New Council of Europe Handbook for Local Authorities on Human Rights
Date: 3rd April 2018
Category: Non-discrimination, Other human rights treaties and mechanisms, Refugee and asylum seeking children
A new human rights handbook has been launched by the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The handbook encourages local authorities to promote human rights in their policies and sets out many examples of good practice. Notably, it discusses the role local authorities must play in protecting the rights of asylum-seeking children, children from Gypsy/Traveller backgrounds and LGBTI children.
The handbook was launched by the Congress at its meeting on 27th March 2018.
This new "tool" takes the form of a user-friendly guide for local and regional authorities. It is aimed directly at staff members of all levels and impresses upon them the importance of embedding a human rights-based approach into local policies and practice. The handbook emphasises that engaging with human rights has wide benefits and can lead to more effective policies, improved social cohesion, more content citizens and increases in economic development and citizen participation. It notes that embedding a human rights-based approach need not be costly as it is often more about "rethinking, reassessing and adapting" existing approaches.
This handbook (the first in a series) focuses on non-discrimination. It includes chapters on three areas:
- Asylum-seekers and migrants
- Roma and Gypsy/Travellers
- LGBTI community
Each chapter begins by challenging common misconceptions and prejudices, before setting out examples of good practice by local authorities and concluding by setting out clear recommendations.
The handbook identifies children as vulnerable members of society and emphasises the particular difficulties faced by children from asylum-seeking and Gypsy/Traveller backgrounds, and LGBTI children.
For asylum-seeking children, the handbook emphasises that local authorities should implement services including psychological support, mentor programmes and dedicated health assistance. It also recommends that local authorities ensure that unaccompanied minors are offered a safe space and supported by professionals to access education. Examples of good practice here include the After 18 Initiative from the City of Leicester which helps prepare unaccompanied young refugees for their transition into adulthood and the change to their status this shall bring. Another example is the Eurodistrict project which funds activities in various French and German municipalities that bring local and refugee children together. These activities include art workshops, field trips, dance classes and science activities.
For Roma and Gypsy/Traveller children, the handbook recommends that local authorities engage actively with their families and provide inclusive housing solutions. It emphasises that these children should be offered a safe space and that local authorities must facilitate their access to education. Authorities also have a responsibility to tackle the social exclusion of Roma and Gypsy/Traveller children by ensuring that every child has a birth certificate, identity documents and health records. Examples of good practice here include the Every Child Matters Programme run by a school in Leicester which offers a modified curriculum and more flexible hours to encourage more children from Gypsy/Traveller backgrounds to attend. Another example is the ROMACT Programme which has been implemented in 115 municipalities across 6 countries. This programme addresses social exclusion of vulnerable Roma communities and equips them and public authorities with the capacity to fight poverty and exclusion.
Finally, the handbook emphasises the discrimination faced by members of the LGBTI community, including children. It emphasises the need for local authorities to adopt a zero-tolerance position on homophobia and transphobia, and take steps to actively reach out to the LGBTI community.