UMass Boston

Boston Human Rights City Initiative

The Boston Human Rights City Initiative seeks to implement the resolution adopted by the Boston City Council on April 13, 2011, declaring Boston a Human Rights City, and build a culture of human rights in the city.  Join us!

International Human Rights Day Celebration: Panel on Human Rights Cities (December 10, 2020)




Human Rights Cities is a global movement to build a culture of human rights at the local level. It was launched by the People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning (formerly known as the People’s Decade for Human Rights Education) following the 1993 World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria. Today there are over thirty Human Rights Cities in the world, including several in the USA, which collaborate via the National Human Rights Cities Alliance.  These municipalities commit to collaborate on human rights education with nongovernmental organizations and grassroots groups to enhance the enjoyment of human rights by people in the city. They often refer explicitly to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments in their laws, policies, programs, and projects.

In 2011, the Boston City Council declared Boston to be a Human Rights City.  An engaged civil society had introduced the idea to the Council and continued to work on building a human rights culture in Boston after the resolution was adopted.  In 2016, faculty and students in the School for Global Inclusion and Social Development at UMass Boston launched a research project on Boston Human Rights City.  For the project, students interviewed academics at UMass Boston, as well as staff of nongovernmental organizations and city officials in Boston to determine: (1) if they knew about the Human Rights Cities global movement; (2) if they knew Boston was declared a Human Rights City in 2011, and (3) if they saw value in using international human rights standards or frameworks to advance social justice ends. In the process of carrying out this research, the student interviewers provided each interviewee with a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Boston Human Rights City resolution. In this way, the project aimed to collect information about the impact of the resolution while also educating potential collaborators about the resolution and the global Human Rights Cities movement.

The study concluded:

1. The 2011 Boston Human Rights City resolution creates a political opportunity but there is a lack of awareness of this resolution and of the international Human Rights Cities movement in Boston.

2. There are many myths in Boston about the human rights framework that are barriers to implementation of the resolution.  These myths include:

A.  Human rights are really an international tool (and therefore are not useful in the context of the USA).

B.  Human rights are like civil and political rights (and economic and social rights are generally unknown).

C.  Human rights are a “lexicon of experts and the elite” ( and therefore not useful to local grassroots groups).

3. Racial justice and human rights movements are disconnected due to a lack of information on: (1) US grassroots human rights initiatives, and (2) US obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination 

The Boston Human Rights City Initiative emerged from this study to pursue the potential of the Boston Human Rights City resolution. The goal of the Initiative is to leverage the resolution to build a culture of human rights in the City of Boston. The Initiative is comprised of a network of community-based organizations, academics, students and other individuals dedicated to implementing the resolution.

Documents on Boston Human Rights City

1. The Boston Human Rights City Resolution

2. Report of April 27, 2017 meeting

3. Letter to UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights October 2017

4. Koutsioumpas, K., & MacNaughton, G. (2020). Mapping perceptions of human rights and cultivating Boston as a human rights city. Journal of Human Rights, 19(3), 363–378.

5. MacNaughton, G., Mnisi Weeks, S., Kamau, E., Sajadi, S., & Tarimo, P. (2020). The promises and challenges of human rights cities. In J. Zajda (Ed.), Human Rights Education Globally, 109–132. Springer Publishing.

Boston Human Rights Commission

Prisca Tarimo. (July 2021). "Achievements and Challenges of Human Rights Commissions in US Cities." A report prepared for the Boston Commission on Human Rights.

Thalia Viveros-Uehara, MSc. (May 2021). "Digital Equity Project." A report prepared for the Boston Commission on Human Rights. 

Mayor Walsh Appoints 7 Members to the Human Rights Commission. Mayor's Office, City of Boston. January 29, 2020.

Boston's Human Rights Commission Activated: Commission to Promote Human Rights Throughout Boston. Mayor's Office, City of Boston. August 26, 2019.

Photo by Jason Corey from Creative Commons.

Human Rights at UMass Boston

100 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02125