Human rights education for world citizenship

Human Rights Broadsheet, December 2007

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights announced through a number of specific human rights provisions the objectives contained in the UN Charter to reaffirm human rights and the dignity and worth of the human person.

Whilst the Charter decreed that such conditions were imperative to prevent repetition of the horrors that had occurred during the Second World War, it was left to the Commission on Human Rights to educate people through the Declaration on these rights. Therefore, Hilary Hunt and Jude Smith Rachele chose an appropriate day, the 59th anniversary of the Universal Declaration, to talk about the need for human rights awareness.

Human Rights Violations

It is a sad state of affairs that human rights discourse today in the UK often only arises when there has been a systematic violation. Most people are unaware that they have inalienable human rights and choose to objectivise them by referring to large-scale violations elsewhere instead. That is why it is often useful in human rights education to begin with a discussion of human rights violations in relation to universal standards and personal experience.

Hilary’s introduction on human rights breaches was particularly germane for this reason. By engaging in a discussion on the meaning of human rights violations, participants extrapolated the meaning of human rights. Everyone knows some of their rights; few know all.

It was discussed that hunger would not be a violation of a human right, unless the state had a duty to provide food. This emphasised that one of the facets of human rights is the positive and negative duty of states.

The Importance of Education

Having considered some of the facets of human rights, Hilary turned to how the international community has deemed it necessary for a peaceful world that children are educated about these rights. She described how she had met a group of 14-year old schoolboys in London who thought that torture and execution are reasonable, whereas a similar group from Bangladesh talked in India about the importance of learning about and respecting other people in order to live together peacefully. She posed the questions: “What kind of attitudes would we as adults rather have in our quest for a peaceful world? What kind of citizens are we creating? Are we creating children to be units of profit or citizens able to contribute actively to dignity, equality, justice and peace in the world.” The purpose of education is to break stereotypes. She described how this is particularly difficult when the authorities and media propagate stories that certain sectors of society are dangerous.

Education and International Instruments

The Universal Declaration recognises the importance of human rights education. Article 26(2) says that:

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child also recognises this magnitude. It says:

States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

  1. The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
  2. The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principals enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;
  3. The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;
  4. The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of the sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin
  5. The development of respect for the natural environment.

Hilary emphasised that effective human rights education is ongoing, to enable people to realise their full potential. Everyone has the right to know their rights. However, this is undermined by the failure of some states to implement human rights instruments.

Human Rights Education in the Corporate World

It is not just children who need to be educated about human rights. Human rights are also important in other contexts. For example, several ILO treaties recognise the importance of human rights in the corporate environment, including the right to work, protection against unemployment, equal pay for equal work and right to adequate standard of living. Hilary referred to a question raised in the first seminar: “Do people leave their humanity at home when they go to work?” Jude then turned to consideration of corporate responsibility.

Although there are laws that protect people, there are barriers that prevent other people from respecting them. One way to overcome this is by educating people, including violators, about their rights and responsibilities.

She explained that she had organised a number of such workshops for the public, private and voluntary sectors. These enabled people:

  • To realise that valuing diversity is not the same as equal opportunities
  • To move away from a politically-correct blame culture
  • To appreciate everyone has biases and prejudices that can get in the way of developing healthy human relationships
  • To encourage everyone to take responsibility for their own actions
  • To establish the importance of teamwork in achieving the organisation’s aims and objectives
  • To encourage people to acknowledge, value and fully utilise the diversity of perspectives and opinions within the organisation
  • To ensure there is a collective responsibility for creating a respectful work environment

The overarching purpose of these workshops is to enable people to overcome their prejudices and to take responsibility for their actions. It also encourages teamwork and a collective spirit.

The way in which this is achieved is, inter alia, by educating people on stereotyping. She said that people generally stereotype on the basis of three features: on the outer appearance, such as clothes and physical features, on the hidden features, such as age and intelligence and on the inner features such as aggression and human nature. It is necessary to explain that there is no need to rush to judgement on the basis of this stereotyping and that people should learn to value what is on the inside instead. However, she explained that this is difficult in our society. People are programmed to stereotype others. This is particularly exacerbated in a corporate environment where people are competing with each other.

Encouraging Diversity

Whilst it is important to break down stereotypes, it is also important that people maintain their individuality. They should not all be treated in the same way. It is necessary to respect one another’s differences, and appreciate that all are entitled to their own belief systems. It is important, however, to ensure that there are enforceable international laws to protect people’s fundamental human rights, and to protect all people against discrimination and persecution and gross human rights violations such as genocide. Education: Conclusion

It is important that businesses strike the right balance between safeguarding the rights of their employees and also business and cultural considerations. Whilst money is important and New Labour has economised rights, it is also essential to ensure that the human being is not lost in this melee. This can be achieved by greater human rights education.

The session ended with general discussions.

Views expressed on this blog are not necessarily those of the Citizenship Foundation.

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