Human rights education

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Human rights education is the teaching of the history, theory, and law of human rights in schools and educational institutions, as well as outreach to the general public.

Human rights education and the United Nations

The United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed it as central to the achievement of the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):[1]

Article 26.2 of the UDHR states the role of educators in achieving the social order called for by the declaration:

Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to ensure that children are enabled to develop a respect for their own cultural identity, language and values and for the culture, language and values of others.[2]

The importance of human rights was reaffirmed by the United Nations in the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action:

As a result of the Vienna Declaration the decade from 1995 to 2004 was declared the UN Decade of Human Rights Education.[4][5]

UNESCO has a responsibility to promote human rights education, and was a key organiser of the UN's Decade for Human Rights Education.[6] UNESCO attempts to promote human rights education through:[7]

  • Development of national and local capacities for human rights education, through its co-operation in development projects and programmes at national and sub-regional levels.
  • Elaboration of learning materials and publications and their translation and adaptation in national and local languages.
  • Advocacy and Networking Activities.

Following the Decade of Human Rights Education, on 10 December 2004, the General Assembly proclaimed the World Programme for Human Rights Education, and ongoing project to advance the implementation of human rights education programmes in all sectors:

Human rights education history

The emphasis on Human Rights Education began in 1995 with the beginning of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, though previously addressed in 1953 with the UNESCO Associated Schools Program, which served as an “initial attempt to teach human rights in formal school settings”. The first formal request for the need to educate students about human rights came about in UNESCO’s 1974 article Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Cooperation and Peace, and Education Relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The participants of the International Congress on the Teaching of Humans Rights eventually met in 1978 to form a specific definition of what would be required application of the education in formal curricula. The aims at which the Congress agreed upon including the encouragement of tolerant attitudes with focus on respect, providing knowledge of human rights in the context of national and international dimensions as well as their implementations, and finally developing awareness of human rights translating into reality whether social or political on national and international levels.

Human Rights Education became an official central concern internationally after the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993. This conference brought the issue of educating formally to the top of many countries’ priority lists and was brought to the attention of the United Nations. It was two years later that the United Nations approved the Decade for Human Rights Education, which reformed the aims of application once again. Since the development of the UN Decade, the incorporation of human rights education into formal school curricula has been developed and diversified with the assistance of nongovernmental organizations, intergovernmental organizations, and individuals dedicated to spreading the topic through formal education.

Today the most influential document used to determine what qualifies as human rights and how to implement these ideas and rights into everyday life is the Universal Declaration. This declaration was adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, making December 10 annual Human Rights Day ever since. To this day the 30 article compilation is seen as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations”.[9]

Human rights education organizations

Arab Institute for Human Rights The Arab Institute for Human Rights is an independent Arab non-governmental organization based in Tunisia. It was founded in 1989 at the initiative of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, the Arab Lawyers Union, and the Tunisian League for Human Rights and with the support of the United Nations Centre for Human Rights. The Institute received the UNESCO International Award for Human Rights Education for the year 1992. Goals : The Arab Institute for Human Rights aims to promote a culture of civil, political, economic, social and cultural human rights, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international conventions, and to strengthen the values of democracy and citizenship.

Organizations such as Indian Institute Of Human Rights,[10] Amnesty International and Human Rights Education Associates (HREA)[11] promote human rights education with their programmes,[12][13] believing "that learning about human rights is the first step toward respecting, promoting and defending those rights". Amnesty International defines Human Rights Education as a “deliberate, participatory practice aimed at empowering individuals, groups and communities through fostering knowledge, skills and attitudes consistent with internationally recognized human rights principles”.[14]

Human Rights organizations aim to protect human rights on different levels some being more specific to geographical areas, others are based on governmental influences, others are nonprofit and education based, while others specifically aim to protect a certain group of individuals. The following are organizations with brief descriptions of their aims, targeted audiences, and affiliations. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), each submission whether private or public, governmental or NGO is evaluated with regards to the following context: appropriateness, effectiveness, originality, ease of use, adaptability, sustainability, approach, and inclusiveness. Each characteristic of which is detailed in the article Human Rights Education in the School Systems of Europe, Central Asia, and North America: A Compendium of Good Practice.[15][16]

African Centre on Democracy and Human Rights Studies[17]

African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights[18] This Commission is in charge of monitoring the protection of humans’ rights and ensuring the protection and promotion of these rights. It also is charged with the responsibility of interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. This Commission is limited to the continent of Africa and the countries within it.

Amnesty International[19] One of the largest human rights organizations, Amnesty International includes 2.2 million members from upwards of 150 countries. The organization concerns research as well as action in order to prevent and end human rights abuses. They are also focused on seeking justice for the violations which have already been committed.

The Asian Human Rights Commission[20] The goals of the AHRC are “to protect and promote human rights by monitoring, investigation, and advocating and taking solidarity actions”. This Commission is limited to the continent of Asia and the countries within it.

The Australian Council for Human Rights Education[21] (formerly National Committee on Human Rights Education) was established in 1999 actively pursue human rights education in Australia in response to the UN Decade on Human Rights Education. ACHRE is registered in Victoria under the Associations Incorporations Act 1981 and Dr Sev Ozdowski[22][23] is its current President. The key achievements of the committee include establishment of State and Territory networks to promote nationwide the goals and program of activities of the Citizen for Humanity project; provision of online human rights educational materials for primary and secondary schools community organizations as well as for government representatives and officials; establishment in 1983 of Centre for human rights education at Curtin University[24] and in 2007 of the National Centre for Human Rights Education at RMIT University in Melbourne; organization of in international human rights education initiatives such as conferences, for example International Conferences on Human Rights Education - see:,[25][26][27] and provision of HR training.

The Chapel Hill and Carrboro Human Rights Center[28] The Human Rights Center (HRC) in Carrboro is home to advocacy and service organizations, run as a 501(c)3 non-profit organization by UNC professor Judith Blau and by volunteers, many through the University as well. Many volunteers come through the Social and Economic Justice SOCI 273 APPLES course, and they mainly focus on immigrant rights.

Children’s Defense Fund (CDF)[29] The Children's Defense Fund attempts to create policies and programs to ensure equality to all children. They work towards decreasing the child poverty rate as well as protecting children from abuse and neglect. The members of the CDF act as advocates for children to help ensure they are treated equally and have the right to care and education in the future.

Coalition For Human Rights Education (COHRE)[30] The Coalition For Human Rights Education formed as a result of experiences of human rights abuse. It is operating in Uganda based in Wakiso District. The organisation will have links through the country and wants to expand knowledge about human rights throughout the country. COHRE works with government bodies, private organisations, schools, minority groups and women and children in communities through training in order to bring about learning the basic human Rights. It provides training to the rural communities and organised groups which equips an individual to better living concerning human rights in areas like health, protection, love, and hope.

Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe[31] The Commission is an independent institution which promotes awareness of human rights in the forty-seven Council of Europe Member States. Since it has such a broad area of concern its purpose is more to encourage reform and it takes “wider initiates on the basis of reliable information regarding human rights violations” rather than acting on individual complaints.

EIP Slovenia – School for Peace[32] This Slovenian organization practices My Rights: Children’s Rights Education Project for children in elementary and middle schools. The organization promotes this project with the intent to endorse principles of the “UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”. They produce materials which allow for comprehensive learning methods in order to train their teachers and pass information to their students. To encourage teachers to participate, each month of the academic calendar focuses on one children’s right and corresponding activities and materials are used as guidelines.

Equitas- International Centre for Human Rights Education (Centre international d’education aux droits humains)[33] Canada has instituted this non-formal program in which primary school aged children are introduced to human rights education through after school programs and summer camps known as Play it Fair! Its purpose is to educate the public on how important human rights are by starting the education at such a young age. It is “intended to raise human rights awareness in children and educate them against discriminatory attitudes and behaviours, thus equipping them with skills to confront them”.

European Union Ombudsman[34] This organization exists to investigate grievances about the maladministration that occurs within the institutions and bodies of the European Union.

Facing History and Ourselves[35] This US developed online module organization aims to provide information investigating “how societies attempt to rebuild, repair, and bring a sense of justice and security to their citizenry in the aftermath of conflict and genocide”. As the topics about which this particular organization are concerned with are more mature and sensitive than others, this program is designed for students in middle, high school, and at the university level. The module has specifically designed its program based on four case studies: Germany, Rwanda, Northern Ireland, and South Africa. This resource has proven helpful in order to study how individuals, organizations, and governments have fostered “stability, security, reconciliation, coexistence and/or justice”, all of which are explained in further detail on the organization’s website,

History Teachers Association of Macedonia The most upper level of secondary educated Macedonian students are given the option of participating in a human rights based lecture called Retelling of History. This class is one in which they study from a different textbook than traditional history classes specifically focusing on the history of the country’s transitional period from 1990 to 2000. The alternative textbook not only focuses on the political and military aspects of history, as most do, but also includes social and cultural topics and themes of the historical time period. The course focuses on four main topics throughout the year including interethnic relationships, the new political scene, the transition itself, and how everyday life has been altered.

Human Rights Action Center[36] This nonprofit organization is based in Washington, DC and headed by human rights activist Jack Healy. This center is supportive of other growing organizations across the world. Their focus is on the issues documented in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

United Nations Human Rights Council This council includes forty-seven states and is charged with the responsibility of promoting and protecting human rights on the international level. The council has a specific Advisory committee which assesses each situation as well as an outlined Complaint Procedure which must be followed in order for an individual or organization to bring a violation to the attention of the Council.

Human Rights Watch[37] Functioning as another global organization, the Human Rights Watch protects human rights by investigating claims, holding abusers accountable of their actions, and monitoring and challenging governments to make sure that they are using their power to end abusive practices efficiently and to the fullest.

Istituto Comprensivo “Socrate” This Italian-based organization takes part in the practice they have named Preserving Human Rights: A Year-Long human Rights Education Course. This education course is a two semester class available to students ages 11 to 18. The class aims to familiarize students with the framework of human rights and educate them in regards to more contemporary issues. By educating the students with regards to these matters it is intended by the organization that they will then be able to take the knowledge they have gained and be able to develop a platform to initiate action and raise awareness of the issue at hand.

'John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights The John Humphrey Centre exists to promote the principles of the Universal Declaration of Peace and Human Rights through human rights education and learning. The organization develops curriculum, conducts training, works with children and youth, and fosters public discourse on matters of human rights.

National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP)[38] “The mission of the NAACP is to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic quality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination”.

Inter-African Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children[39]

Namibian Legal Assistance Centre[40]

People in Need[41] People in Need developed a project called One World in Schools: Human Rights Documentary Films in which they provide teachers with films, over 260 of which are available, and other multimedia tools to assist in their education of human rights around the world. The purpose of the videos is to teach the students, specifically primary and secondary school aged students in the Czech Republic, the values of tolerance and respect by way of audio-visual stimulation.

Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE)[42] The OSCE comprises fifty-six states from participating countries in Europe, Central Asia, and North America. The main focuses of the OSCE include the freedom of movement and religion. They specifically monitor torture prevention and human trafficking.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights[43] Unlike many other organizations this office is not limited to a specific geographic area, but instead works to protection all human rights for all peoples. This organization also states within its mission statement it aims to “help empower people to realize their rights” versus many organizations which state that they wish to promote knowledge etc.

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees[44] This organization has a specific target audience of refugees which it hopes to protect from violations of their rights. They aim to ensure that any person can seek a safe refuge in some place while remaining to have the option to return home, integrate at a new locale or resettle in a third location.

Simon Wiesenthal Center[45] The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a human rights organization which focuses on the international Jewish community. The Center addresses anti-Semitism including the hate and terrorism associated with it. By teaming up with Israel and cooperating closely with the Jewish religious community, the Center defends the safety of Jews worldwide and serves to educate others about Jewish history including but limited to the Holocaust.

Tostan Tostan is an international non-profit organization headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, operating in six countries across West Africa. Tostan's mission is to empower African communities to bring about sustainable development and positive social transformation based on respect for human rights. At the core of Tostan’s work is its 30-month Community Empowerment Program (CEP), which provides participatory human rights education in local languages to adults and adolescents who have not attended formal schools, primarily in remote regions.

United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) “UNESCO’s goal is to build peace in the minds of men”. The organization hopes to act as a catalyst for “regional, national, and international action in human rights”.

US State Department Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Confined to the United States, the Department strives to take action against abuse of human rights. Although they are not particularly involved with the investigations, they are the enforcers and have partnered with many other organizations committed to protecting human rights.

Human rights education at schools

Several schools offer human rights education as part of their curriculum, for example linked subjects like History, Politics and Citizenship, but there are also specialised courses, such as Human Rights offered as part of the International Bacclaureate Diploma programme for high school students.

IB Human Rights is an academic subject containing units on:

  • The theory of human rights
  • The practise of human rights
  • Contemporary human rights issues

In order to pass the course students are required to study for two years, take a final examination and produce a coursework.

As part of their Diploma programme students may also choose to write their Extended Essay on Human Rights. This is a 4000 word research paper focusing on human rights.

The IB Human Rights course was originally authored by Joni Mäkivirta, the developer of Cognitive Emotional Pedagogy. Part of the 2002 version of the IB Human Rights syllabus is at the Global Human Rights Education (HREA) website. Only part of the syllabus is available at the HREA website for copyright reasons.

The complete IB Human Rights syllabus that contains more details, including the assessment criteria, as well as the guide for the Human Rights Extended Essay can be acquired from the International Baccalaureate Organisation.

Human rights education uses in the 21st century

  • As a strategy for development (Clarence Dias)
  • As empowerment (Garth Meintjes)
  • As a way of change for women’s rights (Dorota Gierycz)
  • As a legal prospective and for law enforcement (Edy Kaufman)[46]

Human rights education models

1. Values and awareness The Values and Awareness Model focuses on transmitting “basic knowledge of human rights issues and to foster its integration into public values” based on its philosophical-historical approach. This model is what people commonly think of when human rights are concerned with the target audience being the general public with topics including global human rights and more cultural based matters.

2. Accountability The Accountability Model is associated with the legal and political approach to human rights in which the learners which the model targets are already involved via professional roles. The model is incorporated by means of training and networking, covering topics such as court cases, codes of ethics, and how to deal with the media.

3. Transformational This model of education focuses on the psychological and sociological aspects of human rights. The topics towards which this model is effective are those including vulnerable populations and people with personal experiences effected by the topic, such as women and minorities. The model aims to empower the individual, such as those victims of abuse and trauma. The model is geared towards recognizing the abuse of human rights but is also committed to preventing these abuses.[47]


Sudbury model of democratic education schools maintain that values, human rights included, must be learned through experience[48][49][50][51] as Aristotle said: "For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them."[52] They adduce that for this purpose schools must encourage ethical behavior and personal responsibility. In order to achieve these goals schools must respect human rights in school by allowing students the three great freedoms—freedom of choice, freedom of action and freedom to bear the results of action—that constitute personal responsibility.[53]

See also

External links


  1. "Universal Declaration of Human Rights". United Nations General Assembly. 10 December 1948. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and "to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Murphy, Ruane (2003)
  3. "Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action" (PDF). United Nations. 25 June 1993.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. General Assembly resolution 49/184 of 23 December 1994
  5. "UN Decade of Human Rights Education". United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. "UN Decade for Human Rights Education". UNESCO. UNESCO is called upon “…to play a central role in the design, implementation and evaluation of projects under the Plan of Action of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education”, considering the Organization’s “…long experience in education, educational methodology and human rights and through its network of UNESCO schools, clubs, human rights Chairs and National Commissions”.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "UNESCO's Strategy and Action".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "World Programme for Human Rights Education". Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Indian Institute Of Human Rights
  11. Human Rights Education Associates
  12. "HREA Programmes". Human Rights Education Associates (HREA).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Murphy, Ruane (2003) "Human Rights Education is becoming an essential ingredient to all societies in the world in order to encourage respect and tolerance to those around us and build good citizens for the future."
  14. "Human Rights Education". Amnesty International.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Human Rights Education in the School Systems of Europe, Central Asia, and North America: a Compendium of Good Practice. Warsaw, Poland: OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), 2009. PDF."
  17. "Welch, Claude E. Protecting Human Rights in Africa: Roles and Strategies of Non-governmental Organizations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1995. PDF."
  22. Seweryn Ozdowski
  39. "Welch, Claude E. Protecting Human Rights in Africa: Roles and Strategies of Non-governmental Organizations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1995. PDF."
  40. "Welch, Claude E. Protecting Human Rights in Africa: Roles and Strategies of Non-governmental Organizations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania, 1995. PDF."
  46. "Andreopoulos, George J., and Richard Pierre Claude. Human Rights Education for the Twenty-first Century. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania, 1997. PDF."
  47. "Understanding what we do: emerging models for human rights education by Felisa Tibbitts International Review of Education volume 48, numbers 3-4, pgs 159-171"
  48. Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, "'Ethics' is a Course Taught By Life Experience."
  49. Greenberg, D. (1987), The Sudbury Valley School Experience, "Teaching Justice Through Experience." 2009.
  50. Greenberg, D. (1992), Education in America - A View from Sudbury Valley, "Democracy Must be Experienced to be Learned."
  51. Greenberg, D. (1987) Chapter 35, "With Liberty and Justice for All," Free at Last — The Sudbury Valley School.
  52. Bynum, W.F. and Porter, R. (eds) (2005) Oxford Dictionary of Scientific Quotations. Oxford University Press. 21:9.
  53. Greenberg, D. (1987) The Sudbury Valley School Experience "Back to Basics."