Local Government and Human Rights Reach the UN
The United Nations recently has made small but significant steps toward recognizing the explicit human rights dimensions of local government. On 29 September 2013, the Human Rights Council (HRC) adopted its resolution (A/HRC/24/L.2), approving its Advisory Committee’s research proposal on local government and human rights, “bearing in mind that human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings, and that their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of Governments.”
The new research-based report will focus on the role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights, including human rights mainstreaming in local administration and public services. It is expected to compile both best practices and main challenges, with a progress report to the HRC and to present a progress report to the HRC at its 27th session (September 2014).
The resolution requested the Advisory Committee to seek the views and inputs of Member States, relevant international and regional organizations, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures, as well as national human rights institutions and nongovernmental organizations. Although they are not explicitly mentioned, local governments are assumed to provide important input through these procedures, even though local governments do not have consultative status directly with the UN.
In the meantime, the HRC has commissioned the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to submit a report outlining the role of the public service as an essential component of good governance in the promotion and protection of human rights, including a compilation of good practices based on information received from stakeholders. OHCHR has announced that the report will be completed and presented to HRC at its 25th session (February 2014).
In February of this year, the executive director of UN Habitat, which refers to itself as the “city agency,” issued a “commitment to the human rights-based approach to development” (HSP/GC/24/2/Add.7). This addendum to an annual activities report acknowledges that “UN Habitat has a responsibility to assist Governments to respect, fulfill and protect human rights and, in particular, the right to adequate housing and the right to safe water and sanitation.” While claiming to “mainstream” the human rights commitment, the executive director has decided to relegate human rights to a unit in the UN Habitat Project Office.
These initiatives come just in time for the preparations for Habitat III (2016) and deliberations on the new post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals. The former is a UN-wide conference of member states, not a conference of a single agency. Both processes face the challenge to operationalize human rights. Local Authorities Major Group (LAMG) and Member States Friends of Cities have expressed how “sustainable Cities and Human Settlements are at the core of the coming development agenda, as have United Cities and Local Governments. The nexus of human rights and local government will be a main subject of the 7th session of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (New York, 6–10 January 2014), as well as the 7th World Urban Forum (Medellin, Colombia, 5–11 April 2014). All these developments will influence the commitments of states to be concluded in the coming two years, affecting us all for the longer future.