Creating a network of volunteer monitors to persuade local and national governments to abide by international human rights commitments

The League of Human Rights Advocates (LHRA) in Slovakia has developed a network of volunteer human rights monitors within the minority Roma population to ensure that international human rights treaties are implement­ed at the local level. As part of its work to become a member of the European Union, Slovakia ratified a number of treaties relating to human rights and was vulnerable to criticism of their human rights record. In addition, the constitution of the Slovak Republic gives priority, over domestic laws, to international human rights treaties rati­fied and passed into law by its parliament.

LHRA’s monitoring approach helps to bridge the gap between the locus of abuse and the policies, laws and trea­ties created to prevent or stop a violation. Often the only discussion of these abuses and the laws or policies to prevent them occurs in high-level political and diplomatic forums. The LHRA recruits people from the disenfran­chised population to serve as human rights monitors. The monitors learn, often for the first time, about their own rights under national and international law and then work with the LHRA to enforce those rights — which were signed into existence in far-off capitals — in their own town halls, police stations, schools and communities. The information from local monitors is used to present the true, on-the-ground impact of national and international laws in the country.

The Roma monitors are recruited through word of mouth. LHRA educates them about the relevant human rights instruments and the government authorities responsible for their implementation, then arranges introductory meetings with the police, mayors, community leaders and others, adding legitimacy and authority to the moni­tors’ work. The network is divided into eight regions; regional coordinators work with LHRA headquarters to re­cruit and train monitors (roughly 48 in all).

When the monitors are prepared for their work, they are issued an LHRA identity card and provided with letters of introduction to present to local authorities. When an alleged abuse occurs, they go to the community to compile information from victims and from the involved authorities. The monitoring focuses on a number of issues, in­cluding employment, living conditions, education, health care, political participation, racially motivated violence and access to public facilities and services.

LHRA’s national office synthesizes all the monitors’ work into regular national reports and publishes its own peri­odical. As a result of this monitoring tactic, a range of human rights abuses occurring at the local level have been exposed and more victims of abuse have started to come forward with more complaints. The government, over time, has implemented policies to address discrimination in education, housing and employment.

For more information on this tactic, read our in-depth case study.

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What we can learn from this tactic: 

In Slovakia, a group is monitoring government adherence to its international human rights commitments and using what it finds to persuade the government to keep those promises.

LHRA’s tactic is a unique combination of pressure and promotion. The Roma monitors learn about their rights, empowering them to take action. And the government’s desire to join the European Union has made it more sensitive to reports of abuse, thus providing an opportunity to heighten the impact of the monitors’ work. The tactic is also a unique application of international law to people’s day-to-day reality. It has increased power to affect human rights abuses in countries that have signed international human rights treaties and that have an interest in how their human rights record is perceived by the international community.