes it means for the future of the city. 

Update: The Lord Mayor has now declared the city of York the UK's first human rights city - read more on our news pages


What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of York? Vikings sailing down the Ouse (that’s pronounced “ooze”)? Chocolate? The cobbled streets that can pass for Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley? What about human rights?

You’ll be forgiven for perhaps not making the immediate connection with human rights, but from the 24th April and onwards, York will be forever known as the UK’s first Human Rights City! 

What exactly is a Human Rights City?

I must confess that I hadn’t been familiar with the concept prior to participating in a training that the York Human Rights City Network and BIHR delivered last summer. However, once introduced to the concept, it made perfect sense.

No matter where you live, councils and other authorities make plans and policies all the time. We know that legally, authorities need to make sure that everything they do is in line with the Human Rights Act. But actually staff aren’t always aware of this and there are loads of other organisations – businesses, universities, charities - that shape our cities.

A Human Rights City is a city that has made a commitment to putting these fundamental freedoms of human rights at the heart of everything they do. 

What that actually means is different in every city. There about 40 worldwide. It could mean prioritising high quality health care for its citizens, promising brilliant education for all 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.

What does the declaration mean?

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.  

How will we do it?

Three ways – through public events that can stimulate discussion and debate about human rights, by working with decision makers and using human rights as tools for advocacy on behalf of the people and issues we care about.

One example is how we worked with the North Yorkshire Police to document how human rights are used every day in police work including bail procedures.

We’re really indebted to BIHR which has produced great resources for charities and others working in areas such as health and social care. We’re really looking forward to the free training BIHR will deliver this May and June for advocates working on health and well-being issues right here in York.

And this really speaks to the way human rights can bring people together in a positive way and how we can share lessons and support one another as we try to make York an even better place to live for everyone.

We don’t see the declaration as something just for York. We hope that this can be a positive step for human rights in the UK in general and don’t expect to be the only Human Rights City for long…

Pledge your support for York to become the UK’s first Human Rights City by visiting YHRCN's website.