EDUCATING FOR HUMAN RIGHTS:

FROM VISION TO REALlTY

Hugh Shukey, Open University, UK

 


1. The Vision: European Values

The shared principles of European citizenship are enumerated in many official documents signed by Heads of State and Government or their ministers. The principles have not changed over the years. The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (1950) which protects all those living in the democratic countries of Europe proclaims:

'Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is the achievement of greater unity between its Members and that one of the methods by which that aim is to be pursued is the maintenance and further realisation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms;'

Unity can be achieved if states respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is the voluntary commitment more and more European states are now prepared to enter into by joining the Council of Europe or at least participating in its educational and cultural work.

The other major European organisation, the European Union, formerly the European (Economic) Community is based on the same principles as the Council of Europe. The Maastricht Treaty of 1992, which attempted to define the future direction and shape of the European Union, begins with a preamble which spells out the basic aims of European unity. The twelve Heads of State confirm 'their commitment to the principles of freedom, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.'

European principles are also universal principles. Europe is part of the world community, whose main institution is the United Nations. The fundamental principles of Europe are not just European, but universal. The President of the United Nations General Assembly of December 1948 which proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dr H.E. Evatt of Australia 'noted that this was the first occasion on which the organised world community had recognised the existence of human rights and fundamental freedoms transcending the laws of sovereign states'. Human rights are, in this sense, internationally validated moral standards, universally accepted in principle in international discourse and in international law, even if they are not always enacted or observed by governments and their agents. The universal status of human rights is also accepted by all major religious groups, even though there are many examples of behaviour apparently justified by religion which clearly contravene the spirit and often the letter of human rights obligations.

Governments of states in Europe and others throughout the world have committed themselves formally to education for human rights. For instance, in December 1989 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child now signed by 161 member states, Article 29 of this Convention deals specifically with education. Children have an entitlement to personal development, but goverments also have an obligation to help them to learn about the values upon which free societies are based. Education shall be directed to:

'the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;'

On 25 June 1993 at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights the delegates of 171 states, representing 99% of the world's population, adopted unanimously the Vienna Declaration which, in its first article reaffirms the universality of human rights:

The World Conference on Human Rights reaffirms the solemn commitment of all States to fulfil their obligations to promote universal respect for, and observance and protection of, all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, other instruments relating to human rights, and international law. The universal nature of these rights and freedoms is beyond question.

Since teachers and schools are the people and the institutions which, in practice, will have to implement these undertakings, the educational community needs to understand clearly what has been promised. In particular teachers need to understand what precisely is implied by the phrase 'respect for human rights'.

The origins of international commitments to human rights

The concept of human rights as currently formulated is a comparatively recent invention, dating from the 1940s. It is the case that a concern for human rights is part of the Enlightenment project and several formulations associated with the declarations made at American Independence (1776) and the French Revolution (1789) passed directly into the codification of the United Nations Charter (1945) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). The 20th century formulation is new in that its scope is no longer national (America or France) but universal.

Human rights are the key part of an international project to promote and maintain world peace. Meeting in San Francisco on 26 June 1945, before the war in the Far East was over, representatives of 51 countries which had supported the allies against the axis, signed the United Nations Charter which begins with a manifesto:

WE THE PEOPLES OF THE UNITED NATIONS ARE DETERMINED to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom

Fundamental human rights are not defined in the Charter. It took another three years for a team to draft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General AssembIy of the United Nations at its meeting in Paris on 10 December 1948. The Declaration, the founder text of modern human rights, defines in its 30 articles those rights and fundamental freedoms that are the inherent birthright of all human beings.

The first paragraph of the preamble is an encapsulation of the sentiments expressed in the UN Charter above, namely:

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world

What we can call human rights principles, are those based on a recognition of the equal entitlement of all human beings to respect for their essential dignity and, further, an equal entitlement to all those rights recognised by the international community as human rights.

The main steps in the creation of an international language of human rights and an international moral and legal framework for the respect and promotion of those rights have been:

UNITED NATIONS CHARTER (1945) (refers to human rights)

UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS (1948) (defines human rights)

EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS (1953) (incorporates human rights into a legal framework with a court)

INTERNATIONAL BILL OF HUMAN RIGHTS (1966) (incorporates human rights into international law)

UNITED NATIONS CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD (1989) (adds new rights for under 18s)

The European Convention on Human Rights

In Europe, human rights are protected under the powerful European Convention on Human Rights, with its court in Strasbourg. The main articles of the Convention can be summarized as follows:

Article 2. Right to life.

Article 3. Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment.

Article 4. Freedom from slavery, servitude and forced labour.

Article 5. Right to liberty and security of person.

Article 6. Right to a fair trial within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal.

Article 7. No prosecutions under retroactive criminal legislation.

Article 8. Right to respect for private and family life, including ones home and correspondence.

Article 9. Freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 10. Freedom of expression and opinion.

Article 11. Freedom of peaceful assembly and association, including the right to form and belong to a trade union.

Article 12. Right to marry and found a family.

Article 14. No discrimination in the enjoyment of rights and freedoms on account of sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status.

The key concepts related to human rights, and their relationship to each other are shown in Document 1.

(a diagram of the basic concepts of human rights. Hugh Starkey

Document 1


Document 2:

Human Rights in the school curriculum
For all young people
Involves intercultural and international understanding
Pre-school/primary start with: the non-violent resolution of conflict and respect for others

Subjects: history, geography, social studies, moral and religious education, language and literature, economics etc. But also: affective involvement through drama, art, music, creative writing and video.

Skills: listen and discuss and defend one's opinions
identify bias, prejudice, stereotypes and discrimination;
establish positive and non-oppressive personal relationships;
take responsibility;
participate in decisions;

Knowledge
the main international declarations and conventions on human rights
understanding the mechanisms for the protection of human rights
forms of injustice, inequality and discrimination, including sexism and racism;
people, movements and key events
the concepts of justice, equality, freedom, peace, dignity, rights and democracy

Approach
The emphasis should be positive
understanding should be both cognitive and based on experience and feelings
always have international agreements and covenants as a point of reference
human rights is a way of looking at the world

A school based on human rights
Teachers have an understanding of human rights
Human rights are accepted as the basis of relationships in the classroom and the school
School rules and disciplinary procedures are on the basis of fair treatment and due process
The school has policies to promote equality and avoid unjust discrimination
Celebrates International human Rights Day ( 10 December)

2. The Reality

Human rights in schools
Human rights are not just about abuses by undemocratic regimes in far away countries. Human rights are the basic values on which any community which respects its members and aims for harmonious and constructive relationships between people must be based. That includes schools.

The reality is that school structures may well inhibit the human rights of the students. Some teaching methods, for example, such as whole class teaching, make freedom of expression difficult. All teachers will of course need to teach whole class groups for some of the time. A student who was only ever taught in this way might well fail to develop capacities to discuss, examine evidence and argue a case.

Marks are one important means of motivating students, but a negative and over-critical attitude to students whose marks are poor may cause the student to lose confidence in themselves and in the school, leading possibly to withdrawal or even anti-social behaviour. The risk is that too much criticism may lead to students effectively removing themselves from the education offered to them. This may be considered to be a denial of the right to education, which in technologically advanced societies is the right to work, to participate, to dignity.

Even where schools are caring for all their students and providing them with real and equal opportunities, the values of the society around the school will not necessarily reinforce the messages of the school. Racism is still strong in many parts of Europe. Children from minority communities may well have a different experience of life to those from the majority. Schools need to take such contexts into account.

On the other hand, schools are potentially the main institution for promoting the democracy that is essential to peace. Schools are based on rules and if those rules are based on human rights values every child will receive an experience of living in a society where there is equal concern for each member. Schools can in fact provide a vision of a better society.

Useful guidance on how a human rights dimension can be integrated into the school curriculum is provided in the Council of Europe's Recornmendation R(85)7 on teaching and learning about human rights in schools. A summary of the Recommendation is found in Document 2. It is reprinted in full in Teacher Education and Human Rights by Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey, published in London by David Fulton (1996).

Rights and responsibilities
The Commission for Global Governance reported at the time of the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations in 1995. It proposes a global ethic expressed as a set of rights and responsibilities. The rights currently enshrined in international law are not threatened, but the Commission urges the need for ´due respect for the reciprocal riuhts of others' which means responsibilities. I feel that this list is an excellent starting point for discussions with students and pupils about the reciprocal nature of rights and responsibilities. If the school is organised in such a way as to guarantee the rights in the first list, it implies that the pupils accept their responsibilities in the second list. Although the lists are global and intended to be applicable to all people in all situations, I am sure that you as teachers will recognise how these are particularly relevant to schools. The list is as follows:

The rights of all people to:
* a secure life
* equitable treatment
* an opportunity to earn a fair living and provide for their own welfare
* the definition and preservation of their differences through peaceful means
* participation in governance at all levels
* free and fair petition for redress of gross injustices
* equal access to information
* equal access to global commons

At the same time all people share a responsibility to:
* contribute to the common good
* consider the impact of their actions on the security and welfare of others
* promote equity, including gender equity
* protect the interests of future generations by pursuing sustainable development and safeguarding the global commons
* preserve humanity's cultural and intellectual heritage
* be active participants in governance
* work to eliminate corruption

Document 2



3. Reality and Vision

Our daily routine often gets in the way of a longer term and more strategic vision. In education we are working for the future and in the long term. A vision of that future is essential both for us and for our students. Once we are convinced that a human rights ethos is the best guarantee of a peaceful future, we have to overcome the pedagogical challenge of helping young people to understand, to experience and to feel the importance of human rights. Students get to learn about human rights by thinking feeling and doing (See document 3). They need to know about the past in order to build the future. That entails acting in the present. Actions can include informing others of human rights and responsibilities; acting against human rights abuses; supporting victims of abuses; participating in civil society. A particular challenge is to act in those areas where economic forces collide with social and humane policies. Howewer, rights are only effective if people know about them. The minimum requirement is to make human rights known.

References
Commission on Global Governance (1995) Our global neighbourhood, Oxford: OUP Audrey Osler and Hugh Starkey (1996) Teacher Education and Human Rights. London: Fulton

 

Back to CONTENT

 

 

Til forsiden / Back to front
Epost: tulle.elster@peacelink.nu

http://www.peacelink.nu