Local needs, local solutions: A tale of human rights cities
At a time of globalisation, it is still on our streets, in our neighbourhoods, in our cities that our rights come to life.
From the school yard to the office block, our local environment shapes how we work, rest and play. Recognising this, the crucial role cities play in protecting and promoting human rights was showcased at the Fundamental Rights Forum 2018.
It brought together local actors such as mayors, local officials responsible for human rights, representatives of cities networks and civil society organisations.
They explored how they, and others like them, could boost human rights and the sense of belonging in the EU.
And it wasn’t just hot air. Many cities, large and small, are already walking the talk as self-proclaimed ‘human rights cities’.
Vienna, Barcelona, York and Utrecht are just some of the many that have pledged to tie their activities to human rights frameworks as guiding principles for their city. These include the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the EU’s Fundamental Rights Charter.
Such frameworks are the building blocks cities can use to construct their local policies, programmes and strategies.
Cities also strive to engage and ensure people in cities can actively and meaningfully participate in policy making. Here citizens’ consultations and other participatory events or meetings are useful vehicles to bridge the gap between municipal staff and communities.
Intermediaries such as community leaders, mediators, artists, writers, or the media can also be used to bring the voices of the people to local administrators.
At the Forum, the Västra Götaland region in Sweden and the City of Vienna shared practical examples of what they are doing to bridge the gap. They spoke of ‘human rights talks’ between professionals and rights holders, supported by human rights actors and NGOs.
Like all other pioneers, cities need help to spread the word.
Here, Forum participants invited human rights actors, particularly FRA, to facilitate the exchange of practice and know-how between human rights cities in Europe.
They also felt national governments should also recognise the key role local authorities play as duty bearers in respecting, protecting, promoting and fulfilling human rights obligations at the local level.
At the same time, mayors and local authorities have to recognise that they too have obligations as duty bearers.
Participants suggested one way to achieve this could be to engage local governments in human rights-related policies and initiatives. One example could be when drafting National Human Rights Action Plans.
They also felt cities need to embrace change. They need to explore ways to formulate policies and deliver services differently, together with the people they serve.
A practical example of this at the Forum was the Cities of Refuge project.
Here participants underlined the importance of local authorities working hand-in-hand with refugees, citizens, civil society, businesses, NGOs and any other actors available for cooperation, to better fulfil the rights of migrants and refugees. Only then will the best results be achieved.
Speaking directly to the local population in terms they understand is also crucial, they felt.
They further pointed out that the EU should consult with local authorities when determining asylum policies as well as support them both financially.
Another element of change is rethinking urban space. Again this should be done in consultation with the local population so it reflects their everyday needs.
In practical terms this could take the form of redesigning public furniture or creating dedicated meeting points for groups such as young people to congregate and socialise.
Accessibility is another important element. It applies to buildings and public transport as well as services. It ensures everyone, including elderly people and people with disabilities, benefits, and can participate in everyday life.
So all in all, human rights can help ensure local needs of local people can be met by local solutions delivered by local bodies if we work together.