International Human Rights - Local Delivery: Why a joined-up approach to human rights implementation is essential

Speeck given by Morten Kjaerum Director of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights on 24 March, Graz.

International Human Rights - Local Delivery: Why a joined-up approach to human rights implementation is essential

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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Human rights talk can be abstract. But in fact, human rights are part of our
everyday lives: when we are ill, we want to receive good medical treatment; we all
want to be treated with respect; when we go to work, we want to have working
conditions that respect our health, safety and dignity; when our rights are violated,
we want to be able to complain about it and get redress; we want our children to
receive quality education; we want to live in a safe environment. All these
examples have a strong local component.
53 years ago, Eleanor Roosevelt – the mother of the Universal Declaration of
Human Rights – said:

"Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to
home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the
world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighbourhood he
lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he
works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal
justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these
rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere."

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is still valid today: It is the local and regional
authorities who facilitate people’s access to their rights on a daily basis, whether it
is to healthcare, to fair and just working conditions, freedom of expression,
education and so on.
So the bottom line is: fundamental rights are brought “alive” locally; and more and
more cities are officially signing up to fundamental rights. Graz understood human
rights challenges as early as 2001, when your City Council issued the Declaration
on Human Rights. Concrete projects and activities followed. Graz was the first
European city of human rights – and I would like to congratulate all of you who
have made this possible. In this context, I would like to extend my appreciation for
the work that the Graz European Training and Research Centre for Human Rights
has undertaken over the past 12 years. The Centre is also a partner of the
Fundamental Rights Agency in several projects.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
If Eleanor Roosevelt knew it over 50 years ago – then isn’t it a bit surprising that
we in Europe had to wait so long to have the first human rights city? Maybe not.
This actually reflects very well the development that human rights have made: of
course, fundamental rights protection and promotion have been very prominent on
the international agenda for quite a while. Take, for example the Universal
Declaration of 1948.
But it was only in the past 20 years that there was a remarkable shift on how we
view human rights within Europe. If we think back, during the Cold War, human
rights were a popular topic when we in the “Western world” discussed about
countries on the other side of the iron curtain, or South Africa, or Chile or other
states, but not about ourselves.
Today, human rights have very much reached the core of our own societies. I call
this the domestication of human rights. Let me give you some concrete examples:
the debates that we have in the EU about prisoners in solitary confinement, or
about the treatment of persons with mental illness, about the rights of children, and
so on. Human rights questions have come home. Therefore, we should become
aware: today’s human rights defenders are people who work on patient care, or as
prison wardens, or on access of minorities to social services, or on legal aid for
undocumented migrants, or on the protection of personal data. And so on.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
So we have today, finally, arrived at a stage when fundamental rights are also on
the local agenda in EU countries. But how can we translate all those rights from
theory into practice at the ground level locally? How can we transform the
fundamental rights from books into concrete local rights? There is a pressing need
to respond better to citizens’ needs.
For this, cities themselves are key actors. It is the cities and local communities
which are directly confronted with challenges such as migration, education,
healthcare, access to housing, discrimination etc. All these challenges are very real,
so local authorities need to identify tangible solutions.

There are a number of concrete obstacles to this; let me mention three key
1) First: Often, human rights related policies and measures are not well
coordinated between the local and the national level. Therefore, there is a risk
that local citizens are facing serious human rights challenges without getting
redress or support from the competent public authority. Take, for example,
racist and xenophobic discrimination or free movement within EU Member States
– this simply cannot be addressed in one city alone.
One concrete challenge that Europe is facing today is migration. Take the case of
those several thousand Roma EU citizens who move to other EU Member States.
Some of these Roma come from regions with extremely high unemployment; they
migrate in order to find additional income to survive. This is based on the right to
freedom of movement, as well as other associated rights. For the receiving
countries and communities, this creates a clear challenge in terms of antidiscrimination
and integration. How can we find sustainable solutions to
integrate migrants successfully into society?

2) Second: there is unequal access to services, and socio-economic inequalities
persist. In order words: discrimination continues. When policies are not human
rights-proof, the negative effects are most visible locally: social exclusion and
marginalisation rise, patients with minority backgrounds may not receive proper
healthcare, or children with disabilities do not receive good quality education.
How can we ensure that everyone has equal access to basic services?

3) Finally: the existing legislation is not really used – for several reasons. One
reason is that many people - and often even the authorities - are not aware of
human rights legislation. Our research has shown that although ethnic minorities
are frequently discriminated against. They generally do not even know that
discrimination against them might be illegal. For example, in 7 EU Member States
that we surveyed, between 28% and 86% of Roma did not know that
discrimination on the labour market against them was actually forbidden by law.
This leads to people not reporting the discrimination they suffered.
Another reason for not reporting human rights abuses is that people either do not
know where to complain in the first place; or they do not trust the authorities or the
police. 80% of minorities do not know a single organisation where they could go to
complain about a concrete case of discrimination. How can we ensure that
everyone is aware about their rights, and about the existence of redress
mechanisms - and that everyone actually uses them?

Ladies and gentlemen,
These are some of the problems. So what are the ways forward?
I will go into detail on a number of points here:

  • First, coordination and partnership
  • Second, making people aware of their rights
  • Then, impact assessment of fundamental rights implementation is key
  • Further, of course is the question of money
  • And finally, how cities can learn from each other

1) to my first point – coordination and partnership: In order to address crossnational
phenomena such as migration or poverty, coordinated policies and
instruments internationally, nationally and locally are needed. We call this type
of coherent planning and decision-making joined-up human rights governance.
This approach is new: it brings together central government agencies, local
governance structures, specialised bodies, and private and voluntary organisations.
The Fundamental Rights Agency is in the middle of a project where we identify
different models of cooperation between the national, regional and local levels –
and for this we look at several different countries, and at very different human
right topics such as: migration, asylum, anti-discrimination, poverty and gender
But in parallel to national, regional and local coordination, there must also be
coordination across a range of different sectors: the labour market, housing
policies, education etc. This can for example mean systematic mainstreaming of
Roma inclusion issues into policy areas of education, employment, public health,
infrastructure, urban planning and so on. Local authorities are important actors in
this process.
To add to the complexity of different levels and different sectors, the third
component here is the local partnership between authorities, civil society
organisations and private businesses. It is proven that this partnership is the best
way to improve service-delivery. Concretely, this means that people’s basic needs
are met in their surroundings. For example, think of the need to provide
community-based care for persons with disabilities rather than institutionalising
them far away from their home. The Human Rights Reports by the city of Graz
shows clearly that some achievements have been made, just to mention the health
service for everyone, without even the need for official documents or social
In this context, local businesses should be encouraged to look at human rights not
as an extra effort, but as an opportunity to increase their visibility and productivity,
to attract new customers, and to provide better services for the community. The
Human Rights Report of Graz describes the remarkable introduction of antidiscrimination
provisions in public procurement contracts. This is a promising
start; it sends the right message: discrimination reduces profits.
2) I come to my second point, local governments can play a role in 'selling'
human rights to people. People must know their rights better. At every airport you
find posters about passengers’ rights – similarly, at every town hall, at every
hospital, in every school, people could be similarly made aware of their human
rights. If people are more aware of their rights, they can participate more actively
and can help authorities better respond to their needs. This includes access to local
complaint bodies. Training of elected representatives and their staff is also very
important. Generally speaking, human rights education is of utmost importance.
Again, from your Human Rights Report we know that there are many institutions
which provide human rights education in various aspects. Again the European
Training Centre for Human Rights is one of the outstanding providers. Political
leaders and local administrations should also take up their particular responsibility
in this respect, and lead by example.
3) My third point is: Impact assessment of fundamental rights implementation
is key. But if I want to measure my impact – I must define very clearly from the
beginning what my goal is. And then I must measure how I progress. And if I then
see that I do not progress, I need to change my policies. So, in order to do a proper
impact assessment, good data collection is needed, and this must be based on
reliable indicators. Today there is often still neither good data collection nor clear
goals and indicators.
Your Human Rights Reports go in the right direction, and the recommendations,
which are based on the Human Rights Declaration, are becoming even clearer and
more practical. Graz is also a member of the Coalition of Cities against Racism
and passed in this frame a 10-Point-Plan-of-Action against Racism which lists
concrete goals for achievement. The FRA will follow with great interest which
achievements have been made – and how – in order to add them to our list of
recommended examples.
4) Regarding money, there is a very telling Austrian saying: “Ohne Göd ka Musi”1
Human rights implementation costs money. I would therefore encourage local
and regional authorities to use existing EU funding for their fundamental rights
projects, in partnership with civil and business sectors. One example is the
"Fundamental rights and citizenship" programme (2007-2013) that the European
Commission is offering.
5) Finally, there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Cities and local communities
can learn from each other. Part of our work at the Fundamental Rights Agency is
to collect examples of good practice and to distribute them further. We come
across many different examples on how such problems are addressed across the
EU. On this note, I would like to encourage public and private actors in Graz to
continue sharing their expertise, for example with the Fundamental Rights
Agency’s network of local and regional authorities.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I summarise: Experience and research show very clearly - coordination and
cooperation between all levels and all actors is the way forward. It would be great
if the City of Graz could become a role model in “living” human rights.
At the beginning of my speech, I quoted Eleanor Roosevelt’s inspiring words.
Allow me to also end my intervention with a quote from her: the local delivery of
human rights is “in our hands”!
Thank you for your attention. I look forward to our discussion.