During the first session of the dialogue entitled Human Rights and Regional and Local Administration Local, the speakers focused their arguments on the existing relationship between two expressions that are apparently unconnected: ‘human rights’ and ‘local administration’.
From the point of view of the Council of Europe, Guy de Vel, Director General of Legal Affairs, referred to the European Convention on Human Rights, signed by the 25 member states, which defends the civil rights of people, dealing with civil and economic rights, and also including minorities.
According to Guy de Vel, states have two sides to them: on one hand, they are defenders and, on the other hand, they are violators of human rights; however, these rights are most often abused on a local or regional level. Nevertheless, only states answer to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, and only the states may be the object of a legal claim by this court, since the state is responsible for all of its components. This is why thought should be given to the initiation of dialogue between central governments and local and regional groups to see whether the internal provisions of each state comply with international agreements.
Giovanni di Stasi, President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities at the Council of Europe, asserted that the behaviour of local governments is hardly every examined, for good or for bad. In Europe, human rights are affected by a plethora of resolutions that come from local and regional authorities. These are enjoying increasing amounts of responsibility, and come across issues of abuses of human rights on a daily basis. They are also the first to be contacted by the citizen when conflicts arise regarding religion, equality of the sexes, urban violence, social exclusion, etc. Stasi gave two examples in which local authorities have united to create common agreements for the defence of rights, such as the European Urban Charter, which is a good practical guide, and the Barcelona Charter, which contains proposals for actions such as the improvement of public space, without any form of distinctions.
Álvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for Human Rights at the Council of Europe, discussed the role played on occasions by local and regional authorities in human rights issues: local authorities, possibly because of too much pressure as a result of many problems on a daily basis, and because they see regulation principles as being difficult to achieve, also see the need to rectify what is wrong as something that is difficult to achieve. In some cities, minorities are clearly discriminated by city councils. As a result, Gil Robles proposed that they be asked to participate in the democratisation process, in a positive, as well as a reactive, way.
In conclusion, the speakers proposed in-depth dialogue and debate in order to bring international institutions and central governments closer to the daily reality and problems faced frequently by local and regional administrations, thus initiating a genuine means of defending citizens’ rights.