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Who needs human rights education?

  • Published at 12:06 am March 24th, 2019
The most important kind of education BIGSTOCK

Each and every human being

Human rights education (HRE) is generally undertaken with the objective of developing an acceptable human rights culture that will be of benefit to everyone, irrespective of colour, caste, or creed. 

Analysts believe that HRE is one way of empowering people so that they can create skills and behaviour that would promote dignity and equality within the community and society. It is consequently believed that every human being has the right to receive both religious and worldly education from the various institutions of education and guidance, including the family, the school, the university, and the media, in an integrated and balanced manner so that it can help to develop one’s personality, strengthen one’s faith in God, and promote one’s respect for and defense of both rights and obligations.

What is happening in Yemen, Syria, and several other countries in Africa, Latin America, and Myanmar underlines the importance of the subject.

It may be recalled that history was made in Paris, France on December 10, 1948, when the newly created United Nations General Assembly proclaimed the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” 46 years later, the General Assembly, in its Resolution 49/184 of December 23, 1994, declared 1995-2004 as the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. 

These two declarations not only stressed the need for the protection of basic human rights, but also underlined that one of the ways of achieving this was through education. The 1994 declaration also encouraged member states of the United Nations to include the issue under discussion in the syllabus of their schools. 

This effort, initiated in 1994, was acclaimed over the next 10 years. It was also generally recognized that if implemented properly, and with care, it could play a role in reducing abuses and violent conflicts and also promote respect for human dignity and equality. Consequently, the United Nations General Assembly, by Resolution 59/113A, made another proclamation on this subject on December 10, 2004, titled “World Program for Human Rights Education.” 

This program is seeking to expand the scope of the 1994 resolution and “promote a common understanding of the basic principles and methodologies of human rights education, to provide a concrete framework for action, and to strengthen partnerships and cooperation from the international level down to the grassroots.”

The United Nations High Commissioner for the Promotion and Protection of all Human Rights functions as coordinator of the UN Education and Public Information Programs in the area of human rights. In addition, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) promotes human rights education by supporting national and local initiatives within the context of its technical cooperation

It is pertinent to recognize at this juncture the constructive role being played by some international institutions with regard to imparting human rights education. They include Unesco, Amnesty International and Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), and international organizations such as the European Union Ombudsman and the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Human rights education is also being taught in different educational institutions in various parts of the world by including this aspect in the syllabus of social science meant to be taught at the secondary and higher secondary levels. In Europe, several schools offer human rights education as part of their curriculum, linked to subjects like history, politics, and citizenship. In this regard, an emphasis is given on: Theory of human rights, practice of human rights, and contemporary human rights issues.

In general, the courses approach the subject of HRE through three different models.

The values and awareness model focuses on transmitting “basic knowledge of human rights issues and tries to foster its integration into public values” based on its philosophical-historical approach. This model has, as its target audience, the general public, and focuses on global human rights and more culturally based matters.

The accountability model is associated with the legal and political approach to human rights. This 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.

The transformational model focuses on the psychological and sociological aspects of human rights pertaining particularly to women and minorities. The model aims to empower those who have been victims of abuse and trauma and is also geared towards preventing these abuses.

It is generally agreed by human rights activists that the benefits of HRE are as follows: It is the first step towards respecting, promoting, and defending human rights; it strengthens respect for the universal commitment to human rights and fundamental freedoms; it enables one with the knowledge to be familiar with his/her rights and to not only avoid being abused, but also holds the abusers accountable for their actions; it promotes respect for human dignity and equality, regardless of race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and language, as well as tolerance; it encourages participation in democratic decision making; it teaches the skills of negotiations, mediation, and consensus building; it combats extremism, terrorism, and violence based on race or religion.

Consequently, it is generally agreed that HRE should be studied by everyone -- particularly law enforcement personnel, lawyers, the armed forces, police, and prison officials.

This awareness about the need for HRE playing an important role in advancing human rights among member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has recently led the OIC-Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (OIC-IPHRC) to urge all members to actively pursue this process of HRE. 

This has been undertaken to stress that the basic elements of the message of Islam to humanity are to emphasize on compassion and social justice. Several meetings in different parts of the world have urged member states to recognize that it is the collective responsibility of Muslims to protect the rights of all, irrespective of race, religion, language, or social status. 

For this reason, each and every individual should be encouraged to engage in HRE. In fact, because of its importance, the OIC-IPHRC has strongly recommended that OIC member states should be inspired to make HRE compulsory in all their institutions of learning, starting from elementary levels. 

Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected].