Press Releases

    13 December 2004

    “ABC:  Teaching Human Rights” Booklet Launched at Headquarters as Panel Discusses Human Rights Education in Schools

    NEW YORK, 10 December (UN Headquarters) -- “ABC:  Teaching Human Rights -- Practical Activities for Primary and Secondary Schools” was the title of an educational booklet launched at Headquarters this afternoon, in conjunction with a panel discussion on practical experiences with introducing human rights education into school systems.

    As the United Nations General Assembly marked the conclusion of the Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004), unanimously proclaiming the establishment of a World Programme for Human Rights Education, a panel of teachers, students, media professionals and human rights activists presented the booklet, which offers practical advice to teachers to foster human rights awareness and action among primary and secondary school children.

    Rather than placing an extra burden on an already overloaded curriculum, the book aims at infusing human rights issues into subjects already taught.  It lay out principal human rights concepts and the fundamentals of human rights education; makes suggestions for nurturing younger children’s sense of worth and respect for others; and presents more sophisticated activities for older children.

    In his March 2003 foreword to the book, Sergio Vieira de Mello -- the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights who lost his life in last year’s attack on the Organization’s headquarters in Iraq -- stressed that human rights education meant not only teaching and learning “about” human rights, but also “for” human rights.  Its fundamental role was to empower individuals to defend their own rights and those of others.  This empowerment constituted an important investment for the future, aimed at achieving a just society in which all human rights of all persons were valued and respected.

    The participants at today’s launch emphasized the particular importance of this initiative in view of the fact that the first three years of the newly-proclaimed Programme would focus on primary and secondary education through integration of human rights issues into curricula.  Such integration must go far beyond simple inclusion of human rights in curricula.  It should also include efforts to change the learning environment and to promote non-violence and mutual respect in schools, families and communities.  The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one panellist noted, had achieved good results with country-specific projects for human rights education, including in the Czech Republic, Pakistan, Egypt and Argentina.

    She added that human rights must be firmly rooted at the local level and curricular and non-curricular educational approaches should be complimented by broader community-wide approaches.  Human rights education must be seen as a process -- a life long journey -- that involved daily combating stereotypes and prejudice.  Another speaker affirmed that, rather than allocating separate time to the study of human rights issues -- as had been done with issues such as black history month in the United States -- human rights should permeate every subject.

    Other panellists shared their experiences and exchanged lessons learned from specific programmes and initiatives for promotion of human rights education, emphasizing the importance of new technological tools, such as the Internet and other novel media forms. Other techniques that helped to engage students’ empathy and moral imagination included brainstorming, conducting case studies, field trips and community visits, research projects and role-playing. The usefulness of using human rights to frame the study of subjects such as foreign languages, history and English was also put forward, as it could bring continuity to a curriculum often overburdened by the need for inclusiveness.

    Participating in the panel were representatives of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNESCO and Amnesty International, as well as Channel 13’s Outreach programme and the Urban Justice Center. A group of educators and students from Elisabeth Irwin High School in New York also took part.

    Today’s panel discussion was co-sponsored by the Office of the High Commissioner for UNESCO.

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