Conclusions of the Debate on Implementing Human Rights Policies at Regional Level, held during the 26th Session of the Chamber of Regions in Strasbourg, on 26 March 2014
By Leen VERBEEK, King's Commissioner of the province of Flevoland, Member of the Chamber of Regions of the Congress
I would like to thank you for all these good practices presented us today. It is great to see such initiatives which prove that these territories not only recognized the importance and the need of respecting and promoting human rights at regional level, but also started to react and develop something in this field. But it is also needed to say: there is still much to do in the field of human rights. Regions have to see their unique opportunity and responsibility to coordinate and issue human rights policies, as being placed the closest to the holders of these rights, the citizens. And also, regional representatives have to be accountable. We need to ask ourselves: do we do enough in view of our position for protecting and promoting human rights? Do we take our individual responsibility to speak up for the rights of people who we represent?
Nevertheless, it is important to reaffirm that creating and implementing an effective human rights policy is the responsibility of the member states on the first place, also through their legal commitment to the Council of Europe. They must play a leading role in the protection and promotion of human rights. However, based on the repartition of tasks and accordingly on the shared responsibility between the member states and their sub-national levels, especially in countries with strong regions such as Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria or Spain, regional authorities also need to implement concrete measures in order to help fulfilling, protecting and respecting human rights at regional level.
As we heard it from the presentation of Mrs. Bettina Vollath (Minister for Finance, Women and Integration in the Regional Government of Styria, Austria), Styria can be regarded as a good practice at regional level in terms of explicitly declaring the responsibility of the regional government on protecting, promoting and fulfilling human rights at regional level. The frame document of implementing HR in Styria is the Charter of Living Together which sets the general principles and strategies for any action to be taken in this regard. As Mrs. Vollath mentioned, building a community, where people can happily live together in the spirit of human rights, can not only based on a top-down approach. Therefore, local and regional authorities must help empowering their citizens to decide on their own future. In this respect, it is essential to educate them about their rights and duties.
Professor Alan Miller (Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, United Kingdom) presented us Scotland’s National Action Plan for Human Rights, a roadmap for the realisation of human rights at regional level. This framework is based on the participation of a wide range of public bodies and voluntary organisations which followed the same vision: to implement human rights in all areas of life in a longstanding and progressive way. In order to achieve this, the Action Plan sets out a process in which Scotland can increasingly embody good practice in its involvement in the international human rights system.
Mr. Rafael Ribo (Catalan Ombudsman, Spain), in its role of the Catalan Ombudsman, stressed the importance of the ombudsman’s institution, which stands as the Defender of the rights for those who feel unprotected against the administrations’ actions or missions. The elderly, immigration, child protection, social exclusion or the penitentiary system are some of the highest-priority areas of activity for the Ombudsman, especially when it comes to undertaking ex officio actions or carrying out reports or working studies to defend the rights of those in greatest need.
I fully share the importance of cooperation partnerships with relevant institutions and organisations, both from the governmental and civil sphere for creating a sustainable and longstanding human rights policy, as it was emphasised by all of the speakers today.
The reports prepared by our monitoring Committee, the third of which (“Best practices of implementation of human rights at local and regional level in member states of the Council of Europe and other countries”) was debated yesterday in the Plenary, provide an excellent reference of good examples and recommendations regarding the implementation of human rights at local level. Today we heard three good practices in the regional context, but we can also see that there are less good examples identified at regional level. This is why the Chamber of Regions will continue to consider this issue as a priority and will continue on raising awareness of the responsibilities of regional authorities in the field of human rights by organizing debates and establish the necessary synergies between the local and regional level. Accordingly, I will report on the issue at the next meeting of the Monitoring Committee, to be held in July.