Using human rights in community development: creating a new dialogue

This September sees the first ever conference in Scotland bringing together community development and human rights practitioners.

Making Rights Real' is designed as the first step in creating an ongoing dialogue between the two communities of practice, the event is a collaboration between the Scottish Community Development Centre (SCDC), the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and the Edinburgh Tenants' Federation (ETF).

To the scene for the day, Fiona Garven, SCDC Director spoke to Judith Robertson from the Commission and Clare MacGillivray from ETF, to find out more. Follow the conference on 11th September 2018 using #AllOurRights.

"Without concerted citizen action to uphold these rights close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."

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Fiona: You'll know that at SCDC we are all about supporting the very best of community development right across Scotland's communities. Community Development work comes in all shapes and sizes but Human Rights is a core value that should be present in all we do.  We think this needs to have more prominence and be better understood. This is the first time we've brought together human rights and community development practitioners like this. What are you hoping the event will achieve?

Judith: Some of the principles that underpin human rights will be familiar to anyone who works with local communities - participation, empowerment and equality, for example.  But human rights are also laws, that are defined and agreed internationally, that we have signed up to collectively, and that create obligations on the state to respect, protect and fulfil everyone's rights. We hope that people will leave this event with new knowledge and understanding about the potential for human rights to be used to lever change within communities.

Fiona: Why do you think it's important for community development practitioners to have a good grounding in human rights based approaches?

Clare: This event is an exciting opportunity to provide space for conversations about how community development and human rights practice can be further developed in Scotland. Central to the programme is learning about the PANEL principles that underpin a human rights based approach, and the practical way these can be used with communities. I hope we can build on a growing alliance of people using or considering using a human rights based approach in their community development practice. I hope we can inspire people to learn more about human rights, to challenge ourselves as practitioners to rethink how we can use these approaches in our work and begin to realise the powerful impact that could be unleashed if more communities and public authorities in Scotland embraced the international human rights tools available to them in practice.

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Judith: I think Eleanor Roosevelt, who helped draft the Universal Declaration on Human Rights nearly 70 years ago, put it well when she said that for those rights to have meaning anywhere, they must have meaning everywhere - in the small places, close to home, like neighbourhoods and schools. She said that ‘without concerted citizen action to uphold these rights close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.' We know, though, that communities often don't realise that the changes they are seeking are actually about realising human rights. And when they do become aware of that, when they realise they are entitled to things like their right to adequate living standards, or to health, housing and education, this can be incredibly powerful.

Clare: Often, our work as community development practitioners can be challenging, especially in supporting communities to speak truth to power and influence social change. As practitioners we need all the tools available to us in our work with people and communities. Shifting the focus of dialogue and action towards citizens understanding and acting as rights holders to hold public authorities to account as duty bearers can be transformative. We need to understand the language of rights, and the practical applications of rights based work to help us support communities effectively in this work.

Fiona: Beyond this event, what else can we do to support community development practitioners to use human rights in their work? 

Judith: The Commission has been working with a wide range of organisations to help them apply a human rights based approach to their own work for nearly ten years now. So we have a solid and ever-expanding set of resources to help people who want to use human rights. That includes case studies, short films, training materials, and an emerging peer support network. Next year we'll also be sharing the lessons from the project we supported in Leith, Edinburgh, with ETF and others, where we worked with a group of local residents to help them use human rights to improve their housing conditions. This project has been packed full of lessons about the practical realities of using human rights in a local community setting, and we will be doing our best to share those lessons as widely as possible.

Follow the conference on 11th September 2018 using #AllOurRights.