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06 / 07 / 2004
Gil-Robles: “In the Europe of citizens hundreds of thousands who are unable to claim this status”

The commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe, Álvaro Gil-Robles spoke during the closure of the Dialogue “ Human Rights: Local and Regional Administration” stating his commitment to defend and promote human rights

Álvaro Gil-Robles thanked the Forum Barcelona 2004 and the City Council of Barcelona for hosting the congress and stated, “There is still a lot to do with regard to human rights.” In this respect, the commissioner explained the existing difficulties, “Since Europe, the continent of citizens, still counts a great number of people who are unable to claim this status.” Gil-Robles showed his commitment to work towards improving access to human rights, and especially cultural rights, for all Europeans.

Ulrich Bohner, executive director of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities explained during the closing session that the congress “will include in its next report a checklist of local rights and regional powers and their relevance with regard to social, cultural and education rights.” Bohner also added “we must increase efforts in education and training for locally and regionally elected officials in order to ensure their commitment and awareness with regard to human rights.

Bohner spoke of the difficulties in the face of defining the nature of cultural rights. With respect to this, Bohner explained that ombudsmen are mediators and not judges and therefore, “it is not necessary to define these rights because the mediator exists.” Likewise, Bohner insisted on the importance of taking into account other rights such as the right to work, health, and environmental rights. Bohner made an appeal to the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities in order to continue discussing these issues of great importance for citizens.”

Ignacio Pérez Caldentey, member of the bureau of the commissioner for human rights made a summary of the conclusions of the dialogue. With regard to the legal and constitutional aspects of human rights it was reported that Europe counts on a range of modern legal instruments to guarantee the defense of human rights. Thus, in addition to the European Convention for the protection of human rights, participants referred to the European Charter for the Safeguarding of Human Rights in the City (Saint Denis 2000), which constitutes an important instrument for the promotion of rights at the local level,” added Caldentey.

Caldentey also referred to the fact that local administrations are closer to the citizens and that their fundamental rights are often affected, either due to decisions taken – or by inaction – on behalf of regional or local authorities. For this reason, these institutions should be regulated, especially during the current decentralization process that many European countries are putting in place.

In this context, the need to incorporate human rights in local and regional constitutions was also mentioned during the session, while recognizing the powers of local administrations with regard to human rights by conferring them executive powers in compliance with the principle of subsidiarity.

The dialogue also debated the role of ombudsmen and how they can reinforce the activity of mediators in the defense of rights. In this respect, the importance of the regional mediators was emphasized, as well as the need to create a municipal ombudsman.

As most social and economic rights range among the so-called positive rights, which appeared in Europe in the last years by way of claims to health services, urban planning and other public services, the dialogue also was a good opportunity to establish the key role of local and regional authorities to guarantee these rights. For many speakers, the principle of subsidiarity was of great importance in this case. The dialogue also debated the situation and problems of the countries that recently joined the EU, and also about minorities.

With regard to cultural rights and education, Caldentey established a difference between cultural rights and the right to culture. For many, culture cannot be subject to jurisdictional conditionings since it is an essential component of the social system. With regard to the right to education, the speakers agreed to affirm that public authorities must acknowledge civil responsibility to guarantee access to specific levels of education for all citizens.

“It is of great concern to see that minorities face difficulties in the access to education,” explained Caldentey. The role of local and regional power is relevant in order to avoid this kind of discrimination towards minorities.