Human rights as a means to advance equity and embrace difference: lessons from US cities

Publication date:
JoAnn Kamuf Ward Directora, Human Rights in the US Project, Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute

Within the United States, human rights remain a contested framework for governance. While human rights principles are increasingly used by social justice advocates and grassroots movements to shape demands, these norms are rarely explicit in national or local law. But the momentum is shifting, and human rights have been elevated by a number of social movements in recent years. The Movement for Black Lives, for example, is founded on the idea that liberation requires centring the most marginalised and prioritising the “full humanity and dignity of all people” (Movement for Black Lives, n.d.). Demands for economic justice, community control and participation are central to the movement’s platform. The national women’s marches launched in the wake of the 2016 presidential election have also been squarely grounded in women’s rights as human rights, with the stated goal of “creat[ing] a society in which women – including Black women, Indigenous women, poor women, disabled women, Jewish women, Muslim women, Latinx women, Asian and Pacific Islander women, lesbian, bi, queer, and trans women – are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments” (Women’s March, n.d.).