Human rights at local level and the situation of Roma in Europe
What can be done to make the elected representatives of European local and regional authorities more aware of their role in ensuring the implementation of human rights? How can co-operation between the different levels of governance in this field be strengthened? These issues were discussed on 22 March 2011 at the 20th session of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe.
The Congress has a unique mandate to assess the situation of local democracy in Council of Europe member states. As part of this main mission it has committed itself to strengthening its activities promoting human rights at a local and regional level.
A report to identify “local human rights indicators”, currently being prepared by the Congress Monitoring Committee, will be presented at the October 2011 session. The aim is to develop tools to improve its assessment of the actual situation with regard to the application of human rights at local and regional level, to identify policies which work and encourage the sharing of good practices between local and regional authorities in Europe.
The Congress is also pressing for the introduction of machinery such as local human rights ombudsmen’s offices in the Council of Europe member states, and for closer co-operation between the different levels of governance. With a view to all of these activities, it is working closely together with the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights and the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights.
Speakers at the debate
Thomas Hammarberg, the Commissioner for Human Rights, who took part in the debate, said that there was growing support for a human-rights based approach at local level. Local elected representatives and public officials should grasp this opportunity to bring human rights into people’s homes.. He underlined the complementary role of the different Council of Europe bodies in this field and, in particular, the Congress’ contribution with regard to local and regional authorities. “The Council of Europe as a whole is responsible for safeguarding human rights and it is important that each of its bodies make a contribution. The Congress should pursue its human rights activities at the grassroots level,” he said.
Morten Kjaerum, Director of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, also addressed members of the Congress and underlined the fact that human rights were exercised every day in fields such as education, health and housing and in countering discrimination towards people with disabilities or minorities. Local authorities ought to be included in all human rights planning and practice, he said, stressing the need to ensure regular human rights follow-up.