[New publication] City report on Buenos Aires as an international actor

Published 3 June 2022

@Istock - Buenos Aires, Argentina. Main facade of Casa Rosada, the government house of the president of Argentina.

From climate change, to human rights and from migration to security issues: cities are playing an increasing role in international law. In a brand-new city report for the International Law Association (ILA) Study Group on the Role of Cities in International law, Fernando Arlettaz (Centro Universitario de la Defensa de Zaragoza) analyses the role of Buenos Aires as an international actor.

In recent years, the relation between international law and cities has been receiving more and more attention. No longer just sites of ‘the local’, cities have become spaces where global influences play out, and in the international legal order they have become actors that meaningfully contribute to shaping what we imagine ‘the global’ to be.
Scholars write about the different ways in which local governments invoke the norms of international law. They write about the city networks that organise themselves around international legal norms embedded in, for instance, UN conventions on gender equality, or the Paris Climate Agreement. Academics further discuss the close ties between local governments and international organisations, and the influence of international norms on local policies and legislation. Hence, the relation between cities and international law is multifaceted and can take many forms. In 2021, in their ground-breaking Research Handbook on International Law and Cities editors Helmut Aust and Janne E. Nijman shed light on this growing global role of cities, and built the case for a renewed understanding of international law, in light of this ‘urban turn’.

City reporting project
To get a better overview of cities’ engagement with international law, the ILA study group on the role of cities in international law launched a city reporting project in 2018, with an ongoing call for contributions, in order to collect empirical insights on the role of cities in international law. The city reports describe and/or critically assess city practices, in particular of local governments, in relation to international law; on cities’ engagement with other cities, international organisations and/or global governance mechanisms.

The first city reports on Arusha (Tanzania), Graz (Austria), Lagos (Nigeria), Toruń (Poland), Vienna (Austria) and Prague (Czech Republic) offer insightful reflections on the dynamics between cities and international law. The reports on Lagos and Arusha depict cities’ crucial role as spaces for the institutions and processes of international law, historically and today. The case of Toruń shows that medium-sized cities also uphold unique relations with international organisations such as UNESCO and the World Health Organization (WHO). United Nations cities such as Vienna traditionally have strong connections to international law and engage with it through a wide variety of topics. The contribution on Prague assesses the local government’s involvement in the progressive ‘Pact of free cities’ and the report on Graz examines the local government’s commitment to the ‘human rights city’ label.

Buenos Aires: ‘Undoubtedly a global city’
According to the latest city report by author Fernando Alerttaz, Buenos Aires (Argentina) is ‘undoubtedly a global city’, and an important international actor. In 1994, a constitutional reform conferred a special status to Buenos Aires, positioning the city as an autonomous entity within the federal state of Argentinian Republic. International treaties ratified by the federal government are binding for the city government of Buenos Aires, and these treaties permeate political decisions and public policies. The city report gives examples of this influence, such as the impact of international human rights law on human rights policies; of international environmental law on climate change and biodiversity policies; and of international standards developed by international organisations on transparency and good governance policies.

According to the city report, Buenos Aires has also entered into cooperation agreements with foreign cities and regions. It has accessed international markets to seek financing. It hosts international organisations and fora, and has deployed an international network of spokespersons around the world. Also, Buenos Aires’ policies are influenced by international norms and standards.

Arlettaz: “The relation of Buenos Aires with international law is twofold. On the one hand, the city receives the influence of international law; on the other hand, it is a focal point of creation of international relations and (a peculiar and new form of) international law.

Read the full city report

About the ILA study group
The ILA study group on the changing role of cities in the international legal order officially began its work at the 2018 biannual ILA conference in Sydney. At the ILA conference, a panel discussion on the theme of ‘Cities at the frontiers of international law and global governance’ was organised. The study group is co-chaired by Janne E. Nijman, T.M.C. Asser Instituut, and Helmut Aust, Freie Universität Berlin.

Read more
In their ground-breaking Research Handbook on International Law and Cities editors Helmut Aust and Janne E. Nijman shed light on the growing global role of cities, and build the case for a renewed understanding of international law, in light of this ‘urban turn’. The volume, with contributions from an interdisciplinary group of scholars, maps the practice of cities in various fields of international law, ranging from climate change to human rights, migration, health governance, transportation and security governance. The book also offers reflections on how the foundational international law are affected by this ‘urban turn’. 

In the introductory chapter (open access), Aust and Nijman - co-chairs to the ILA Study Group on the Role of Cities in International law - retrace how cities have gradually developed into internationally relevant actors, how this development started in other research disciplines and how slow the scholarship of international law has been catching up with this development.

But that has changed in the past decade, and the chapter contains a state-of-the-art overview of the literature in the growing field of international law research on cities as actors in international law, and on cities forming transnational networks and being impacted by normative expectations of good urban governance. The foreword further articulates how the turn of the city to the international also finds its limits in international law and institutions. Editors Aust and Nijman argue that it is time to ‘take a further step in the production of international law scholarship towards better understanding how international law is transformed through the growing role of cities’.

Visit: the Global Cities website

 Handbook on international law and cities

 Handbook on International law and cities (eds. Aust, H. and Nijman. J.E).