Swedish Municipal Network Created for Human Rights

Gabriella Fredriksson speaking to a colleague at a conference for human rights cities

Seven Swedish municipalities have joined a new network organized by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) for a pilot project where they use a new human rights platform for their work involving human rights.

The network will gather for five workshops during 2018 to develop human rights-based work in Lund, Klippan, Hudiksvall, Uppsala, Linköping, Mölndal, and Piteå.

In 2014, SALAR was given a mandate by the Swedish government to strengthen the work of human rights at a local level.

This new network builds upon a platform for developing human rights cities that were developed in 2017 by SALAR with the support of RWI.

“There are plenty of different aspects with human rights in the municipalities and they work a lot with these issues already in Sweden,” says Gabriella Fredriksson, Team Leader for Inclusive Societies at RWI. However, she says, “this work is not being done from a human rights perspective, instead it’s derived from Swedish legislation.”

“Human rights are inseparable and one must start with how the individual rights can be strengthened,” she says. “Often this work is being done in different agency structures that one is involved with and there is no holistic approach putting the individual at the center. Hopefully the platform can be a support for the municipalities to take on a holistic approach.”

In addition to the network, there will be monitoring research where RWI together with the Council for Local Government Research and Education (KEFU) will monitor how the municipalities work with these questions and how they interpret the usefulness of the platforms. This monitoring research is meant to be the basis for a possible future development of the platform and to support the continuous work with human rights at the local level.

Human Rights Cities Movement Growing Internationally

This development in Sweden is happening at the same time that several cities around the world have pronounced themselves to be human rights cities.

The Swedish state have previously ratified international conventions about respecting and supporting human rights. But according to the Swedish power distribution structure, a part of the responsibility should be placed at a local level where the national government cannot affect the implementation to the same extent as on a national scale.

“There is no certification or any accepted global criteria for what defines a human rights (HR) city or municipality”, emphasises Gabriella Fredriksson. “It is possible that maybe within 10 years the binding guidelines will be developed, but for now the cities and municipalities around the world are dealing with this project in different ways and in Sweden we have now this platform to support a more systematic work. It could be said that we are in the development phase and that there is no check-up of the municipalities fulfilling the platform.”

Characteristics of a Human Rights City

There are some typical characteristics for HR-cities. For example, the municipality as an employer ensures that all the employees have knowledge about human rights and know what it means for the individual. It can be for instance about legislation on labour law area, about non-discrimination and how the employees are protected or if they would be subject to violence. A municipality has a social role and should for example make sure that everybody who has a right to vote, has the possibility to vote, regardless of their situation. Transparency is also important for the decisions that the municipality is making, and it is important that they are available and understandable for citizens.

RWI and SALAR have in collaboration published a book – Human Rights Cities and Regions – Swedish and International Perspectives – where they gather experiences and perspectives on HR-work on a local level in Sweden and in an international context. In the book, there are texts developed by international researchers as well as representatives from Swedish organisations. The book has established the basis from which the platform has been developed.

“In all other countries, it’s the cities themselves who have been taking upon the HR-work in different ways,” says Fredriksson. “Sweden is actually unique in the world to have a trade association like SALAR to create a common platform for all municipalities who want to use it.”

The platform, Human Rights on a Local and Regional Level, a platform for policy and agency development, can be downloaded here.

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