Headquartered in Geneva, the Human Rights Council (HRC) is the principal UN intergovernmental body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the globe and for addressing situations of human rights violations. The HRC has the ability to discuss all thematic human rights issues and situations that require its attention. Its 47 Member States take decisions on specific human rights topics or country situations through resolutions put forward, negotiated and adopted by States. Civil society, international organizations and other experts however actively contribute to the work of the HRC.
Human Rights Council Resolutions
In 2013, the HRC started to work on the role of local governments in human rights through resolution 24/2 tabled by the Republic of Korea and other States (Chile, Egypt, Romania). Since then, the HRC Advisory Committee submitted a report on the role of local governments in the promotion and protection of human rights and four other resolutions were adopted (27/4, 33/8, 39/7, 45/7).
Over the years, these HRC resolutions have become more substantive. Whereas the first resolutions (24/2 and 27/4) requested research by the HRC Advisory Committee on the role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights, the third resolution (33/8) went further in underscoring the contribution that local governments can make to the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the importance of public services addressing local needs and priorities related to the local realization of human rights. That resolution also recognized the primary responsibility of national governments in the promotion and protection of human rights. The fourth resolution (39/7) focused on the cooperation between local governments and local stakeholders for the effective promotion and protection of human rights.
The latest resolution (45/7) encourages States to promote the engagement of local governments in the work of international human rights mechanisms and in implementing relevant recommendations, including in the preparation of State submissions for the Universal Periodic Review, in State reviews by Treaty Bodies and in the work of the HRC Special Procedures, in particular during country visits. HRC resolution 45/7 also requests the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a report on the role of local government and the challenges faced in the promotion and protection of HR, with a view to identifying possible elements of principles guiding local and national governments in this regard.
Special procedures are human rights mechanisms established by the Human Rights Council. They are independent experts with mandates to report and advise on human rights from a thematic or country-specific perspective. Special procedures conduct country visits, raise individual cases of human rights violations by sending communications to States and other stakeholders. They also issue thematic studies and engage in public advocacy. As such, they mainly engage with States, but have also started engaging increasingly with local governments during their country visits where a broad range of actors provide them with input.
Certain thematic Special procedures are particularly relevant for local governments and some have closely looked at the role of local governments in relation to human rights, including the Special Rapporteurs on housing (see for instance, the thematic report on the roles of local and other subnational levels of governments in relation to the right to adequate housing”), education, environment, health, cultural rights, older persons, poverty, internally displaced persons, minorities, water and sanitation. (NB: this section is based on OHCHR report A/HRC/42/22, § 44-46).
Universal Periodic Review
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a peer-review process of the human rights records of all UN Member States. Established by the Human Rights Council, the UPR is a State-driven process which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to fulfil their human rights obligations and improve the situation in their country.
Local governments increasingly contribute to and participate in the UPR. In some States, local governments have even been involved in the drafting and validation of the State’s national report. Actually, nothing prevents local governments to submit a voluntary mid-term report on the implementation of recommendations received during previous UPR cycles. Also, States delegations participating to the UPR can include representatives of local governments, but this practice is not widespread yet. Numerous recommendations have been made to States concerning local governments, but the dissemination at local level remains to be improved. (NB: this section is based on OHCHR report A/HRC/42/22, § 42 and 65.)
- Human Rights Council resolutions on “local government and human rights”: 24/2 (26 September 2013), 27/4 (25 September 2014), 33/8 (29 September 2016), 39/7 (27 September 2018), 45/7 (6 October 2020)
- Local government and human rights, Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/42/22, 2 July 2019
- Summary of the intersessional panel discussion on the role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights, Report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/38/22, 18 April 2018
- Role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights, Final report of the HRC Advisory Committee, A/HRC/30/49, 7 August 2015
- Report of the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing on the roles of local and other subnational levels of governments, A/HRC/28/62, 22 December 2014
- Role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights, including human rights mainstreaming in local administration and public services, Progress report of the HRC Advisory Committee, A/HRC/27/59, 4 September 2014
- Research proposal by the HRC Advisory Committee, A/HRC/AC/9/6, pp. 17-18, 21 August 2012
- Local Government and Human Rights, OHCHR website
- Urbanization and human rights, OHCHR website
• Bahram Ghazi, OHCHR focal point on local governments and cities, email@example.com.