26th SESSION

Strasbourg, 25-27 March 2014

CG(26)5FINAL

7 April 2014

Best practices of implementation of human rights at local and regional level in member states of the Council of Europe and other countries

Monitoring Committee

Rapporteur:[1]      Lars O. MOLIN, Sweden (L, EPP/CCE)

Resolution 365 (2014) 2

Explanatory memorandum. 3

Summary

This is the third report on human rights at local level since the adoption in 2010 of Resolution 296 on the role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights. It underlines the complementary role the Congress plays in the promotion of human rights by aiming to raise awareness among local authorities of their shared responsibility in this area.

The report gives good practice examples from local and regional authorities in member States that can be of interest to all elected representatives in order to ensure respect, protection, implementation and promotion of human rights. It emphasises the diversity of possible responses in the delivery of services to citizens and the importance of taking a proactive stance as well as giving visibility to local authorities’ commitment. Recognising the immensity of the task related to working on all relevant human rights and with all groups of citizens, the present report suggests that human rights be taken into consideration in daily decisions and activities undertaken by elected representatives, in order to improve their implementation at all levels of governance.


Best practices of implementation of human rights at local and regional level in member states of the Council of Europe and other countries

Resolution 365 (2014)[2]

The Congress,

1. Considering:

a. Resolution 296 (2010) REV and Recommendation 280 (2010) REV on the Role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights;

b. the reply adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 6 July 2011 at the 1118th meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies on the role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights (CM/Cong(2011)Rec280 final) whereby the Committee of Ministers welcomes the Congress initiatives in the field of human rights at local level;

c. the explanatory memorandum attached to this resolution;

2. Taking note of the previous reports adopted by the Congress, respectively on “The role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights” (2010), “Developing indicators to raise awareness of human rights at local and regional level” (2011) and on “Best practices of implementation of human rights at local and regional level in member states of the Council of Europe and other countries” (2014);

3. Conscious of the pre-eminent and leading role that governments play in the promotion and protection of fundamental human rights;

4. Encourages local and regional authorities in member States and non-member States with whom the Council of Europe is carrying out co-operation activities, to exchange good practices in the area of human rights at local and regional level;

5. Invites the Monitoring Committee to make use of the opportunity provided by monitoring visits to meet local elected representatives and continue its activities of awareness raising on the role the local authorities can play in promoting human rights at local and regional level, in co-operation with other bodies of the Council of Europe and the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights;

6. Undertakes to organise a human rights forum with the participation of elected local and regional representatives, experts and other stakeholders at regular intervals to exchange information and good practices.


Best practices of implementation of human rights at local and regional level in member states of the Council of Europe and other countries

Explanatory memorandum

Table of contents

1.          INTRODUCTION. 4

2.          HUMAN RIGHTS RESPONSIBILITIES OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL AUTHORITIES. 4

3.          THE OPERATIONALISATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS RESPONSIBILITIES. 5

4.          HUMAN RIGHTS IMPLEMENTATION IN PRACTICE: GOOD PRACTICES?. 6

5.          EVERYBODY AND ALL – INTERSECTIONALITY AND VULNERABLE GROUPS. 7

6.          GOOD PRACTICES TO RESPECT, PROTECT, FULFILL AND PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS. 7

6.1        Respecting human rights. 7

a. Establishing an independent human rights ombudsman institution. 7

b. Human rights training of the police force. 8

c. Securing access to public services and spaces. 8

6.2        Protecting human rights. 9

a. Working against child labour and exploitation. 9

b. Combatting domestic violence. 9

c. Training the elderly in physical security measures. 10

d. Certifying equal treatment of all 10

6.3.       Fulfilling human rights. 11

a. Ensuring education for all 11

b. Improving mental health care. 11

c. Supporting homeless persons. 12

d. Working with the right to health. 12

6.4        Promoting human rights. 13

a. Establishing an inter-religious council 13

b. Declaring local adherence to human rights. 13

7.          CONCLUSIONS. 14

8.          RECOMMENDATIONS. 16

8.1        Use human rights to frame decisions, policies and activities at all levels. 16

8.2        Do something, do more, do better 16


1.       INTRODUCTION

1.     Human rights are a fundamental part of the activities of Council of Europe. The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities is adding an important dimension to this work: that of the local and regional level of governance and its part of the overall human rights responsibilities of public authorities. This is done by looking at human rights responsibilities through a new lens – through the eyes of mayors, city councillors and municipal administrators – and interpreting their responsibilities for human rights to their local realities.

2.     Good governance has been a key concept for the Congress in improving local democracy in member States, and it is impossible to conceive of good governance without respect for human rights. With this in mind, the Congress adopted Resolution 296 in 2010 and established a policy on the role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights. This resolution highlights the importance of awareness-raising campaigns, local action plans, the existence of independent complaint mechanisms easily accessible to all (e.g. local and regional ombudspersons), and training for local politicians and their staff regarding their human rights responsibilities. It also admits that local and regional authorities may not be as knowledgeable and proactive in this domain as they could and should be.

3.     The main challenge in the endeavour of awareness-raising is how to develop the link between the legal responsibilities of local and regional authorities and everyday implementation of human rights.

4.     Being aware that good and instructive examples are required for this purpose, the Monitoring Committee appointed Lars O. MOLIN as rapporteur to develop a report on best practices of the implementation of human rights at local and regional level. The present report follows on from the report The role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights presented in March 2010[3] and the report Developing indicators to raise awareness of human rights at local and regional level presented in October 2011[4] and deals, in particular, with the operationalization of human rights responsibilities into local and regional practices.

5.     One of the committee’s long-term objectives is to raise the awareness of human rights at local and regional level. The long-term ambition is to do this through the publishing of five-yearly reports on the implementation of human rights by local and regional authorities, providing insights into the quality of local and regional governance on this specific aspect of local democracy. As result of the 2010 report an appendix focusing on the human rights situation is now added to the reports on the situation of local and regional democracy in member states emanating from the regular general country-by-country monitoring missions.

2.       HUMAN RIGHTS RESPONSIBILITIES OF LOCAL AND REGIONAL AUTHORITIES

6.     Human rights treaties are intended to be implemented at the local level, with a great deal of democratic input. For example, these treaties provide mechanisms and opportunities for reporting on conditions within communities (both positive and negative); training government officials and agencies as well as the community to promote equality and non-discrimination; conducting hearings to explore and examine the relevance of findings by international treaty bodies; and issuing recommendations for future action. They also provide a set of standards that local governments should adhere to in administering their own laws and policies

7.     The contribution of the Congress to the promotion of human rights should be seen as a complementary one: the Congress aims to raise awareness among local authorities on their shared responsibilities for the overall implementation of human rights within the Council of Europe. It intends to do this by collecting data, devising specific indicators that allow local and regional authorities to develop innovative ideas and to evaluate their own performance, and providing them with good practice guidelines – in short, by bringing human rights home to the local level. This is an added value for both governments and for the Council of Europe. The Congress can play a unique role in this process thanks to the specific nature of its members as an assembly of elected local and regional government representatives.

8.     The powers and responsibilities that lie on local and regional authorities vary from one member country to another. Local and regional politicians all take one-off or more general decisions relating in particular to education, housing, health, the environment and law and order, which are directly connected with the implementation of human rights and which may enforce or weaken the possibilities of its inhabitants to enjoy their human rights. Correspondingly, civil servants at local and regional level are responsible for a number of human rights issues in their day-to-day work.

9.     The responsibilities of all politicians and civil servants at all levels can be said to be fourfold in relation to human rights:

a.      To respect (abstain from violating the human rights of the individual),

b.      To protect (protect the human rights of the individual from violations from others),

c.      To fulfil (develop and/or sustain systems that can fulfil human rights),

d.      To promote (further the understanding of and respect for human rights).

10.  These responsibilities are common for all authorities within their spheres of influence and concern all human rights. Generally, every human right comes with this fourfold responsibility. For example in relation to every child’s right to education, the authorities should respect the rights of the individual child in the school system by making sure that its own public officials do not violate its right to education. At the same time, they must ensure that the child’s rights are not threatened or violated by others. Furthermore, the authorities have a duty to fulfil every child’s right to education by sustaining a good educational system. Finally, they should promote the understanding of and respect for everybody’s human rights through teaching and training the children within the schools.

11.  Another example can be found in relation to every individual’s right to physical security, the authorities should guarantee that its own police forces do not violate this right, simultaneously as they ensure that the same right is not threatened or violated by other actors. Furthermore, the authorities have a duty to fulfil every individual’s right to a safe society by sustaining a good system for keeping public peace. Finally, they should promote the understanding of and respect for everybody’s right to physical security through their communication, teaching, training and actions.

12.  While national legislation should clearly delineate the responsibilities and powers of central and local government authorities in relation to one another, it is of outmost importance that the different levels of governance cooperate with the human rights of the individual person in focus. It is the responsibility of the national government to create an enabling environment in which local governments understand and implement their human rights obligations. Furthermore, the national government should ensure that local governments respect human rights. At the same time, local and regional authorities may invigorate national human rights work through their human rights-based practice and should be included in the development of national action plans and reporting on human rights to different international bodies. It is important to underline this in the current context of economic crisis. As austerity measures often affect the capacity of local and regional authorities to assume their responsibilities for providing public services, obligations in the field of social and economic rights help identify the minimum core obligations which should always be fulfilled (example: homelessness). [5]  

3.       THE OPERATIONALISATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS RESPONSIBILITIES

13.  Conventionally, the understanding of implementation of human rights has been limited to the legal ratification of human rights conventions. While this is a prerequisite for implementation in policy and practice in everyday life, human rights must be operationalized i.e. understood and applied in all levels and all sectors of public life to have the necessary impact. If not, human rights run the risk to become empty words instead of strong and practical guardians of peace and democracy.

14.  It is important to note that regional and local institutions already engage in implementing human rights by promoting equality, dignity and fairness in their work. Human rights treaties cover much of what state, regional and local authorities deal with every day – including addressing police brutality and discrimination in housing and employment, and promoting freedom of religion. However, their work is rarely perceived as human rights implementation, neither by the authorities, nor by the public. This may in itself lead to a continuing unfamiliarity with the concept. Consequently, human rights remain distant as a frame of reference or analysis in most policy and practice on regional and local level, while they may actually be human rights in practice.

15.  How can e.g. everybody’s right to physical security, freedom of religion, best attainable health or education be converted into action on the local and regional level? And vice versa, how does the practices already in place that relates to physical security, health care and education correspond with the responsibilities of the local and regional authorities? How do the responsibilities to respect, protect, fulfil and promote human rights translate into local and regional realities?

16.  The step from general legal obligations at state level to local implementation may appear hard to take. However, the practical implementation of human rights does not need to be more complicated than other policy areas. It is rather a matter of acknowledging their importance, clarifying the responsibilities and interpreting these into everyday political decisions, policies and practices.

17.  Human rights do not provide ready-made answers to difficult policy choices. However, the human rights responsibilities of states, regions and local authorities require that the choices are made in a non-discriminatory, transparent and including manner, using explicit human rights criteria, such as the well-being of marginalised groups as well as more influential groups in society.

18.  Internationally, it is generally accepted that using a human rights framework can strengthen policy-formation and assessment in four ways:[6]

·       it empowers the individual person who is at the core of the human rights;

·       it confirms that states are legally obliged to meet their human rights responsibilities;

·       it requires constancy and non-discrimination; and

·  it recognises that rights are linked – that the enjoyment of one right is tied to the enjoyment
of others.

19.  It is important to point out that local and regional authorities can choose different ways and different methods to fulfil their common responsibilities as long as the means used are not at cross-purpose with human rights principles and standards. The differences may serve as inspiration for others and be used to further develop their own policies and practices within the field of human rights.

4.       HUMAN RIGHTS IMPLEMENTATION IN PRACTICE: GOOD PRACTICES?

20.  The aim of this report is to discuss the implementation of human rights at local and regional level through the presentation and discussion of a number of practices. The practices presented are selected from a variety of examples compiled from different local and regional authorities in the world, with a focus on the Member states of the Council of Europe. The cases used should be understood a starting point for a discussion of human rights implementation, rather than an exhaustive list of good examples. They are used to highlight some generic aspects of how regional and local authorities can work with their responsibilities to respect, protect, fulfil and promote human rights.

21.  The practices in focus are selected so that they cover different parts of human rights responsibilities at local and regional level, meaning that they are cases primarily focusing on respecting, protecting, fulfilling or promoting human rights. Furthermore the cases are also chosen in relation which generic aspects they display in order to further the discussion on implementation.

22.  Consequently, the focus of this report is not on “best” practices, but rather examples of practices that can be helpful in clarifying how a responsibility for human rights may be shouldered on local and regional level. In fact, since methods and processes are frequently changed as they are put in action it is even uncertain if “best” practices exist, but rather a range of good practices. A good practice is commonly defined as something that has been tried and shown to work in some way with some indications of its efficiency – and that may therefore be used to influence practice elsewhere.[7] The important thing for such good practices in relation to human rights implementation is that they may give ideas and frameworks for developing processes and methodologies that can be of relevance to similar situations elsewhere.

5.       EVERYBODY AND ALL – INTERSECTIONALITY AND VULNERABLE GROUPS

23.  Human rights do always refer to the rights of a person or a group. It is important to keep in mind that “a person” or “an individual” may be of any age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, functionality, socio-economic status etc. and that “a group”, consequently, always consists of a variety of differences.

24.  This variety of traits that all human beings are composed of is of particular interest when they interact with different discriminatory systems, e.g. when gender discrimination overlap with ethnic discrimination or discrimination of persons with disabilities strengthening or easing the discrimination for the individual depending his/her gender, ethnicity and functionality. This interaction is often referred to as intersectionality

25.  Work to improve an overall human rights situation are generally focused on one or more so-called vulnerable groups, such as national minorities, children, persons with disabilities etc. While this kind of targeted approach may be just right for the situation, a special challenge is to keep in mind the intersectional character of all individuals belonging to all such groups. For example, persons with disabilities may be children, youth, middle-aged or elderly people; they may be women, men or transgender; they may be of different ethnicities, believers of different faiths, have different sexual orientations and so on.

26.  The important point is to develop structures and processes that are able to acknowledge the intersectional character of all individuals and groups and include intersectionality as a natural part of the on-going work to respect, protect, fulfil and promote human rights.

6.       GOOD PRACTICES TO RESPECT, PROTECT, FULFILL AND PROMOTE HUMAN RIGHTS

6.1     Respecting human rights

27.  The first responsibility of all authorities at all levels is to respect human rights in their own work. That means that local and regional authorities have to make sure that nobody within their organisation directly or indirectly violates the human rights of any individual within its jurisdiction. Many times the violations may not be understood as such, or the ramification of certain decisions may not be clear from the view point of the organisation or the individual decision-maker. This makes it even more important to discuss in what ways political decisions, policies and practices impact different individuals and groups. The responsibility to respect human rights means that politicians and public officials do not violate human rights through their own actions.

a.         Establishing an independent human rights ombudsman institution

28.  One important part of the responsibility to respect human rights on the local and regional level is the continuous independent observation and evaluation of the situation of human rights in general, and specifically the performance of politicians and public officials. This is necessary so the authorities can be certain that they are indeed respecting human rights, and to know where potential problem areas may lie.

29.  An example of such practices is the development of local Human Rights Ombudsman offices with the task to monitor the decisions and the work carried out in a city or a region in relation to its human rights responsibilities. One city has established its ombudsman office by an amendment of its ordinance and the head of the office (the ombudsman him/herself) is appointed by the Mayor by recommendation by a local Citizen Council for Human Rights[8]. The office has the duty to investigate acts of discrimination and human right violations within the public sector. The results of the investigation and the necessary changes in the routines in the institution in focus are presented to the Mayor. The faulting institution is then obliged to report to the Mayor when it has applied the recommended changes. The ombudsman’s mandate includes the City and all administrative institutions under its control, workplaces and jobs delegated to other actors by the City, institutions established by the investment or contribution of the City and work in private institutions commissioned by the City as well as the welfare facilities subsidized by the City.

30.  This case has a number of points of generic interest for all local and regional authorities. First of all the establishment of an office and/or an institution with the task to monitor human rights responsibilities gives visibility to the local and regional authorities’ important role in human rights protection. Secondly, the office can function as a focal point for human rights-oriented work in a variety of sectors. Thirdly, the existence of the human rights ombudsman is established in in local law or ordinance making it more resistant to political pressure and therefore also more able to act independently.  Fourthly, the case points out that the authorities are responsible for guaranteeing human rights respect also for jobs and tasks that are commissioned, delegated and/or financed by them but carried out by other actors. Even if the everyday responsibility to carry out the tasks at hands is the responsibility of others, the authorities are still responsible for ensuring that they do not violate human rights. And finally, there are clear steps on how complaints and criticism shall be mitigated by the party at fault.

b.         Human rights training of the police force

31.  An important part of the responsibility to respect human rights lies with the police force. A human rights respecting police force sets an example for respect for the law by others in society. Human rights awareness is crucial for the police’s ability to intervene in when human rights are violated or is at risk.

32.  One way to strengthen the right to physical security can be to train the police force in human rights-based approaches to their work. Here it is often important to create co-operation at a satisfactory level between civil society organisations and different authorities that influence the police forces. One country dealt with this challenge by engaging both groups of actors to jointly develop a manual for the training of the police force.[9] This training manual had two main aims: a) to create an increasing sense of professionalism and ethics among police officers, and b) to foster a higher level of citizen confidence in the system. Through the training the police officers became more aware of their duties and rights while at the same time becoming more conscious of citizen rights.

33.  Points of general interest in this case are firstly the understanding that the training of civil servants – and especially the police force – in human rights is an important part of the authorities’ responsibilities and essential when upholding a rights-respecting society. Secondly, the cooperation between the civil society organisations and the authorities was based on a win-win concept where both groups of actors had something to gain from the cooperation. The co-development of new material, such guidelines, training and/or checklists for civil servants may also, if taken seriously, increase trust in society at large.

c.         Securing access to public services and spaces

34.  In order to respect the human rights of all citizens, the societal services must be accessible in the widest interpretation of the word. If individuals cannot access the services provided, be it courts, schools, health care stations, due to barriers such as physical inaccessibility, lack of information, language, economic status, etc. their rights are in fact not respected.

35.  A way for local and regional politicians and authorities to strengthen the respect for human rights within its realm is to analyse their services from an accessibility perspective and act in order to eliminate barriers of any kind. One city has developed a master plan that coordinates physical access to all areas of the city.[10] The aim is to make public spaces, services and municipal buildings as accessible as possible, and to ensure that persons with all types of disabilities to enjoy the city in other areas such as culture, leisure and sport. For example, in 2012 over forty per cent of all playgrounds in the city were accessible for children with disabilities.

36.  The case displays a number of points of generic interest. Firstly, accessibility is given a priority that equals the effects inaccessibility has on the possibilities for an individual to enjoy his/her human rights. Secondly, it shows the importance of linking various services and places to each other to ensure real life accessibility. If not, the risk is that a service designed to be as accessible as possible is situated in an inaccessible building or without ways for all find accessible routes to the building. Thirdly, it also included human rights that are often played down as less important, such as the right to participate in culture and society at large. Since all human rights are interdependent, non-respect for one set of rights tend to influence overall respect for human rights negatively. Fourthly, there is an awareness of the necessity to take an intersectional approach to human rights. Physical accessibility includes areas and services for children as well as adults. There is often a danger that planning focusing on one aspect such as physical accessibility forgets that the persons in focus are not only persons with disabilities, but also of different ages, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion etc.

6.2     Protecting human rights

37.  The second responsibility of all authorities at all levels is to protect the human rights of its inhabitants from direct or indirect violations from other persons or groups. Depending on the powers and responsibilities of the individual authority this may mean different things. However, it does mean that local and regional authorities have a duty to find ways to use their mandate to protect human rights within their jurisdiction.

a.         Working against child labour and exploitation

38.  Children and youth are often especially vulnerable to human rights violations. They tend to be less informed of their rights, have less power to fight violators that prey on vulnerability fewer channels to approach the authorities and so on. This being the case, children and youth are therefore in extra need of protection and real participation in order to be able to enjoy their human rights.

39.  In order to combat child labour and protect children at risk, one municipality has founded a Child Rights Desk with the task to prevent child labour, child trafficking and abuse, and create permanent solutions for children whose rights are not protected.[11] The office engages in outreach programs and education, but children that feel that their rights are violated can contact the Child Rights Desk directly to get necessary assistance. The civil servants can then contact other actors that are required in order to protect the rights of the child in question, such as the police, school, health care station or social services depending on the situation.

40.  This case showcases how local and regional authorities can strive to lower the threshold for different groups of rights-holders. The importance of the authorities’ responsibility to protect human rights increases the more vulnerable an individual or a group are. Another vital generic point is the possibility for the child or youth to contacting the authorities directly. A third point of generic interest for the protection of human rights is the office’s role as a focal point and cooperation unit for different actors that are responsible for certain aspects of human rights. When many sectors or levels are involved it may be hard for the individual at risk to approach all necessary actors him/herself and the support of one part of the public sector in coordinating the actions.

b.         Combatting domestic violence

41.  The responsibility to protect of human rights includes protecting individuals from domestic violence. Human rights should be enjoyed everywhere, also in the home. The seclusion of the home may, however, make it harder to ensure protection there, which calls for innovative measures.

42.  In one region a centre has been created, The Centre Against Violence, as the result of an organised co-operation between the municipality, the county council, the regional university, the police, the national prosecution authority and the national board of forensic medicine.[12] The centre is staffed by health care experts from the regional authorities, social workers from the local authorities and volunteers from women’s shelters at local level. The different professions all work together in the centre. Consequently, women who have experienced violence need only to go to one place instead of many, and they also have to give their testimony only once, as it is all recorded and secured for future evidence and information for social and health care interventions. This avoids a situation where a woman and her children have to relive a trauma every time they meet new staff or approach a new service. The centre has three areas: one for children, and one for women. The third section is a completely separate location, and work with male offenders. It is of utmost importance that the women and children feel safe when they have taken the step to seek support and do not risk to running into their offenders.

43.  The case displays a number of points of generic interest for the protection of human rights. Firstly, the centre is developed to function as a one-stop help station enabling information to be shared and actions to be taken jointly in order to ensure a more comprehensive protection of human rights. It is also a good example of joined-up governance for human rights in that the actors involved come from national, regional and local level.[13] The focus on the rights-holders brings together responsibilities that are placed on different levels of governance but come together in the experience of the individual. Finally, the centre’s work encompasses all rights-holders in a complex situation, such as domestic violence. The children are viewed as individuals with their own needs and rights, rather than exclusively seen as accompanying the woman. Furthermore, men with a history of domestic violence are offered treatment and ways to change behaviour in order to break the vicious circle.

c.         Training elderly people in physical security measures

44.  Part of the authorities’ responsibility to protect human rights can be shouldered by informing and training individuals and groups on different ways to claim and protect their own rights.

45.  One city’s police force has developed an academy for the education of retired people in the field of crime prevention as a mean to protect the right to security of individual elderly citizens.[14] Topics are chosen in consultations with specialists and are designed to become guidelines for a safety-conscious behaviour in society. Lectures focus on detecting possible dangers and possibilities to eliminate or avoid such dangers.

46.  The main point of generic interest in this case can be found in the usage of an empowerment strategy as a part of an overall protection policy. It is also interesting that the actor directly responsible for the protection of physical security takes a wider approach on its responsibility to include empowerment of the rights-holders. This can be compared to a health care unit educating on prophylactic health care in order to increase the rights-holders’ ability to achieve the best attainable health.

d.         Certifying equal treatment of all

47.  Another way the authorities can protect the human rights of its inhabitants is to test the human rights adherence of private actors. The reasons for such tests may be to inform the citizens of which private services or companies that are more likely to respect their rights. Serious violations must of course always be prosecuted, but proactive work is important in order to avoid violations in the first place.

48.  One city has developed this kind of certification policy in relation to housing.[15] The certification criteria were elaborated in cooperation with a civil society organisation and with support of renters’ association. When private landlords officially commit to equal treatment principles in housing for all regardless of country of origin they are given a certificate that also help the city’s inhabitants to navigate between different actors. 

49.  The case displays a number of interesting points of generic interest. Firstly, it shows that the local and regional authorities can play an important role in protecting human rights of their citizens by actively developing policies aimed at controlling and influence behaviour of private actors that may affect the possibility to enjoy human rights.  Secondly, it gives an example of a specific policy that may be used i.e. certification strategy, and it points towards the importance of cooperation with civil society organisations.  Finally, it shows how the certification from the local authorities may assist an overall empowerment of its citizens, in so far that they can make more informed decisions on which actors to deal with.

6.3     Fulfilling human rights

50.  The responsibility to fulfil human rights includes establishing and sustaining systems necessary for human rights for all. These include electoral and legal systems as well as systems that provide societal services such as education, policing, health care and social security. The maintenance and development of the latter are often main tasks of local and regional authorities, although not so commonly framed in human rights language.

a.         Ensuring education for all

51.  Everybody has a right to education and it is the responsibility of the authorities to make sure that this right is fulfilled. An educational system must therefore be able to reach all and cater to their different needs and learning styles. This often means on-going anti-discrimination efforts in order to work against structural discrimination of specific groups such as children in foster care, children from national minorities or economically disadvantaged homes as well as children with disabilities. One approach to ensure the right of education of all can be to cooperate with a discriminated group in order to improve the situation.

52.  One example of how to work for equal rights in education can be found in a case where investments were made in professional training of teaching assistants of Roma background and their facilitation of their consequent inclusion into the regular school and pre-school system.[16]The main task of these teaching assistants was to assist the schools to fulfil their responsibilities by integrating children of Roma background into mainstream educational institutions (inclusive education). The teaching assistants helped to create dialogue between the school, family and society at large to strengthen the links between them. This was done through the practice of different teaching methods, through the planning of activities, management and evaluation and through assisting Roma children during everyday training. The teaching assistants also participated in developing training materials that should reflect the cultural elements of Roma community.

53.  Such cases as the one above emphasises the need to look beyond the provision of a general service to the actual fulfilment of a right on an individual and/or group basis. Roma as a group is regrettably experiencing multi-layered discrimination all over Europe. It is therefore especially important for the authorities to ensure that individuals from such groups have the same real life possibilities to reap the benefits of general public services as the majority. To integrate trained personal with background in and experience from marginalised groups into the regular public service staff can be used as a method for improving the connections between the authorities and its citizens in general, and by so doing it may also increase the possibilities to guarantee equal fulfilment of a particular right.

b.         Improving mental health care

54.  Human rights approaches may be especially important in services aimed at mentally ill or persons with learning disabilities, since such individuals may have less possibility to claim respect for their own rights at the same time as they are often in need of support in their day-to-day life.


55.  One provider of specialist mental health and learning disability services acknowledged this need by developing a single equality and human rights scheme for the whole organisation.[17] This scheme describes in detail how the organisation – both as an as an employer and service provider – will be able to ensure that it meets its legal obligations and build equality, diversity and human rights into what it does and how it does it. In order to ensure that human rights really get included in all aspects of the organisation’s activities, human rights-based approach training was designed to be provided within the clinical setting. Each clinic within the organisation then developed a systematic method to the introduction of new approach which involved the adaptation of all work processes to its human rights responsibilities. This influenced the process of discussing, recording and informing of decisions made etc.

56.  This case lifts some points of generic interest. It gives an example of how an organisation can take a comprehensive approach that involves all aspects of its work. The underlying idea is that the likelihood of succeeding is better when the different activities of an organisation are in tune with each other. The case also points out how to engage staff at all levels in order to mainstream the human rights dimensions in to their work. Finally, it focuses on a group, whose human rights are often down-prioritised or even in general human rights work and where the staff’s awareness of human rights is therefore especially important.

c.         Supporting homeless persons

57.  Fulfilling human rights are a major task for the social services. Individuals that for some reason is unable to sustain themselves or acquire adequate housing have the right to support from the authorities. However, many persons with the need of such support do not know about their rights or are unable to claim them through regular channels.

58.  A regional authority developed an area-based service coordination framework with the aim of providing timely and effective access to homelessness and social housing services to people seeking assistance.[18] Different homelessness service providers were linked by the regional authorities through the establishment of local networks that in turn developed a shared approach to assessment and referral processes, resource allocation and service system development. The networks were then responsible for implementing and maintaining the common approach within their own areas with assistance of the regional authorities.

59.  Points of generic interest in this case include the reach-out focus, which is of special importance for a group that may have difficulties to access general public services. The joined-up aspect, where the regional authorities initiate the cooperation and support the subsequent local networks in their day-to-day work, is also of interest, as well as the development of shared approaches to the work within the local networks. The joined-up approach does also include civil society actors focusing on strengthening the possibilities for the homeless persons to access and enjoy their rights.

d.         Working with the right to health

60.  Another aspect of the responsibility to fulfil human rights can be found in the relation to the right of the individual to the highest attainable standard of health. This responsibility includes maintaining a health care system, but also ensuring that the living environment of individuals and groups are not in themselves making them ill.  This includes the underlying determinants of health, such as food and nutrition, housing, access to safe and potable water and adequate sanitation, safe and healthy working conditions, and a healthy environment.[19]

61.  In one city a joined-up initiative was taken to reduce preventable death and ill health due to poor quality housing conditions in its private rented sector.[20] This initiative combines action on the physical condition of property with attention to the specific health needs of every person living in the worst rented properties in the city. First, a survey of these properties was carried out to gather information on both the occupants and the state of the properties. This was followed by a health and safety inspection of the worst fourth of the properties by the city’s environmental health officers. Then, serious health hazards identified by the inspection were removed from the homes, the landlords were involved to ensure that the other necessary improvements were dealt with on a priority basis and that legal requirements were met and coordination, and a health needs assessment of all prioritized occupants was carried out, with advice on health promotion and home accident prevention and referrals to relevant agencies where necessary.

62.  Such cases as the one above emphasises the need to use wide definitions of human rights responsibilities and to connect different parts of a right to others. The right to best attainable health is not dependent on access to health care services or safe and healthy living conditions but on both. In realising this interconnectedness the actors involved put together duties already on their tables, like health and safety inspections, law enforcement and health care promotion to a programme focusing on the situation for disadvantaged groups in the city. Secondly, the case shows how the possibility to target the ones most in need is increased through active collection of information about the city inhabitants – the rights-holders.

6.4     Promoting human rights

63.  The fourth aspect of the authorities’ responsibility for human rights is the promotion of human rights. This includes increasing the visibility of human rights, informing, training and teaching about human rights in all parts of the public sector as well as developing methods and material that can strengthen this work. General acceptance and respect for the human rights of all are more likely to occur in a rights-informed and educated society, where politicians, public officials and the public all understand how human rights are interwoven in their daily work and lives. 

a.         Establishing an inter-religious council

64.  An important aspect of the authorities’ promotion of human rights is the nurturing respect between different groups in society. One city has established an inter-cultural and inter-religious council with the specific aim to promote freedom of religion and free religious practice.[21] The council’s tasks are to contribute to an enhanced dialogue between persons and groups with different cultural and religious backgrounds and to support civil society initiatives in the field. The inter-religious council consists of local leaders from different religious communities and members from the City Council Board. The president of the City Council does also head the inter-religious council meetings. The Council has no decision-making power, but may put issues on the City Council board meeting agenda. The Council has developed into an important interface where sensitive issues can be handled.

65.  The case shows a number of points of generic interest. Firstly, it demonstrates how a local authority may take an active stance on issues such as the right to freedom of religion by establishing a centre or a council focusing on increasing the possibilities for its citizens’ to exercise this right. Secondly, it shows how the work of this council is linked to the general political processes in order to keep the issues on the agenda. Thirdly, it displays another example where the authorities work by actively with civil society actors, here via local community leaders.

b.         Declaring local adherence to human rights

66.  One way to visualize local and regional authorities’ human rights responsibilities can be through local adoption of different charters or through the development of a local declaration on human rights. One well-known example is the cooperation between different cities that in 2000 led to the development of the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City.[22] The Charter aims at implementing human rights for all citizens, regardless of their origin, and to enable participation of all people in civic life. Through adopting this Charter each city confirms its intention to make human rights a guideline of its municipal policies. The cities also agree to promote their common task by sharing experiences and co-operating, and to make use of the influence of the city network.

67.   Other cities have developed individual local declarations. One city charter establishes the principles of both rights and responsibilities and shows the city’s commitment to the ongoing improvement of public services.[23]

68.  The points of generic interest of this example are firstly that politicians and the local and regional authorities can use official documents such as charters and declaration with clear human rights language to manifest their political commitment to human rights, and their commitment to live up to their human rights responsibilities. Secondly, such public documents – once in place – can develop to become a nexus for communication between politicians, public sector staff and the citizens. Another point of general interest is the co-operation between different cities within and across borders on a common commitment that may function both as peer supervision and inspiration.

c.         Using equality indexes as a point of departure

69.  Other way local and regional authorities can promote a wider understanding of and commitment for human rights is to work with public indexes that collect data related to different human rights criteria. This is often done together with other local authorities to allow for comparison.

70.  One example is a municipal equality index developed to evaluate municipal laws which affected the LGBT community.[24] The index examines the laws, policies, and services of municipalities from every region and rates them on the basis of their inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work in there. The criteria used fall under six broad human rights categories: non-discrimination laws; relationship recognition; the municipality’s employment practices; the inclusiveness of city services; law enforcement; and municipal leadership for equality. 

71.  Each year the index creates a picture of overall equality in municipalities of varying sizes drawn from every region in the country. The result highlights the human rights policies of some cities and provides a possible plan for municipal equality for cities whose laws and policies need improvement. The index also shows that some of the most progressive equality policies in the country have been innovated and implemented at the municipal level, also in regions without non-discrimination laws.

72.  This case displays a number of points of generic interest. Even though the index itself was initially developed by a civil society organisation, municipalities and regions have chosen to engage in the work with the index to different degrees. The use of a common index allows the authorities to share methods and ideas for the improvement of citizen equality. Furthermore, the index shows that authorities on one level can use its room of manoeuvre to improve the human rights situation for their inhabitants. The laws, policies and services in focus relate to all four dimensions of human rights responsibilities making it a useful tool for promoting awareness of these responsibilities among rights-holders as well as duty bearers.

7.       CONCLUSIONS

73.  As is shown by the cases above many of the responsibilities for human rights are already shouldered. Local governments often draw implicitly on human rights principles like equity, social justice, participation and transparency, and engage in the promotion of local democracy. But their work is commonly not described in terms of respecting, protecting, fulfilling and/or promoting human rights, and it is sometimes even unclear if the involved are aware of how their work are part of the authorities’ responsibilities for human rights.

74.  Another challenge, to real life enjoyment of human rights for all, shown by the cases above, is the accessibility to the services provided by the public sector. Besides, discriminating practices within the public sector itself, barriers such as the inability to afford the financial costs for health care, lack of mobility, lack of language competence, lack of access to information etc., affect the possibilities of individuals and groups to both claim and enjoy their human rights.

75.  However, the few cases of good practices at local and regional level presented above raise several points of generic interest – all with relevance for the respect, protection, fulfilment and promotion of human rights and important for working “systematically with human rights”.[25] It should be said that there is certain degree of overlap in these categorisations and the chosen examples may in fact serve multiple objectives at the same time.

76.  To summarise, the cases showed how politicians and civil servants at local and regional level may shoulder their human rights responsibilities in many different ways:

·       Take a proactive stance on human rights issues of local importance and concern declaring the responsibility of local and regional authorities to respect, protect, fulfil and promote a certain right or the rights of a certain group. When taking decisions to strengthen human rights, e.g. by increasing the protection of the inhabitants of unsafe neighbourhoods or hire special pedagogical support for children with special needs show the human rights dimensions of the decisions and communicate them clearly;

·       Give visibility to the local and regional authorities’ commitment to human rights through establishing human rights offices or ombudsman, adapting local charters and using a human rights language that clarifies the connection between everyday work and the international commitments to international human rights law. Regardless of if this visibility is physical in the form of offices or come in the form of strategic documents, it is crucial that they are given the dignity and importance needed, In the case of human rights offices it is also important that the mandate is strong and respected;

·       Ensure that all public services are accessible and lower the threshold for different groups of rights-holders e.g. through physical accessibility plans, out-reach policies, and by actively including personal from marginalised communities into the work force. When planning and/or evaluating the services and environments compare the individuals and groups that have a right to enjoy these systems and places to the group that are actually using them. Are the services and environments really accessible to all that should use them?

·       Initiate and maintain cooperation within the public sector both between departments on one level and between levels taking the rights of the individual rights-holder as a point of departure. When an individual or a group approach the public sector seeking protection of or fulfilment of their human rights they are rarely well-informed of the division of labour between different sectors and levels. Organisational hurdles should never stand in the way for effective human rights implementation;

·       Use empowerment strategies focusing on knowledge and information to strengthen the possibilities of the rights-holders to protect and claim their rights. Whenever human rights should be respected, protected, fulfilled or promoted, it is crucial that the persons whose rights are in focus are made aware of the fact that they have right to the services etc. Equal human rights requires equal knowledge about human rights; 

·       Develop a better understanding of the situation of different societal groups or minorities as well as of the heterogeneity that exists within these groups, be it religious communities, LGBT persons, national minorities, children, persons with disabilities, elderly women, or men and then act in accordance to this understanding. When working to improve the overall human rights situation interventions are generally focused on one or more so-called vulnerable groups, such as national minorities, children, persons with disabilities etc. While this kind of targeted approach may be just right for the situation, a special challenge is to keep in mind the intersectional character of all individuals belonging to all such groups;

·       Train civil servants and politicians at local and regional level on human rights in direct relation to their own work and the tasks they are facing, and engage them on how to mainstream human rights within their specific realm. When planning introductory training for new staff or newly-elected politicians, ensure that human rights responsibilities are a core theme of the training, regardless of their speciality;

·       Cooperate with local communities and civil society organisations for common human rights goals. When planning, carrying out and evaluating policies and actions affecting human rights participation of the individuals and groups concerned is not only mandatory, it is also an effective way to avoid problem in later stages;

·       Develop policies aimed at controlling and influence behaviour of private actors that may affect the possibility of some groups to enjoy their human rights. When engaging in procurement be sure to require unconditional respect for human rights from the tenderers and engage informed companies and firms in ways to ensure human rights are respected also in private businesses; 

·       Use comparison, cooperation, common frameworks and indexes when further strengthening their human rights commitment. When planning and evaluating human rights-related services make sure to develop and/or use existing indicators, indexes etc. to stay on track and improve existing services from a human rights perspective.

8.       RECOMMENDATIONS

8.1     Use human rights to frame decisions, policies and activities at all levels

77.  In order to strengthen human rights in Europe there is a need to raise the awareness of politicians and civil servants at all levels of their responsibility to respect, protect, fulfil and promote human rights to the utmost of their powers and resources. Regional and local authorities should therefore attempt to incorporate human rights standards to frame their powers and responsibilities and orient their initiatives. For example, issues of economic and social rights can be raised through the lens of discrimination and the accessibility of the services provided. By stating their responsibilities and making the link between human rights and services clear, both local authorities and citizens will become more aware.

78.  Through the framework of human rights, state, regional and local agencies may better understand and articulate the interrelated nature of rights. The usage of the same language on all levels of the public sector including the Council of Europe gives a common framework for their shared responsibilities and allows for easier distribution of methods and ideas.

8.2     Do something, do more, do better

79.  When relating their work to international instruments there is risk that the responsible actors feel weighed down by the inexhaustibility of their task, rather than inspired and engaged by its importance. This is the reason why human rights must be broken down into everyday decisions and activities and the advancement of human rights taken one step at a time.

80.  Since authorities in practice already work with human rights in some shape or form it is easier to take this work as the point of departure for its implementation of human rights. Work focusing on one aspect of the human rights responsibilities, or the right of a certain group, or the strengthening of a specific right can be used to develop other aspects of the responsibilities, the rights of another group or the strengthening of another right. The key is to work with all relevant human rights within one’s jurisdiction, ensure that the work include all groups and all aspects of the responsibilities. The important thing is to do something, then to do more, and to do better.



[1]. L: Chamber of Local Authorities / R: Chamber of Regions

EPP/CCE: European People’s Party - Christian Democrats Group

SOC: Socialist Group

ILDG: Independent and Liberal Democrat Group

ECR: European Conservatives and Reformists Group

NR: Members not belonging to a political group of the Congress

[2]. Debated and adopted by the Congress on 25 March 2014, 1st Sitting (see Document CG(26)5FINAL explanatory memorandum), rapporteur: Lars O. MOLIN, Sweden (L, EPP/CCE).

[3]. The role of local and regional authorities in the implementation of human rights, Explanatory memorandum, The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Council of Europe, CG(18)6.

[4]. Developing indicators to raise awareness of human rights at local and regional level, Explanatory memorandum, The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the Council of Europe, CG(21)10.

[5] See the recent Issue Paper of the Commissioner for Human Rights on safeguarding human rights in times of economic crisis at: www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/thematic-work/economic-crisis).

[6]. See for instance United Nations Development Group, Human rights-based approach to development programming, http://www.undg.org/?P=221 (2013-09-15).

[7]. Serrat, O. (2010). Identifying and sharing good practices. Washington, DC: Asian Development Bank.

[8]. The city of Gwangju, South Korea. See The Democracy and Human Rights Portal http://www.gjhr.go.kr/main/main.php  (2013-09-15)

[9]. This training developed in Macedonia See Police and Human Rights: Manual for Police Training

http://www.humanrights.dk/files/pdf/Engelsk/International/macedonia.pdf (2013-09-15)

[10]. Bilbao a Escala Humana: La vision de la polítcal municipal desde un enfoque de Derechos Humanos, Bilbao, Spain

[11]. Child Rights Desk and School, information folder from Izmit municipality in Turkey. http://www.izmit.bel.tr/tr/Default.aspx

(2013-09-15)

[12]. The centre is situated in Umeå, Sweden and is created as a co-operation between the municipality of Umeå, Västerbotten County Council, Umeå University, the Swedish Police, the Swedish Board of Prosecution Authority and the National Board of Forensic Medicine. http://www.vll.se/default.aspx?id=55458&refid=34331 (2013-09-15)

[13]. For a project focusing on the necessity to join-up different sectors and levels of government see the European Bureau for Fundamental Rights’ research project Joined-up governance: connecting fundamental rights

http://fra.europa.eu/en/project/2011/joined-governance-connecting-fundamental-rights (2013-09-15). See also FRA Toolkit for joined-up governance.

[14]. The police in Brno, the Czech Republic http://www.mpb.cz/en/public/senior-academy/ (2013-09-15)

[15]. The Dortmund integration council in Germany, in association with the civil society association Planerladen and with the support of the Dortmund renters’ association developed the certificate Siegel für herkunftsunabhängige Gleichbehandlung bei Vermietung, http://www.integrationsprojekt.net/siegel_gleichbehandlung.html (2013-09-15)

[18]. Opening Door model, Victorian Government, Australia http://www.nwhn.net.au/Opening-Doors-the-NW-Local-Area-Service-Network.aspx (2013-09-15)

[19]. Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment 14, The Right to the Highest Attainable Standard of Health, E/C.12/2000/4.

[20]. The Healthy Homes Initiative, Liverpool, United Kingdom. The initiative was taken by the local primary care trust (PCT) of the National Health Service (NHS), City Council departments and Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service, together with voluntary and charitable agencies. http://liverpool.gov.uk/council/strategies-plans-and-policies/housing/healthy-homes-programme/ (2013‑09-15)

[21]. Örebro, Sweden. For  more information contact kommun@orebro.se http://www.orebro.se/1340.html (2013-09-15)

[22]. In 2006 354 cities from 21 European countries have signed the document, the overwhelming majority of them Italian and Spanish (83 %). http://www.uclg-cisdp.org/en/right-to-the-city/european-charter (2013-09-15)

[24]. The Municipal Equality Index (MEI), USA. http://www.hrc.org/municipal-equality-index#.UjWQwsb0Hqk (2013-09-15)

[25]. Thomas Hammarberg (2009) “Recommendation on systematic work for implementing human rights at the national level” Commissioner for Human Rights, CommDH(2009)3; Thomas Hammarberg (2009) “Serious implementations of human rights standards requires that benchmarking indicators are defined”. Viewpoint by the Commissioner for Human Rights.