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Identifying human rights issues in local policy-making

Leen Verbeek, King’s Commissioner of Flevoland

Barbara Oomen, Dean of University College Roosevelt



Human rights have long been seen as a concern of the central state instead of regional and local authorities, whilst these own a key role in the actual realization of human rights, ranging from the right to privacy to social and economic rights. In this workshop, we discuss which human rights play a role at the local level. Many social issues – discrimination, poverty, the position of minorities – are not always considered as human rights issues. Nevertheless, connecting these local concerns with universal human rights can further the discussions on these matters and lead to more informed and balanced decision-making, with participation of all actors involved. Essentially, the workshop relates to the following question: How to identify where human rights are at play at the local level, and how to best invoke them in addressing local issues?

Guiding questions: Please discuss, in your groups, the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats in adopting a human-rights-based-approach to these three themes:

  • General socio-economic challenges in your communities
  • The specific issue of discrimination and polarization
  • The issue of radicalization



Barbara Oomen, Dean of University College Roosevelt: The participants of the workshops were asked to look at the most pressing issues in their communities, in their countries at the local level and then to discuss what human rights could contribute towards addressing these issues. In terms of the most pressing issues at least two important things came out: the first was that due to economic problems, local and regional governments have less money to spend and have to do much more with the little money they have had before. So the question of how to serve people better with less money was one that seems very important in many of the discussions.

The second thing which was discussed in many of the groups was the discrimination that many people experience, that discrimination of certain groups of people came up over and over again. So, old people were named as well as the Roma or people with disabilities. The participants emphasised many local differences, f.e. some participants emphasised that private ownership is an issue in their country. But anyway, the points of economic problems and discrimination came up in almost every discussion.

During the discussion what human rights can contribute to address these issues, a number of common lines were brought up. One was the importance of awareness that social issues are human rights issues. Another thing was the importance of participation, of allowing all social groups to participate in policy making. A third issue that came up in the discussions was the need for an analysis of structural conditions so that human rights problems could be identified even before the problems arise. The focus should lay on the structure instead on the symptoms of human rights problems. The question is of course how to do that. The participants named the importance of building institutions to undertake such analyses because human rights issues are normally connected with one single person as a mayor or ombudsman. So institutionalisation seems to be a key force.

Many participants described themselves being alone in the field of promoting human rights. They emphasised the importance of meetings like that Forum to know other people who care about the same issues. This could also be a very important form of empowerment.

Out of all these point, a number of political ideas for action came up.

Leen Verbeek, King’s Commissioner of Flevoland: What is the debate on the future of human rights in terms of the Congress, in terms of the regions, in terms of local authorities? What do we do with the agenda of human rights? This Forum will have a good influence on this process, of how we think of it and how we will go on after today.

There still is a need, although many of us are working in the field of human rights for many years, to organize the beginning of a process where the hobby of the few becomes the responsibility of the many. We are still lonely, there are still too few of us working on these issues. This room should be too small for all the people working on human rights but it is not, there are even empty chairs. We are still too much in the corner of people who just have a hobby. We need people who professionally take responsibility for human rights matters. This process should be discussed.

Furthermore, there is a large need for communities to initiate such debates among people who are interested in the same issues. People are very much motivated but they need the support of their communities. In the future we have to be much more offensive to motivate communities in organising such debates. We have to be more offensive to exchange best practice among the communities. And it is important that we organise spaces and areas where it is safe to do this debate. Not all of the participants are safe to do a debate like this in their home countries. So we need to organise Forums like this to be safe for saying what you want to say. This is also important if we want to debate on an international issue, the human rights.

We have to leave the lonely position and to get together closer than we do it now. We have to act more as a group, as a community and to reach out into our surroundings.



Exchanging good practices

Lars O. Molin, Councilor of the City of Örebro and Thematic Rapporteur on Human Rights at local and regional level at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

Maria Nilsson, Senior Advisor and Human Rights Implementation Expert at Emerga Research and Consulting



Whenever human rights practices are being discussed, the need for examples of good or promising practices is brought up. At the same time, there are many practices that could be excellent learning examples that are overlooked, since they focus on another group, another sector or another human right. Taking this as the point of departure, the workshop will focus on how to widen the range of relevant good examples. This will be done through the participants’ own analysis of good practices, by finding the generic characteristics of each case. It is through the focus on such generic characteristics that learning and inspiration will be possible. All participants should bring at least one example of a good human rights practice from their own municipality, city or region. A series of questions will be presented and used during the workshop.

Guiding questions: Present cases at your table (target groups, sectors, main aim, outcomes). Discuss and reflect

  • What challenges have you faced in your example?
  • organisational hurdles
  • cooperation with other actors
  • securing influence of right holdersHow can the good examples be transferred to other contexts and other target groups?
  • In general, what makes a good case a ”helpful case” for others?



Maria Nilsson, Senior Advisor and Human Rights Implementation Expert at Emerga Research and Consulting: There were two questions and objectives that were focused in this workshop. The first one was to identify and share good examples and also to identify the challenges that are faced by these good examples. The second one was to identify what makes an example a good example and how could they be transferred from one context and working with one target group to another context and another target group. The examples that came up in the workshops touched all four pillars of human rights: respecting, protecting, fulfilling and promoting. As good examples projects were named that try to increase participation of disadvantaged groups, like youth parliaments or through education of people with Roma background. Different kinds of human rights trainings were marked. Awareness raising – to recognise that people have human rights – was named as a very good starting point. Also special websites or newspapers have been named as good examples, esp. for countries where these things are not self-evident. Election monitoring was also named as a good example.

Challenges of these good examples were named in relation to budget. But there are also challenges regarding the competences of the local level versus the national level. The problem of centralization has been marked as a very important topic in this regard. Civil servants or ombudsmen can sometimes bring human rights issues on the agenda, but they have to convince the decision makers.

The discussion of what is a good example and how could they be transferred has to be continued, but a few points for thought can be given. One is the fact that good examples should always empower the rights holders, independently who the rights holder would be. Another fact is the improvement of influence of the target groups. Cooperation between the authorities and the NGOs was stressed being very important. The last and probably most important point is to give visibility to human rights as the starting point for all the good examples.

Lars O. Molin, Councilor of the City of Örebro and Thematic Rapporteur on Human Rights at local and regional level at the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities: We have taken a step forward today. Anyway, we have to continue this process because there was too little time in the workshops, they were more like an introduction into different topics. But the next steps could be taken out of the results of the workshops. There is so much knowledge and experience among the participants. It is important for the Congress to use this knowledge now. We have to find out ways how we can work further on and how we can use all the knowledge and experience of the participants. The workshops were very well organized. Now we are all inspired to go home and to do more.



Designing human rights policies

Bettina Vollath, Regional Minister for Finance, Women and Integration in Styria

Klaus Starl, Secretary General of the ETC



Why should a region apply a human rights based approach to policy making? What do politicians expect from human rights based governance? What goals does such a policy pursue? How may a human rights approach be formulated? What models can be applied? What are the challenges for introduction and implementation of a human rights based governance approach? How to evaluate its effectiveness? The case study of Styria will be presented along these very practical questions.

Guiding questions:

  • Please discuss local/regional problems. Identify one topic of common interest. Please discuss the human rights aspects of this topic.
  • Please think about an adequate political measure with regard to the selected problem. Formulate the aspired goals but also have in mind the possibility of verification.
  • Please discuss how to implement the selected measure. Name also adequate indicators of verification.
  • Please debate which recommendations would occur from this and which of them should be included in the common declaration



Klaus Starl, Secretary General of the ETC: Starting point of the workshops was the Resolution 334 (2011) of the Congress where the following three goals are named: awareness raising among local and regional politicians, networking to improve the situation and to create a platform, using the elaborated technical model of the Resolution to analyse human rights questions and to measure the success of human rights policies. The interest of the participants as well as the special setting of the workshops created an atmosphere where all these three aspects could be discussed and implemented.

In this workshop the concept of the Human Rights Region of Styria was presented to introduce an example of the implementation of the named technical model. After the presentation, participants discussed three questions. What are the specific problems of their communities? What political measures could address these problems? How could the effect of these measures be stated?

The specific problems identified were homelessness, problems within the living together in diversity, questions of moral courage, the right to information, the awareness of legal protection as well as the awareness of human rights issues among politicians and the administration.

As an answer to these problems many different human rights education strategies have been elaborated. Due to this, human rights education should start at a very early point, in kindergarten or even earlier, and should address all parts of society. Human rights education in primary education is also as important as in further education of specific professions. One example which was discussed was a human rights education strategy within the voluntary fire brigade. The participants discuss how different people could be reached and how it would be possible to increase awareness among different groups of people that human rights are important for the life of everybody.

The participants agreed that only that what will indeed reach the people should be measured. But this discussion has to be continued due to its complexity.

Bettina Vollath, Regional Minister for Finance, Women and Integration in Styria: Two aspects of the workshops should be discussed further. One aspect was the realization that three pillars should work together for a good human rights policy. Although politics and human rights experts work mostly in a close connection, the third pillar, the civil society, is missed. How could this be changed in the future? How could the civil society be reached by the politics? How can structures be implemented? What possibilities for participation are given? An exchange of good practices would be preferable.

The second aspect named human rights policy as a top-down process as we are all living in hierarchical structures. Human rights based approaches could not be developed bottom-up if they are not welcome by the top. Public administrations should serve as good examples and should develop standards for the implementation of human rights. After this, other institutions will follow these examples and will focus also on issues of human rights. So, public administrations have definitely a mission, in Styria for example through the Styrian Integration Partnership that serves as a platform of exchange at different levels.