Friday, 19 December 2014

UN in your language

European road map to citizen participation

My Voice, My Right. My Voice Counts

HRD2012 EN small"Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives;(...)"
— International Convention on Civic and Political Rights, Article 25

"Where we come from does not determine who we can become.(...) No matter who we are, no matter whether we are man or woman, or rich or poor: My voice, my right. My voice counts."
— Desmond Tutu, a key figure in the defeat of apartheid in South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, first black Archbishop of South Africa.

 

What does it mean to participate in public life?

To participate in public life means to be an active member of the community, country and the world we live in:

....by voting or running for election, expressing, debating policies, volunteering, complaining, proposing, campaigning, becoming a member of a party, union, or association.

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Who can participate?

Everyone has the right to participate.

Different laws apply to different countries but according to human rights standards this right applies equally to all. Minorities and migrants also have the right to participate in the public life of the country they live in.


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Who or what gives us that right?


National laws and International treaties

1. EU Legislation:

  • European Convention of Human Rights (1950): applies to all 47 members of the council of Europe - Articles 10 and 11.
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (2000, entered into force in 2009 Lisbon Treaty) applies to 27 EU member states and includes:
    • freedom of expression and assembly and association - Articles 11, 12
    • the right to vote and to run for elections to EU Parliament and in the municipality one resides, in Articles 39 and 40
    • the right to a good administration, in Article 41
    • the right to complain to the European ombudsman, Article 43
    • the right to petition the European parliament, Article 44

2. The International Bill of rights, composed by:

  • Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UN 1948). Not legally binding but inspiration for laws and treaties - Articles 19, 20, 21
  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Legally binding - Article 25
  • International Covenant on Economic and Social rights. It is legally binding

 

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What is an ombudsman?

It is an independent and impartial arbiter between the state, public administrations and citizens. His advice is not legally binding. He may suggest changes in the action of public bodies but has no means to enforce them or to sanction. Whenever individuals feel that their rights have not been respected and/or they observe misconduct by public bodies they can file a complaint with the ombudsman in their countries, or within the EU to the ombudsman of the country where the problem occurred. They can also file a complaint with the European Ombudsman if the problem relates to a European institution.

 

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What is a petition?

Generally, petitions are defined as formal requests to an authority, usually a governmental institution. In most democracies, the citizen's right to petition government, parliament and/or other public entities is provided by law, in many instances even in constitutional law or practice.

 

Can citizens put forward proposals for new laws?

Yes, in many European countries and also at the European level. To make sure the proposal is accepted and discussed by parliament citizens will have to follow a certain format and gather the support of other citizens. It is called legislative initiative or citizen's initiative.

  • At the European level, this is called the European Citizens Initiative and the legal framework that provides for it is the Lisbon Treaty.

 

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HR-row5-2 Are there other ways to participate?

Yes, through civil society forums, formal and informal, forming associations and groups, also using social media to advocate for changing and improving their society. One can also participate in the multiple popular consultations launched by some national governments and by the European Commission: http://ec.europa.eu/yourvoice/consultations/index_en.htm