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Fundamental rights need champions – dedicated individuals that play a central role in realising fundamental rights.
In the focus group discussions conducted for this toolkit, public officials highlighted that having a dedicated group of committed people who persistently advocate for fundamental rights can make the difference between success and failure. Champions are characterised by:
- Personal commitment: fundamental rights are more than a job description or activity; they resonate at a personal level;
- Self-fulfilment: working on realising fundamental rights is self-fulfilling and boosts self-esteem.
Hackney Council – a local authority in the UK - has worked together with partners in the healthcare and the private sector to recruit 60 staff members from the council and the private sector, 20 service users and a local councillor as ‘Human Rights with Dignity Champions’. The key role of these champions was to act as delivery agents for the local authority in the community.
The champions continue to cascade information about fundamental rights and work with vulnerable people in a way which gives them dignity and respect. They also, ensure that staff are able to translate fundamental rights legislation into day-to-day practice, and that users understand their right to challenge. They hold events such as dignity day, which promotes fundamental rights in the community.
These champions volunteer their time and were keen to get engaged after attending presentations by the local authority on how fundamental rights were being implemented in their day-to-day practices.
Source: Interview Jiwan Raheja, independent human rights consultant, 2011, London, United Kingdom
It is helpful to have champions at four different levels:
It is obviously important that local or regional authority staff working directly on implementing fundamental rights initiatives feel ownership and become champions. It is also helpful to have a network of champions in other departments within administrations, particularly when it comes to mainstreaming fundamental rights across governmental sectors and policies.
Leaders are people who have recognised standing and authority. The best leaders are people with political, managerial or intellectual authority in partner organisations or within administrations. Internal bureaucratic obstacles or a lack of commitment from important partners can halt work on fundamental rights. Having a leader advocate and use their personal authority to resolve problems can be a strong advantage in these situations.
Public personalities with experience of engaging the media and speaking in public can be ambassadors for fundamental rights. They can be local counsellors, mayors or national parliamentarians but also take their fame from sports, entertainment, the arts, academia or the media. Ambassadors are particularly helpful when trying to raise broad awareness of fundamental rights and when dealing with public opinion and the media.
Community leaders and activists
Champions within the community are people who are willing to represent their community or group in public. Research findings show that individual activists attract more media and public attention, and have a high degree of legitimacy when talking about fundamental rights. They are crucial for mobilising support for a cause and gaining credibility with the public.
Officials should be proactive in trying to recruit champions. Once in place, taking time to work with champions and support them as they take on roles and responsibilities with fundamental rights initiatives is well worth the effort.