In spite of the apparent distance between human rights and local and regional administration, the fact is that these levels of government are the closest to the citizens where these rights are manifested in their most immediate dimension.
The dialogue, “Human rights and local and regional administration”, was held on 5 and 6 July 2004 in the Universal Forum of Cultures. Guy de Vel, Director-General of Legal Affairs of the Council of Europe inaugurated the debate referring to the European Convention on Human Rights, signed by the 25 members of the European Union. It aims to protect the civil rights of individuals as well as the social and economic rights of all the citizens, “including the most vulnerable minorities such as immigrants, women and homosexuals”. De Vel demanded more responsibility of the institutions and the local administrations since “they are the nearest estate to the citizens and must defend their rights”. In this respect, Giovanni di Stasi, as President of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, acknowledged the urgency of regulating local authorities because they have more and more competences.
Mohamed Nazir, member of the Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council based his speech on the advantages of partnership to try to get local authorities to work as partners of the regional authorities and the central government to guarantee the defense and development of human rights.
Professor Sean Loughlin returned to the issue of the constant tension between individual and collective rights and the principle of subsidiarity. He said that “it becomes necessary to defend the globalisation and the universality of the rights but without forgetting that society must protect its own identity by preserving it”.
Antoine Leonetti concurred with this proposal, demanding the fostering of local identities without hindering national identities. For example, local languages must be protected, but without protectionism, without harming the rest of the official languages.
Antonio Montalvo's intervention presumed that “the definition of human rights concerns the law” but he pointed out that “they are managed by public administrations through local or regional policies”. Montalvo added that “the development of the welfare society has increased the tasks of local administrations and has also meant increased civic participation”. Marina Subirats, Councillor for Educational Affairs of the City Council of Barcelona, spoke along the same line, making a plea for revitalising cities as entities that educate and promote the development of human rights.
Marina Subirats' talk reflected on the importance of education in promoting civic citizenship. She gave various examples from the Barcelona area. She also underlined the need for education to overcome academic teaching: “Each right is possible only if there is a duty”. She warned that, “We cannot educate a spoilt citizenry that only think about their rights”, hence the relevance of campaigns to develop civic-mindedness for sectors such as urbanism, traffic safety and respect for the environment.
The dialogue was closed by Ulrich Bohner, Chief Executive of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, and Álvaro Gil-Robles, Commissioner for human rights of the Council of Europe. The dialogue concluded with the firm desire to balance the right to prosper with the collective responsibility to promote human rights.