“Concrete and comprehensive action plans are needed to ensure
implementation of human rights”
[03/11/08] The 1993 World
Conference on Human Rights expressed concern about the gap between the
agreed norms and the reality in a number of countries. It recommended
that all governments should produce a national plan for the
implementation of their human rights obligations.
Fifteen years have passed since that conference in Vienna but only a few
countries have produced national plans, among them Azerbaijan,
Lithuania, Norway, Moldova and Sweden. Several other countries, however,
are now in the process of developing theirs.
The idea is to be systematic about implementation and the first step is
to identify the existing problems in the form of a baseline
study. Normally, there is no lack of information about human rights
shortcomings. Local non-governmental groups, ombudsmen, and
international bodies usually provide such information as well as the
media and relevant authorities. Such data must be collated and analysed
in a structured manner for the purpose of planning.
It may also be advisable to undertake in-depth studies into some areas
of particular interest. Views from minorities or marginalised groups
should also be obtained.
Problems which tend to come up in serious baseline studies include an
assessment of the record on ratification of international human rights
treaties, gaps in legislation and shortcomings in the judicial
proceedings. An obvious area for analysis is the functioning of existing
monitoring systems, such as ombudsmen or national human rights
rights education is a strategic area which also deserves special
attention, both the situation in schools and universities as well as
specialist training for professionals. Awareness among the population
about human rights is certainly an important aspect to consider in this
The relationship between the authorities and civil society should be
looked at critically. A media policy which respects freedom of
expression and encourages many voices to be heard is clearly an issue
for examination in a number of countries.
A thorough baseline study should lay the ground for discussion about
priorities and what action ought to be taken. A comprehensive human
rights action plan or a series of more specific action plans can
be drawn up. Observations and recommendations from international human
rights bodies – including those from Council of Europe – should be of
substantial help at this stage.
As financial constraints and lack of human resources make it difficult
to address all problems at once, there is a need to discuss priorities
thoroughly and to plan for the medium and long term. All interested
parties should be involved in this discussion, including politicians,
representatives of the governmental authorities at different levels and
non-governmental groups. This would create a sense of shared ownership.
To encourage authorities on board, it is necessary that they perceive
this process as relevant for their own work. In the long term, a human
rights perspective should be mainstreamed in the day-to-day activities
of different authorities including in the budgetary decisions. Active
participation by representatives from the political opposition during
the drafting process can contribute to the continuity of the work.
Human rights work involves many, if not all, authorities. Coordination
and cooperation within the government and among different authorities at
national, regional and local levels is thus essential. One tested method
is to establish a coordinating body consisting of representatives
from all the relevant ministries and agencies.
Such a mechanism provides a forum for the exchange of experiences and
information, discussion and cooperation. It is also useful for reporting
to international human rights monitoring mechanisms and may in fact save
resources, minimising overlap in reporting obligations.
Actors other than the authorities should also be involved in the
continuous work for human rights. Focus groups representing civil
society, indigenous and national minorities, national human rights
structures and enterprises can be established for this purpose.
It takes time to build effective mechanisms to protect human rights,
especially when laws need to be changed and institutions reformed. At
the same time, the plan should not project too far into the future,
otherwise it risks being too vague. Experience so far indicates that the
time-frame for such national plans should be between four to five years.
Action plans should be evaluated when the time is up. It is equally
important to assess the process, in terms of participation,
inclusiveness and transparency, as it is to evaluate the end result. The
conclusions of this review should be openly presented and a debate about
the effectiveness of the process encouraged. All those who participated
in the planning process should be able to contribute to the evaluation.
The evaluation will provide the foundation for a new cycle of the
process. A new baseline study should be developed with an equally
inclusive, transparent and participatory approach. If well designed,
benchmarks and human rights indicators can be valuable tools for
follow-up and evaluation, taking both quantitative and qualitative
aspects into consideration.
Systematic work for human rights is a continuous process.
Baseline studies, action plans and evaluation exercises are tools for
clarifying and assessing the steps to be taken to reach our objectives.
They inform us what has worked and what has not.
This Viewpoint can be re-published in newspapers or on the internet without
our prior consent, provided that the text is not modified and the original
source is indicated in the following way: "Also available at the Commissioner's
website at www.commissioner.coe.int"