Communities keeping the government in check

17th May 2016

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At PPR we focus on building power with the people we support. We engage them around their own issues and develop strategies with them to challenge abuses and make constructive change on individual and structural levels.

One of the main methodologies we developed, which was cited by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as an example of best practice, was developing participatory human rights indicators and benchmarks to support communities in monitoring the state in terms of the progressive realisation of human rights.

So we would support people affected to identify concrete concerns around, say, housing, mental health, regeneration, education, whatever a particular community’s priorities are. We work through a process of: finding out what the government should be doing, according to both international human rights standards and domestic law and policy, to address the problems; turning the concerns into measurable indicators to establish the nature and extent of the abuse among the impacted community; supported affected groups to go out in the community and monitor how people are being impacted by dampness in housing for example, or the failure to get support if your experiencing critical mental health problems, etc. This process helps marginalised groups to build up a solid evidence base around their priority human rights issues from which they can begin organising and campaigning.

So, basically, we find out how many people are affected by this issue. How are they affected by it? What should the state be doing? And then we would work with them to set benchmarks – or targets – for how progressive realisation should be occurring on key issues. PPR supports groups to then monitor government performance for a 12 month period, for example, around key human rights indicators.

We do this in a very public fashion – encouraging people to exercise their fundamental human rights to avail of the free press, freedom of assembly, right to information and access the accountability and participation mechanisms available to them – or criticise when these are being denied to them.

People we work with are generally, and rightly, sceptical of existing consultative structures operated by public authorities which have not produced change or simply do not have the power to produce the required change. There is an onus, and a responsibility, on any group working with people experiencing chronic inequality not to encourage faith in decision making processes which have created or sustained inequality; a critical approach to engagement with the state, and an understanding of people’s democratic rights, are required if support is going to be effective.

This is what we’ve done in Belfast and across the north of Ireland, that’s our sort of bread and butter here. We’ve supported people in Dublin and we’re currently working on a project in Edinburgh, alongside Edinurgh Tenants Federation and the Scottish Human Rights Commission, right now sharing our approach with high-rise tenants there.

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