Human Rights Local: Project Updates

By Dr Koldo Casla (@koldo_casla) and Lyle Barker (@LyleBarker0)

Launched in 2020, Human Rights Local is a project of the Human Rights Centre of the University of Essex that aims to make human rights locally relevant.

It follows on the footsteps of the Human Rights Centre’s outreach programme with partners in and near Colchester.

Human Rights Local challenges the notion that international human rights laws and principles are somehow alien to people’s daily lives.

Using international law as a reference point, campaigners and community groups in the UK and internationally are vernacularising human rights; in other words, they are building on lived experience to acknowledge local narratives while remaining loyal to the global pillars human rights are built upon.

As part of Human Rights Local, we have worked with Mercury Youth Theatre, Packing Shed Theatre Company and others to honour the legacy of John Ball, a 14th century promoter of equality who was originally from Colchester. In July 2020, Members of Mercury Youth Theatre recited famous speeches that became part of the history of international human rights. In July 2021, we supported a music festival with local youth bands.

Between October 2020 and June 2021, together with ATD Fourth World, Just Fair and Amnesty International, we held a series of events under the theme of ‘Building a Human Rights Bridge out of Poverty’. The events brought together people with lived and learnt experiences of poverty from London, Manchester, Glasgow, Teesside, Cardiff and other parts of the UK. The series provided a platform to exchange knowledge, develop skills, build capacity and form alliances for real change to end poverty and promote greater equality.

Image demonstrating that for public policy human rights is a bulldozer digging to find the roots of poverty which includes factors like destitution, child poverty, hunger, homelessness and life expectancy.
Image showing a few people shouting 'power and participation', demonstrating that human rights education liberates and helps people to raise their voices.

Published in October 2021, the report “Human Rights and Local Government – lessons from human rights cities”, written by Irem Arf Rayfield and Dr Koldo Casla, looked at nine European cities, three of them in England, to see how they use human rights to have a positive impact on the local community. Seven of the cities have declared themselves as ‘Human Rights Cities’, which means that businesses, organisations and local authorities refer to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in everyday activities and policies. The report identifies some of the common characteristics among these cities, as well as the potential benefit of becoming a Human Rights City. It also draws on the experience of Brighton & Hove and Newcastle, which have not yet self-declared as ‘Human Rights Cities’ but have adopted certain human rights principles in specific areas, in particular, housing and homelessness.

This year we are producing a new report on the state of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in and near Colchester. Based on desk research as well as interviews with local campaigners, charity workers, solicitors, councillors and people with lived experience of poverty and inequality. We are studying the impact of social security benefit cuts, evictions, child poverty and library closures on the enjoyment of the rights to housing, social security and education, among others. We will launch the report later in the year, and we will also submit a summary version to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights for their forthcoming review of the UK, which will take place between this year and the next one.

What do we have planned for 2022? 

We will be working with Traveller communities in the East of England to build capacity for inclusive involvement in research-led practice on the right to health. In addition, we are building partnerships with local artists and creators to foster children’s rights in the Medway towns in Kent. Watch the space for more details in the coming months. 

Human Rights Local connects international human rights law with local activism in a way that reinforces both spheres, but puts the centre of gravity of human rights action and research at the local level. The project encourages us to expand and develop a model of human rights advocacy from the ground up, reflecting lived experiences and amplifying local narratives to trigger hope and change

This blog was first published on the University of Essex Human Rights Centre Blog site.