Charter for the Right to the City


Proposal from the Social Forum of the Americas
Quito – July 2004.
(original text in Spanish)


As we enter this new millennium half the world population lives in cities and predictions are that by 2005 the degree of urbanization will have reached 65%. Potentially the cities are areas of great riches and economic, environmental, political and cultural diversity. The urban lifestyle influences the manner by which we establish ties with our fellow human beings and with the land.

However, contrary to this potentiality, in the development models current in the majority of third world cities we find only concentration of income and power and accelerated urbanization processes which contribute to the depredation of the environment and the privatisation of public spaces generating social and physical separation

Most cities are far from offering equitable conditions and opportunities to their inhabitants. A considerable portion of the urban population is deprived or limited in the satisfaction of their basic necessities because of their economic, social, cultural, or ethic characteristic or because of gender or age. This favours the emergence of urban conflict although usually fragmented and incapable of producing significant change in the current development models

Faced with this reality, the civil society entities that have maintained contact since the 1st. World Social Forum in 2001, having analysed and debated the problem, took up the challenge to construct a sustainable model for urban society and lifestyle, based on first principles of solidarity, liberty, equality, dignity and social justice. A fundamental aspect of this model shall be the respect for different urban cultures and the balance between the urban and rural environments

Ever since the 1st. World Social Forum (held in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001), a grouping of popular movements, non-governmental organisations, professional associations, forums and country and international networks concerned with the social struggle for cities to be more democratic, just, human and sustainable, have been drawing up a World Letter defining the ideal characteristics of a city reflecting the undertakings and measures which should be assumed by civil society, local and national governments , international organisations etc which are necessary for all to live with dignity in our cities.

The World City Rights Letter is an instrument intended as a contribution to the urban struggle and as an aid in the process of recognition of the rights to the city in the international human rights system. These rights are understood as collective rights of all city inhabitants, especially the vulnerable and disfavoured, conferring legitimacy of action and organisation in accordance with their usages and customs in the search for full exercise of the right to an adequate standard of living.

We invite all and every person, organisations of civil society, local and national governments and international organisations to participate in this project at the local, national, regional and global level, to contribute to the constitution, diffusion and implementation of the World Charter of City Rights as one of the paradigms of this millennium demonstrating that a better world is possible.

Part 1 – General Dispositions


1. Everyone has a right to the city without discrimination and in accordance with the principles and norms established herein. Everyone has the right to full enjoyment of the cities facilities respecting the diversity of entrance, gender, age, roots, ethnic origin, political and religious orientation and preserving the cultural memory and identity.
2.The city is a culturally rich and diversified cultural space that belongs to all the inhabitants. Everyone has the right to find in the city the necessary conditions for his/her political, economic, social and environmental development while assuming the duty of solidarity.
3. For the purpose of this charter the denomination of City is given to any town, city, capital, locality, suburb, settlement or similar which is institutionally organised as a local unit of Government of Municipal or Metropolitan character independently of whether it is urban, rural or semi-rural.
4. For the purpose of these charter citizens are all persons who live in the city either permanently or in transit.


The right of all persons to the City is regulated by the following principles:


All citizens have the right to participate by direct representation in the control, planning and government of the cities, principally with a view to the strengthening, transparency, efficiency and autonomy of the local public administrations and the popular organisations. All citizens have the right to participate in the planning, layout, control, maintenance, rehabilitation and improvement of the urban habitat, for the purpose of achieving spaces and equipments adequate for the specific functions they execute, for their particular living conditions and their personal aspirations Always seeking to guarantee that resources are used, projects realised and capital invested for the benefit of the citizen and observing the basic criteria of equitable distribution, economic complementability, and respect for the culture and the ecological sustainability. For these purposes the cities should make special efforts to ensure that the current priorities have a socially responsible orientation, benefit all citizens and maintain a state of harmony with nature, today and for future generations.


The public and private spaces and properties belonging to the city and the citizens should be used in such a way as to prioritise the common interest. All citizens have a right to participate in the ownership of urban territory as long as the democratic parameters, the ideals of social justice and sustainable environmental conditions are respected. In the formulation and implementation of urban policies the common interest must take priority over the right of property of the individual and the socially just and environmentally balanced use of the urban space and land must be promoted.

1 – FULL EXERCISE OF CITIZANSHIP. Cities should be locations for the realization of all human rights and fundamental liberties assuring the dignity and collective well being of all the people, in equality and justice as well as full respect for the social production of the habitat.

2 – EQUALITY NOT DISCRIMINATION. The rights set out in this charter shall be guaranteed to all persons who live permanently or part-time in the cities without any form of discrimination because of age, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, opinion, racial or ethnic origin, income level, citizenship or migratory situation

3 – SPECIAL PROTECTION FOR VULNERABLE PERSONS AND GROUPS. The more vulnerable groups and individuals have a right to special measures for protection and integration avoiding discriminatory regroupings. For the purposes of this letter vulnerable groups are the following: – persons with disability, senior citizens, women, children, extremely poor people and any other group which, in the reality of each city, is in a situation of inferiority with respect to the rest of the inhabitants. By adapting through affirmative action policies in favour of vulnerable groups, the cities shall remove economic and social obstacles that in fact limit the liberty and equality of the citizens, impede people’s full development and effective participation in the political, economic, cultural and social organisation of the city

4 – THE PRIVATE SECTOR´S SOCIAL UNDERTAKING, The cities shall ensure that the economic agents participate in social programs and economic enterprises for the purpose of developing solidarity and equality amongst the inhabitants.


Part II – Rights relating to the Management of Cities


1. The cities undertake to create conditions for pacific coexistence, collective development and the practice of solidarity. To this end full enjoyment of the city is guaranteed while respecting the diversity, and preserving the memory and the cultural identity of all citizens with distinction.
2. All actions and omissions, legislative, administrative and judicial measures and/or social practices which result in violation, obstruction or difficulty in the maintenance of cultural identities, methods of pacific coexistence, social production of the habitat, as well as forms of manifestation, organisation and action of social or citizens groups, especially the vulnerable and disfavoured, based on their usage or customs, constitutes a infringement of the Rights of the City.


1. Everyone has the right to drinking water, energy supplies, uncontaminated air the land and social use of the urban areas. These must be given the legal status of a public asset and protected from being privatised.
2. The cities shall undertake to promote the use of technologies and processes that facilitate access to water adequate for consumption and hygiene by the poor women and children who live in suburbs or precarious housing and informal settlements.
3. The cities shall undertake to guarantee that the public services reflect the requirements of the administrative level nearest to the population and that the citizens shall participate in the management and control of the execution of the public services. Where some or all of the public services have been privatised mechanisms shall be installed to audit the services rendered and ensure that they meet the requirements of the citizens, and of the popular movements, especially with regard to the quality of the services and the charges made on the public
4. The cities shall ensure that the public services, even if privatised before the signature of this letter, are charged at rates socially accessible to the low-income families or unemployed persons


1. The cities shall undertake to regulate and control urban development by means of territorial policies which tend to prioritise the social production of the habitat and the observance of the social function of public and private property so as to ensure that the social, cultural and environmental interests of the community take precedence over those of private individuals. To this end, the cities shall undertake to adapt measures of urban development, (especially the recuperation of degraded or marginalized areas) in order to create an integrated and equitable city
2. All actions and omissions, legislative, administrative and judicial measures and/or social practices which result in obstruction or refusal, which introduce difficulties or make impossible the political participation of inhabitants or social groups in the management of the city, constitute infringements of the Rights of the City. These actions and/or omissions may be found (1) in the administrative areas, by the elaboration of projects, programs or plans;(2), in the legislative spheres by the introduction of laws, by the control of public funds or by government action; or (3) in the Judicial arena area by judgements or sentences handed down in collective or circumstantial conflicts referring to themes of urban interest


Cities signing this letter undertake to guarantee direct participation for all citizens and community organisations in the selection of priorities for public expense and in the preparation and control of the income and expense budgets.


1. To safeguard the principle of administrative transparency the cities undertake to organise the administrative structure in such a way that the responsibility of the public servants and governments is effectively open to inspection by the citizens. In the same way municipal governments should be transparent to higher organs of government so as to complete the chain of democratic management.
2. In accordance with the fundamental principles of their individual judicial status, the cities shall formulate and apply coordinated and efficient policies against corruption that promote the participation of society and reflect the principle of the rule of Law, the proper management of public affairs and assets, public integrity, transparency and the obligation to render accounts.


1. Everyone has the right to request and receive complete, correct, adequate and timely information, from any organ of the city administration, or from the Legislative or Judicial authority, in respect of their own administrative or financial activities or those of the companies and private or mixed–economy societies contracted to provide public service
2. The employee of the City Government or the private sector receiving a request for information from a citizen has an obligation to create and produce such information as refers to his area of competence and which is available at the time. The only limit for access to public information is that imposed by respect for the intimacy of the persons involved.
3. The cities undertake to guarantee to make available procedures or mechanisms so that everyone may have access to effective and transparent public information. For this purpose they shall provide access for all sectors of the population and facilitate instruction in the use of information technology and how to access the data with periodic updates.

Part III Civil and Political Rights of the City


Everyone has the right to liberty and physical and spiritual integrity. The cities guarantee to provide protection so that individuals or institutions of any nature do not violate these rights.


1. In conformity with the laws that regulate the exercise of citizenship, all citizens have the right to participate in the local political life by means of democratic election of the local representations and in all decisions which effect the local policies regarding the city, including services of design, development, management, renovation and improvement of neighbourhoods.
2. Cities shall guarantee the right to free and democratic elections of the local representatives, the realisation of plebiscites and popular legislative initiatives and the free and equal access to debates and public audiences. Also the right to equal participation and deliberation in the definition of the municipal policies and budgets, in institutional channels open to all citizens and sectorial and territorial councils and commissions
3. Infringements of the Rights of the City are constituted by all acts and omissions, by legislative, administrative and judicial measures and/or social practices which result in obstruction or refusal, or which introduce difficulties or make the political participation of inhabitants or social groups and citizens in management impossible, or the participation in the execution of decisions and priorities defined in the participative processes which make up the life of the city.
4. Cities shall implement affirmative action policies of quotas for the representation and political participation of women and minorities in all local elective instances and in the definition of their public policies.


Everyone has the right to association, reunion, and manifestation. Cities undertake to make public areas available for open meetings and informal gatherings.


1. Cities signing this charter undertake to take steps to improve the access of all persons to the right to justice.
2. Cities signing this letter support the resolution of civil, criminal, administrative, and labour conflicts by implementing procedures of public conciliation, adjustment, arbitration and other alternative means.
3. The cities undertake to guarantee access to justice by establishing special policies of favourable treatment for the poorer population groups and by strengthening the systems of free public legal defence.


1. Everyone has the right to public security. The principles of the mission the security forces shall include the respect and protection of the rights of the citizens. The city administration guarantee that the security forces under their command shall use force strictly in accordance with the legal provisions and democratic control.
2. Cities guarantee the participation of all citizens in the control and evaluation of the security forces.

Part IV – Economic, Social, Cultural and environmental rights of the cities.


1 The cities in co-responsability with the National State, shall take all appropriate steps, (particularly by legislative means) and to maximum extent possible with the resources available, to progressively make more fully effective the enjoyment of universal economic, social, cultural and environmental rights by the citizens without in any way altering the essential minimum content of these rights.
2 The cities, as far as they are competent to do so, shall adopt measure of social protection for the most vulnerable persons and groups.


1- All citizens have the right to permanent supplies of drinking water, electric power and light and heating (where this latter is necessary), sanitation, washing and cooking facilities, storage of food, ventilation and toilet arrangements

2. Everyone has the right to community services including garbage removal, hospital services, employment opportunities, schools, public transport at prices within their incomes, infant care, fire and ambulance services, access streets and roads and other neighbourhood services.
3. Cities, in joint responsibility with other public or private organs in accordance with the legal framework of each country, undertake to guarantee access to these public services to all citizens
4. All citizens have the right to participate in the control and supervision of the execution of concessions to explore public services granted to public or private enterprises.


1. The cities guarantee the right of city mobility and movement by means of transport systems adequate for the necessities and within the payment capabilities of the citizens.
2. The cities shall promote the establishment of public transport accessible to everyone in accordance with a suitable urban and interurban traffic plan. They shall also stimulate the use of non-polluting vehicles and provide permanent or occasional pedestrian only areas for certain times during the day
3. Cities shall promote the removal of structural barriers and the installation of equipments necessary to facilitate movement and traffic as well as the adaptation of all public buildings (or those used by the public), workplaces and evacuation areas for easier use by disabled persons.


1. In so far as they are competent to do so, the cities shall undertake to ensure that all citizens are guaranteed the right that the cost of adequate housing is compatible with their incomes, that the housing is habitable, is constructed in suitable locations and is adapted to the cultural characteristics of the residents.
2. The cities undertake to facilitate adequate offers of housing and the associated equipments and services for all citizens and to guarantee to the poorer families home acquisition financing plans as well as service structures for the assistance of infants and older people
3. Cities shall guarantee to those groups chronically badly housed, and to those who need special living conditions and/or have difficulty in acquiring an adequate home, priority in law and in the housing policies. They shall also establish subsidization and loan programs for the purchase of home building land or houses and attend to the regularization of land tenancy and to the improvement of precarious suburbs or districts, and informal housing settlements and occupations.

*By “groups chronically badly housed” is understood disabled persons, old people, low income earners, women heads of households, people with medical problems, refugees, displaced persons and other groups in accordance with the reality of each city

4. Cities shall undertake to include in their own names independently of their civil status all women beneficiaries in documents of possession or ownership of land or goods issued or registered in all public policies of distribution or titling of lands.
5. All homeless citizens whether individually, in partnership, or in family groups are entitled to the immediate provision by the city public authorities of an adequate, sufficient, and independent living space. Hostels, refuges and bed-and-breakfast lodgings may be used as temporary expedients but do not absolve the authority of the obligation to provide a permanent solution
6. Everyone has the right to security of tenure of his home by means of legal instruments that guarantee the right of protection against evictions, expropriations and forced or arbitrary displacement.
7. The cities shall impede real estate speculation by creating urban norms and regulations for the equitable distribution of the expenses and benefits generated by the urbanization process in addition to the adjustment of economic, tributary and financial public instruments to compensate the public investment and objectives of urban development.
8. Cities shall promote adequate legislation and establish mechanisms and sanctions designed to take full advantage of the use of public land and of public and private buildings which are unused, under-used or unoccupied and ensure fulfilment of the social function of these assets.
9. The cities shall protect the occupants from usury and arbitrary evictions regulating the rental of living accommodation in accordance with General Observation Number 7 of the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the United Nations.
10. This present Article shall be applicable to all persons, including but not limited to, families, groups, occupants without title documents, the roofless, and those whose living conditions vary, such as nomads, travellers and Romanies.


1. Everyone has the right to education. The cities and the National States, share the responsibility of guaranteeing access to elementary education for all boys and girls and young people of school age, and of promoting adult education. Together with other levels of government they shall also implement affirmative policies for superior education for the vulnerable groups.
2. The cities shall place at the disposition of all persons educational and cultural places and school centres, in a multicultural context and with social cohesion.
3. Cities shall promote the improvement of the quality of citizenship by pedagogy and education especially in reference to the struggle against sexism, racism, xenophobia and discrimination and by implanting principles of mutual neighbourly living, respect for the environment, participation and the cultivation culture of peace


1. Everyone has the right to obtain sufficient resources by means of dignified work which guarantees his standard of life.
2. The cities and the National States are responsible to contribute as far as possible for the maintenance of full employment in the city. To this end they shall promote the upgrading and qualification of the workers by permanent education and training the costs of which should be accessible to all unemployed persons
3. The cities shall promote conditions for children to enjoy their infancy by combating the evil of child labour.
4. In collaboration with other public administrations and the companies, the cities shall develop mechanisms to ensure equal opportunity for everyone in access to work without any discrimination
5. Cities shall promote equal access for women to work by creating crèches and other means and of partially incapacitated persons by the installation of suitable equipments. To improve work conditions the cities shall establish programs for the improvement of urban housing used by women and vulnerable persons as work places.
6. The cities shall undertake to promote the progressive integration of the informal commerce run by low-income or unemployed persons, avoiding its elimination and providing adequate areas and policies for the workers until such time as it can be incorporated into the formal urban economy.


1. Everyone has the right to culture in all its expressions, manifestations and modalities.
2. In cooperation with the cultural associations and the private sector, the cities shall promote the development of urban cultural life while respecting its diversity.
3. Cities shall undertake to make adequate public areas available for games and cultural activities under equal conditions for everyone.
4. In collaboration with other their national states, the cities shall be responsible for facilitating the active practice of sports and for providing the necessary sports stadiums and installations for the all the population.


1. The cities shall collaborate with their National States to promote the bodily and mental health of all their inhabitants, by means of suitable economic, cultural, social and urbanisation actions
2. The cities and their National States shall be jointly responsible to guarantee the right of access to the installations and public services for the prevention of disease and of medical attention for everyone.
3. Cities shall adopt special measures to facilitate access by vulnerable or marginalized groups to the public services for the prevention of illness and medical attention.
4. Cities shall collaborate with their National States in providing essential medication in accordance with the definitions issued under the Action Program of Essential Medication issued by the WHO from time to time, and for immunization against the principal infectious illnesses that afflict the community.


1. Everyone has the right to a healthy environment. To achieve this all cities shall undertake to adopt measures against the disordered occupation of land and/or the protection and contamination areas, (including acoustic contamination), or the lands used for energy saving, the management and re-utilization of waste, recycling and the recuperation of watersheds or to amplify and protect the green areas.
2. The cities undertake to develop with the participation of all the citizens urban-environmental planning and management capable of guaranteeing the balance between urban development and the protection of the environment, as well as preventing segregation and land exclusion.
3. Cities undertake to respect their natural, architectonic, cultural and artistic heritages and to promote the recuperation and revitalization of degraded urban areas and equipment.

Part V – Final dispositions


1. General obligations.

The cities signing this document, will adequately and immediately take all necessary measures to ensure these Rights to the City for everyone as laid out in this document. Cities are obliged to fulfil the legal obligations herein assumed to the maximum extent their resources permit.

2 Legislative action.

The cities shall execute the legislation necessary to put the rights herein stated fully into practice. This legislation shall protect all persons against any infraction of anyone’s Rights to the City that is committed by the public authorities or by private persons.

3 Legislative Revisions

The cities shall make a general review of all existing statutes and norms in order to adjust them where necessary to the rights and duties herein established. Such legislation, which is incompatible with this document, must be either adequately modified or eliminated. The cities guarantee the participation of all citizens and of the civil society organisations in this process of legislative revision.

4 Supervision of the execution of the policies

The cities shall establish systems to monitor and supervise the execution of the policies of urban development and social inclusion so that the Rights to the City enshrined in this document are implemented in practice,


Everyone has a right to effective and complete administrative and judicial recourse with respect to the rights enumerated in this document, including the right not to take advantage of such rights.


1. The cities shall regularly supervise and evaluate the degree to which these rights are being observed overall.
2. An efficient system of indication of the state of the rights of the city shall be established in manner applicable to all cities so as to verify the fulfilment of the terms of this document and the respect being given to the other existing rights related to any aspect of the Rights to the City.
3. At regular intervals indicators of progress of the right of the city shall be published


1. The cities shall educate and qualify all their employees involved in the implantation of the Right to the City in the Human Rights doctrine and the corresponding obligations.
2. Special training shall be given to those public employees of public organisations whose policies influence in any way the full realization of the Rights to the City
3. The cities shall promote the teaching of the principles of the Rights to the City in schools and universities and in the popular means of communications.

For more information contact:
Nelson Saule – FRU; Sebastián Tedeschi – COHRE; Andrea Carrión – HIC