COMMENTARY – Education is a key element for the correct implementation of human rights. Specifically, education on human rights is fundamental for people to be empowered and to be aware of their rights. By raising awareness on human rights, promoting quality education and encouraging the progressive development and growth of human beings, we also strengthen a culture of tolerance, peace and respect which stands at the basis of society.
“We are living in the modern age and we believe that nothing is impossible. We have reached the moon 45 years ago and maybe we will soon land on Mars. Then, in this 21st century we must be able to give every child a quality education.”1
Malala Yousafzai - Nobel Lecture 2014
Education on human rights
At the 5th Session of the 33rd Human Rights Council, Ms Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner of Human Rights, stressed the importance of human rights education as a formal power that people of all ages have. She noted how rights are created from reality and, at the same time, how reality should shape human rights in a continuous evolving process. Human rights education is fundamental since it fosters peace, tolerance and a recognition of humanity that goes beyond all differences, “in accordance with the principles of the universality, indivisibility and interdependence of human rights.”2
Whether you’re young or old, male or female, education on human rights should always be accessible and constitute the basis upon which to build a culture on human rights – defined by Amnesty as “an atmosphere in which all members of a given community understand, value and protect human rights, where the values of equality, dignity, respect, non-discrimination and participation anchor policies and are the basis for decision making processes within the community.”3
The possibility of being educated on human rights plays a key role in the growth of a child whose perspectives of life are often dark and uncertain. In Pakistan, “families do not send girls to school […] Many are kept from getting a secondary education because they cannot afford school fees. Even when in school, millions of children receive a poor quality education that leaves them lacking essential skills and knowledge.”4 Thanks to the work of the civil society, however, some progress has been made. Aware Girls, a charity that focuses on empowering women and girls and capacity building, has provided young people in Tribal areas of Pakistan with training on their rights. The projects address issues such as: peace, education, environment, climate change, and gender base violence.5 As the founder of the project Saba Ismail has stated: “We are working to empower young women by strengthening their leadership capacities enabling them to work for social change and women empowerment.”6
The importance of education on human rights should also be underlined as a matter of global concern. Therefore, it should be tackled through international campaigns. An example is offered by the campaign “My Body, My Rights” promoted by Amnesty International to stop the control and criminalisation of sexuality and reproduction. Particularly focused on Algeria, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Ireland, Nepal, Morocco-Western Sahara and Tunisia, the campaign aims at helping people to claim their rights through conscious knowledge of their human rights.
Involvement of all actors
How do international organisations, States and the civil society get involved in promoting education on human rights?
First and foremost, “UNESCO believes that education is a human right for all throughout life and that access must be matched by quality.”7 Entrusted to lead the Global Education 2030 Agenda through Sustainable Development Goal 4, UNESCO works to strengthen education systems worldwide. In relation to human rights education, UNESCO’s Director of division of education, Mr Jordan Naidoo, mentioned at the 33rd Human Rights Council how access to education is a crucial factor to be taken into account when discussing human rights education.
For what concerns States’ involvement, Article 7 UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training recites:
“States, and where applicable relevant governmental authorities, have the primary responsibility to promote and ensure human rights education and training, developed and implemented in a spirit of participation, inclusion and responsibility.”
Are States complying with these guidelines? Two positive examples come from Costa Rica and Brazil. In occasion of the 33rd Human Rights Council, Ms Mora Escalante, Costa Rica’s Minister of Education since 2014, highlighted the progress that has been made in the past few years in terms of human rights education in her country. In accordance to the pacifist tradition of the Costa Rica, human rights education was promoted through enforcing public education, reforming academic curricula based on human rights and revisiting the normative legislation. The final aim, Ms Mora Escalante claimed, is to have laws that can effectively allow students to express their identity (sexual, cultural, ethnical etc.) since this is a crucial aspect of education and human rights enforcement.
Ms Flavia Piovesan, Secretary for Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice of Brazil, also stated how her country focused particularly on the idea of inclusion to promote human rights education. To fully strengthen human rights culture, Brazil keeps on fostering human rights education highlighting the importance of diversity within the country but also aiming at shaping society in the most inclusive way possible.
In terms of civil society’s involvement, it’s important to point out the fact that the collaboration of NGOs is absolutely crucial in terms of promoting education on human rights. It’ll be briefly reported here Amnesty International’s project “Human Rights Friendly Schools”, aimed to empower young people and promote active participation. Through this project, “young people and the school community learn about human rights by putting them into practice every day.”8 Moreover, Amnesty also carried out educative programmes in the Middle East and North Africa for young activists to learn how to provide human rights education to other young people. Implementing a shared, communal and all-encompassing approach, Amnesty practically managed to bring human rights education to everyone, accessible in all its shades. This is why, the collaboration with international institutions and states should be further implemented and encouraged.
Hope for the future
“A Path to Dignity” is a 28-minutes film that deals with the power of human rights education in people’s lives. It presents three stories that illustrate the impact of education on human rights on children in India, police training in Australia and women victims of violence in Turkey. The powerful stories dealt with in the film really show how human rights can impact and fundamentally changes people’s lives. Individuals are empowered and, aware of their rights and responsibilities, they are willing to bring effective, positive change in their communities. Barriers and stereotypes are eliminated, and a culture of tolerance and respect is promoted through human rights awareness and education. As Mmaskepe Motlalepula Sejoe (Human Rights Unit Manager, Victoria Police of Melbourne, Australia) said: “The only difference from culture to culture is the way in which dignity and respect are articulated.”9 Human rights education can help shaping human rights themselves and preventing future violations.
Know your rights.
1 Nobel Prize, “Nobel Lecture by Malala Yousafzai”, Oslo, 10 December 2014. Available at: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-l...
2 United Nations (2011) “United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training”, 66th Session, General Assembly. Available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/467/04/PDF/N1146704.pd...
3 Amnesty International, “Human Rights Friendly Schools Project”. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/human-rights-education/human-rights-friendly-...
4 Human Rights Watch, “Education”. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/topic/childrens-rights/education
5 Aware Girls. Available at: http://www.awaregirls.org/
6 American Humanist Association, “Empowering women in Pakistan: an interview with Saba Ismail, Aware Girls Executive Director”. Available at: http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-07-empowering-women-in-paki...
7 UNESCO, “Education for the 21st Century”. Available at: http://en.unesco.org/themes/education-21st-century
8 Amnesty International, “Human Rights Friendly Schools Project”. Op.Cit.
9 Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “A Path to Dignity”, 2012. Available at: http://path-to-dignity.org/
MR – Research Assistant at CIPADH
American Humanist Association, “Empowering women in Pakistan: an interview with Saba Ismail, Aware Girls Executive Director”. Available at: http://americanhumanist.org/HNN/details/2013-07-empowering-women-in-paki...
Amnesty International, “My Body, My Rights”. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/get-involved/my-body-my-rights/
Amnesty International, “Human Rights Friendly Schools Project”. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/human-rights-education/human-rights-friendly-...
Aware Girls. Available at: http://www.awaregirls.org/
Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), “A Path to Dignity”, 2012. Available at: http://path-to-dignity.org/
Human Rights Watch, “Education”. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/topic/childrens-rights/education
International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights 1966. Available at: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx
MARSH Sarah and SPILLER Lisa (2014) “How to teach ... human rights”, the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2014/dec/01/how-to-teach-hum...
Nobel Prize, “Nobel Lecture by Malala Yousafzai”, Oslo, 10 December 2014. Available at: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2014/yousafzai-l...
Peace Direct, Aware Girls, Pakistan. Available at: http://www.peacedirect.org/peacebuilders/pakistan
ROCH Camille (2016) “Training young human rights educators in the Middle East and North Africa”, Amnesty International. Available at: https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/education/2016/10/training-young-human...
UNESCO, “Education for the 21st Century”. Available at: http://en.unesco.org/themes/education-21st-century
United Nations (2011) “United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training”, 66th Session, General Assembly. Available at: https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/467/04/PDF/N1146704.pd...
United Nations, “Sustainable Development Goal 4 - Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Available at: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg4