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Collecting and analysing information on the situation on the ground helps public officials establish the need for fundamental rights action. A fundamental rights assessment assists in establishing a baseline and defining targets for future improvements.
When the city of Utrecht decided to review its track record in human rights, it commissioned a study to review how the city gave effect to human rights.The study examined ten municipal policy areas and looked at selected indicators for each. These included:
- the existence of emergency shelters for asylum seekers in distressing circumstances;
- measures to combat discrimination on the ground of sexual orientation;
- availability of help services for victims of domestic violence, including children;
- human rights education in schools (“Peaceful School Programme”);
- the quality of healthcare for elderly people.
It was the first time that Utrecht screened its existing policies and measures against international human rights standards. The study was published in 2011.
It is considered as a first step toward further mainstreaming international human rights standards into municipal policies.
A baseline study is a good starting point for fundamental rights planning. A baseline study is a description of the current fundamental rights situation in a country, region or city. It identifies shortcomings in fundamental rights protection and provides the basis for developing a strategy or action plan to remedy the situation.
Fundamental rights indicators
It is often not easy to measure the enjoyment of fundamental rights. Therefore, it is useful to break down fundamental rights into measurable indicators. For example, Roma children’s enrolment in school gives an indication of their access to education. To give a complete picture of the situation, this must be complemented with qualitative information – for example about the quality of education they receive. Indicators should be based on international human rights standards. Developing indicators helps focus fundamental rights policies, strategies and action plans on tangible goals.
Relevant and reliable data are needed to develop effective fundamental rights policies, as is the case for other policy areas. New policies, strategies or legislation should be based on evidence from the ground to assess their fundamental rights impact. Existing policies should also undergo regular fundamental rights checks.
Lancashire County Council has made a human rights checklist part of the report which civil servants must present to their superior when recommending a decision or action:
- Has the author of the report taken the Human Rights Act into account? If not, the item must be returned to the author.
- Is the proposed recommendation or action likely to have any Human Rights Act implications?
- Identify the Convention right or rights likely to be affected.
- Outline briefly any consultation with interested parties.
- Identify groups or individuals likely to be affected.
- Explain why an action or recommendation is necessary by referring to the actual Convention/Act.
- What is the legal authority for taking a decision/action?
- What is the aim of the recommendation/action and what are the potential effects?
- Does the report take into account any human rights issues highlighted above?