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Human Rights Localisation and Individual Agency: From ‘Hobby of the Few’ to the Few Behind the Hobby


Human rights have been facing criticism on many fronts, including the challenges of the “enforcement gap” and the “citizenship gap”, laying bare the shortcomings with regard to the implementation of human rights law as well as regarding its protection of highly vulnerable groups such as refugees. Research on the effectiveness of human rights, the “localisation” of human rights through invocations and practices on the ground, the increased engagement of local authorities with human rights, are all responses to such challenges to some degree. Based on empirical research conducted within municipalities in four countries, this chapter focuses on a missing piece of the puzzle in terms of conceptual and empirical research: the role of “individual agency”. We adopt a socio-legal perspective on human rights and demonstrate that individual agency can make an important contribution to the effective implementation of human rights in the field of migration governance. Behind the black box of the state and local authorities, we find individuals who use human rights—as law, practice and discourse—in local policymaking, in circumstances where invoking human rights is not self-explanatory. Finally, we put forward the notion that reasons such as individual background, motivations, and interactions between individuals influence municipal officials’ engagement with human rights, and we reflect on the conceptual and practical implications that result from this.


  • Human rights
  • Integration
  • Refuge