JCJC SHS 1 - JCJC - SHS 1 - Sociétés, Espaces, Organisations et Marchés

Human rights and french territorial authorities : between the global and the local – GLOCAL

Bringing human rights home

Human rights and french territorial authorities : between the global and the local (GLOCAL Project)

Title 1 : Understanding the local reality of human rights in France

Considering that human rights make sense only within a community and that their holders are always geographically situated, the GLOCAL project which is founded by the French National Research Agency (“ANR”) aims to focus on the daily experience of these universal rights.<br />Specifically, this research project focuses on the protection of human rights by local authorities in France (towns, departments, regions). Given that these rights are traditionally considered as the exclusive matter of the central organs of the state, what role do municipalities, departments and regions play in this area?<br />Seventy years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the question remains largely a «terra incognita« in France, hence the interest of this project.<br /><br />The research team’s concerns has been twofold : it has been interested not only in the consideration given by the French territorial authorities to the international human rights standards in their own territory but also in the the role of these authorities in the global and European governance of human rights. That is why this research project has been entitled «GLOCAL«, neologism combining the words «global« and «local«.

Even if law is central in the GLOCAL project, it could not be only a matter of lawyers: indeed, the issues it raises, namely the representation of human rights and their implementation at the local level, are the remit of sociologists. Therefore, this project has been interdisciplinary, combining both the legal approach and the sociological approach.

In practice, the research project materialized in a survey of local elected officials in France. This survey resulted both in targeted interview campaigns (qualitative method) and in a questionnaire to officials (quantitative method). Through the first interview campaign, the questionnaire was optimized. Then this online questionnaire has made it possible to objectify by statistics the relations between, on the one hand, the representations and practices of human rights and, on the other hand, the characteristics of elected officials and of their local authorities. Finally, additional interviews were carried out at the end of the statistical treatments in order to submit to certain interviewees their results.

The results of the GLOCAL survey reveal the local officials’ understanding of human rights is influenced by their own individual path. Indeed, the interest in these rights depends mainly on their education level and of their personal commitments (militant, religious or associative commitments).
On the other hand, as for local practices in human rights, they mainly depend on the authority itself (ie regions and metropolises versus small municipalities) and on the demographic weight of local authorities, as well as competences and means. Therefore, the goodwill of local representatives is not always enough to ensure the proper implementation of these rights.

As French local authorities are decentralized, until then their representations and practices in the field of human rights were relatively opaque. The GLOCAL survey has made for greater transparency.
This survey shows some local officials ask for human rights training, so a second step will be to offer them such trainging.
Another perspective opened up by this project will be to guide local and regional authorities in the implementation of transnational human rights texts (such as the European Charter for the Equality of Women and Men in Local Life).
We also plan to support local authorities’policies in order to improve the access to human rights.

A number of symposia and round tables were organized as part of the ANR GLOCAL project. For instance :
*the symposium The Right to Non-Discrimination and Local Authorities on 29 June 2016 at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University,
*the symposium Human Rights and Local Authorities: between the global and the local at the Senate on 5 and 6 December 2017,
*the round tables Right to Housing and Local Authorities on 15 December 2015 and Gender Equality in Local Life on 30 June 2016 at the Economic,Social and Environmental Council ; these round tables gathered researchers, elected representatives and members of the associations and thus they enable a tripartite dialogue.

A forthcoming book (Les droits de l’homme à l’épreuve du local, Paris, Mare et Martin, 2018) will present the results of the GLOCAL survey and it will also include the proceedings of the symposia and of the round tables as well as other articles.

Reception of travelling people, integration of foreigners, access to lodging, protection of minors, employement, right to healthy environment, protection of health, cultural rights…So much responsibilities falling to territorial authorities and involving human rights. In this context, instruments multiply : European charter for the safeguarding of human rights in the city, Global Charter-Agenda for Human Rights in the City, Declaration of european summit of mayors on Roma…
Human rights were exclusive business of the central organs of state for a long time on the national plan (role of the legislator and the constituent in matter of liberties) as on the international plan (negotiation by the Executive, possible ratification by the Parliament). Differents factors (social, political and juridical) have changed the situation: increase of interdependency, integration in the European Union, internationalization of law and decentralization.
Hence, the question : which role for french territorial authorities in matter of human rights ?
This project raises the question of the articulation between the supra-state level and the infra-state level. The underlying problem is to conciliate the universality of human rights and the diversity of their implementations, diversity which is itself linked to the variety of social contexts. It is a question of answering the relevance of the idea of territorialisation of human rights and local human rights for a concrete universality.
This project is built around two thematic axis. The first axis deals with authorities’action on their own territory in matter of human rights : Do local authorities base explicitly their politics on human rights ? If so, in what contexts and for what purposes (political strategy for instance) ? Are specific proceedings put in place in this field (valuation, ombudsman…) ? Can the reference to human rights improve local public services ?
The second axis deals with authorities’action on the international plan. It includes itself two work packages. The first one deals with the cooperation between the french territorial authorities and foreign local authorities (vertical dimension of internationalization of local authorities). Decentralised cooperation conventions often have humanitarian purposes but do they make aid conditional upon human rights ? The second work package focuses on the place of local authorities in international institutions of human rights. What role for this authorities in international negotiations and organizations dealing with human rights ? Local authorities claim a specific statute : could they compete with central organs of state ?
The two axis of the project are closely linked. Initially, international institutions have encouraged pursuant to subsidiarity principle the movement of “localization” of human rights (bottom - up internationalization). A third movement, linked to the state ‘s will to “re-nationalize” human rights, add to this double movement (both descending and ascending).To this end, the state establishes national proceedings of protection (Défenseur des droits par exemple). This new context makes more complex the local ownership of human rights. This project thus reveals the increasing interconnections which are the specificity of globalization of human rights.

Project coordinator

Madame Catherine LE BRIS (UMR de droit comparé de Paris)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


CNRS DR O/N UMR de droit comparé de Paris
CNRS-UMR 8103 UMR de droit comparé de Paris

Help of the ANR 136,999 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: January 2014 - 42 Months

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