The Office of the UN High Commissioner for human rights (OHCHR) is the leading UN entity on human rights. It has a mandate to promote and protect human rights worldwide, including by raising public awareness, mainstreaming human rights into all UN programs and providing capacity building and technical assistance to governments and other stakeholders.
OHCHR also provides substantive and technical support to various UN human rights mechanisms. These include the Human Rights Council (HRC) and its subsidiary bodies, as well as the Treaty Bodies. Headquartered in Geneva, OHCHR is present in the field with numerous regional and country offices, human rights advisors to the UN presence as well as in UN peacekeeping missions.
While States and their central administrations have the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights, local governments have complementary and shared responsibilities in relation thereto. Local governments are close to their population and as such, they deal with human rights issues on a daily basis.
Local governments translate national human rights strategies and policies into practical application. For example, they provide public services addressing needs and priorities related to the realization of human rights at the local level. As stated by the HRC Advisory Committee, “it is difficult to imagine a situation of human rights being realized where there are no local authorities to provide the necessary services […] it should be borne in mind that the real effect of human rights is experienced locally” (see A/HRC/30/49, §26).
In relation to the work of the Human Rights Council (HRC) on the issue of local government and human rights, OHCHR has released several reports, including the summary of the intersessional panel discussion on the role of local government in the promotion and protection of human rights, as well as a report on local government and human rights for the 42nd session of the HRC (September 2020). An impressive number of stakeholders submitted input for that report, including 19 local governments, 18 States and various city networks. In accordance with HRC resolution 45/7 (dated 6 October 2020), OHCHR is preparing a report on “the role of local government and the challenges faced in the promotion and protection of human rights, […], with a view to identifying possible elements of principles guiding local and national governments in this regard” to be submitted to the HRC prior to its 51st session (September 2022).
OHCHR engagement with local governments
Through its various field presences, OHCHR frequently engages with local governments on a broad range of issues. This includes housing, land management, health, discrimination, migrants, gender, persons with disabilities, freedom of expression, etc. OHCHR is generally interested in receiving good practices by local governments and city networks. It can thus provide concrete illustrations of human rights implementation at international level.
OHCHR and urbanization
In the lead up to the UN Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development – Habitat III, which took place in Quito, Ecuador in 2016. OHCHR released news, stories and other documents that demonstrate how urbanization can be a force for positive transformation if it respects and promotes human rights. These can be found here.
The OHCHR provides secretariat support to the Treaty Bodies, which are committees of independent experts that monitor the implementation of the core international human rights treaties. Only States can become parties to these treaties and recommendations by Treaty Bodies are mainly addressed to States. They have the primary responsibility for the promotion and protection of human rights. This being said, recommendations of Treaty Bodies are relevant to local governments, and they can contribute to their implementation. Local governments have the possibility to contribute to the elaboration of relevant general comments of Treaty Bodies which are of particular relevance to them. Overall, local governments could reflect upon ways and means to increase interaction with Treaty Bodies. For instance, they can do this by providing information and sharing views on challenges and opportunities. They can also provide concrete ways to implement human rights at local level.
- Local Government and Human Rights, OHCHR website
- Urbanization and human rights, OHCHR website.
- 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
- HRC 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)
• Bahram Ghazi, OHCHR focal point on local governments and cities, firstname.lastname@example.org