Councils in Essex urged to adopt human rights practices

  • Date

    Sun 3 Oct 21

Portrait photo of Koldo Casla

A report published by the University of Essex encourages local councils to think about how they could improve their services by using human rights.

Human Rights and Local Government – lessons from human rights cities, produced by the University’s Human Rights Centre, looks at nine European cities, three of which are in the UK, to see how they use human rights to have a positive impact on the local community.

Seven of the cities studied have declared themselves as Human Rights Cities, which means that businesses and organisations – including councils – refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in everyday activities and policies.

These cities are Barcelona, Graz, Lund, Nuremberg, Utrecht, Vienna, and York. York is the first self-declared Human Rights City in the UK.

The report aims to identify some of the common characteristics among these cities as well as the potential benefit of becoming one. It also draws on the experience of two cities – Brighton & Hove and Newcastle – who don’t have the status but who have adopted certain human rights principles in specific areas, for example, in housing and homelessness.

Co-author of the paper, Dr Koldo Casla, lecturer in law and director of the Human Rights Centre Clinic at Essex, said: “All nine of these cities are good examples of human rights in action in a local setting. Simply calling yourself a human rights city isn’t going to make you one, equally you can implement policies without being a self-declared human rights city.

“It’s about adopting certain human rights principles, for example, participation and inclusion or non-discrimination and equality.”

Both Newcastle and Brighton & Hove have also implemented local initiatives in the areas of housing and homelessness that “resonate with human rights principles”, he explained.

The case studies reveal how human rights principles have been adopted in different ways. For example, in York, a group has been established to support various disadvantaged groups; Graz, in Austria, has a programme which aims at raising young people’s interest in human rights; and in Lund, Sweden, they have devised a Social Sustainability Programme, which has been adopted by the council.

Although Newcastle City Council doesn’t refer to human rights itself, it refers to the concepts of fairness, inclusion, and social justice. In partnership with homelessness charity Crisis, through adopting human rights practices, the council managed to reach out to households who were at early risk of homelessness and not only those already in crisis.

In Brighton & Hove, homelessness was also on the agenda. In March this year, the Council voted to adopt the Homeless Bill of Rights in response to campaigning by activists who were concerned by the way homeless people, and in particular rough sleepers, were being treated and how their rights were neglected.

The report forms part of a project led by Dr Casla, called Human Rights Local, which aims to make human rights locally relevant and show how closely they are linked to everyday life.

Dr Casla and colleagues, including co-author Irem Arf Rayfield, an independent human rights consultant and LLM (Master of Law) student, will be sending the paper to all local authorities in Essex this month.

“We want to use it as an example for local authorities in Essex,” Dr Casla said. “We hope they will see the success of the case studies we have included and consider implementing some of the ideas to support human rights and deliver even better services.”

The project was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), through its Impact Acceleration Account (IAA), which aims to speed up the impact of research carried out by universities.