“Human rights at local and regional level”
Graz, 3 December 2013
Presentation by Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe
Andreas Kiefer : “People are holders of rights and not mere objects of governance”
(from left to right) Stefan Hoflehner, Gemeindebund, Renate Kicker, (ETC), Claus Starl (ETC), Andreas Kiefer, Secretary General of the Congress, and Martin Haidvogl, Chief Executive of the City of Graz
Graz, 03.12.2013 - « Local and regional governments are fully-fledged actors and stakeholders in creating conditions for the exercise of human rights in their communities and in ensuring their full implementation », underlined Andreas Kiefer, Congress Secretary General, at the Conference “Human rights at local and regional level”, in Graz (Austria), on 3 December 2013. “Because human rights are concrete, so is their realisation, which takes place not in an abstract legal space but in a concrete environment where people live, work and interact – in the environment of our communities, of our towns, cities and regions”, he explained. M. Kiefer underlined, in particular, the importance of training of politicians and civil servants, awareness-raising, benchmarking and setting up independent complaints’ mechanisms accessible at local level.
“It is clear that adopting “good laws” in parliaments is not nearly enough to guarantee respect for human rights. It is also the fact that today, national governments, through their human rights structures, have to respond to the situation already existing on the ground, and to interact with local and regional authorities on putting in place appropriate practices.”
He mentionned the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights concerning local and regional authorities which shows that the main alleged violations concerned Article 8 (respect for private and family life), Article 10 (freedom of expression) and Article 11 (freedom of assembly and association) of the Convention, as well as Articles 1 and 3 of Additional Protocol 1, dealing with the protection of property and the right to free elections.
M. Kiefer referred to the resolution 296 and recommendation 280 adopted by the Congress in 2010 which recommend setting up appropriate structures and developing procedures at local and regional levels to assess human rights situations, in particular in providing public services. The Congress now includes the human rights implementation by local authorities as an additional element in its monitoring visits in order to take stock of the situation in member States and to show good practice. In 2011, the Congress adopted resolution 334 including a specific methodology, which is based on the United Nations indicators, and selected rights – political, social or collective rights - which are relevant to the local authorities.
The Congress Secretary General also presented concrete examples such as establishing positions of deputy mayor responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights, setting up offices of local ombudsmen, or developing targeted strategies with evaluation. The Congress is currently preparing a report, which will be submitted for adoption in March 2014, which is a compilation of such good practices in Council of Europe member States and in other countries. The aim is also to see how they can inspire similar initiatives in other European countries.
“Today, our democratic system is based on our deeply-held conviction that effective democracy and good governance at all levels are essential for creating sustainable societies where people can enjoy a good quality of life and effective participation. Unconditional compliance with fundamental rights is a sine qua non of good governance, including at local and regional level. In other words, there is no good governance and no democracy without compliance with human rights. This interdependence means that respecting human rights also adds to the importance of the European Charter of Local Self-Government”, he concluded.