Human rights and local development: building a more just society from the territories? Human rights and local development, two dynamics that have long been ignored

For many years, human rights (civil and political rights, the first generation of rights, and then economic, social and cultural rights, the so-called second generation) were considered, experimented and defended at the supranational level (development and adoption of international conventions) and at the state level (integrating international standards into domestic law) in order to guarantee citizens’ rights, regardless of the status of the rule of law in the country.

Meanwhile, the local territory was not perceived or experienced as a space of production and respect of rights. The dynamics of local development and the actions of local authorities have been developed without reference to any of the first or the second generation to human rights. Over several decades, both downward and upward dynamics have developed without any articulation.

The territory, a space of production and defense of rights?

Yet the territory, a building block of democracy[1] is the first space in the construction and defense of human rights, at least at four levels:

- In terms of governance
Territorial governance, centered in the vast majority of countries on the articulation of local stakeholders around local authorities, aims to involve, in public decisions, various components of  local society:

  • What is the place of the "weakest" components of local society (women, minorities ...) in the territorial jurisdictions?
  • What is the place of the "excluded" in society from public life (migrants, refugees, homeless ...) in the territorial institutions?

Institutions of territorial governance put in place by local authorities are, through their composition and openness, areas of production and exercise of political rights by the various components of society, and are fundamental for the construction of a local human rights culture.

- In terms of the exercise of citizenship
It is now agreed that most of countries are experiencing a crisis of citizenship, citizens do not identify with society or its institutions; those institutions are struggling to establish spaces of dialogue and response to citizen demands.

The territory is the space on which it is possible to rebuild the relationship between the individual and society, through the institutions of governance, and  efforts allowing for :

  • Each citizen to identify his roles, rights and obligations vis-à-vis society;
  • Local authorities to put in place the institutional mechanisms for citizens to be informed trained, heard and to come up with answers to their queries;

Strengthening the ability of people to exercise their role as citizens (civic) is also a local fundament for the culture of human rights.

- In terms of definition and implementation of local policies

The definition and implementation of local public policies by local authorities, especially local governments, are the first operational level of inclusion in the territories of human rights.

To what extent public policies are local:

  • Are inclusive and take into account the different components of local society?
  • Are fair and take into account social, economic and cultural conditions of the various components of the local society?
  • Are respectful of the rights of the various components of the local society, fostering dialogue on taxation, setting up shared governance arrangements before establishing enforcement mechanisms?

The definition and implementation of local public policies are an expression of the ability of local authorities to take into account human rights in the local projects they implement.

- In terms of the multi-level articulation
Finally, territories, are articulated on the horizontal level, but also between levels in the vertical dimension, helping to bring their initiatives, to make the voices of their citizens heard, and defend their rights nationally or even internationally.

The territory and its bodies of governance are potentially the first level of recognition of the human rights of its inhabitants, and a challenge to the upper political spheres for their defense.   

Territorial development and human rights are indeed two closely linked dimensions, and it is the responsibility of both local authorities and citizens to make of the local level, the base for the construction and defense of human rights, in dynamic articulation with international conventions.

This training seminar is offered by the PROFADEL, an international network (France, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Peru, Togo) of private institutes of higher education, active in ??support, advice and action research on territorial development, which wants to bring to the WHRF its experience from two viewpoints:

Local development and human rights, what lessons from local experience?

PROFADEL countries’ based members in local areas, all have real experiences of the link between local development and human rights. It would be possible to put these experiences to contribution and to draw lessons for action and research.


Building citizenship in the territories, what contribution to a culture and practice of human rights?

Faced with the crisis of citizenship, local, national and international PROFADEL institutes members are involved, on one hand, in the development of higher education in the direction of executives in the world of development, and on the other hand, in the implementation of local experiments of actions to strengthen citizenship in territories. Both actions aim to build the capacity of citizens to exercise their citizenship and enable local institutions to create the conditions and provisions for listening and responding to citizens' demands.

It would also be possible to mobilize these practices in order to link human rights with citizenship strengthening in the territories, and to investigate the issue of individuals’ responsibility in the production and defense of human rights in parallel with the responsibility of institutions.

Contact: Christophe Mestre, technical coordinator of PROFADEL...

[1]Following Pierre Calame’s expression, honorary president of the Charles Leopold Foundation for the Progress of Mankind.