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11 December, 2019 00:00 00 AM


Impact of human rights education

While human rights education had mention in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there was little corresponding global action by governments or NGOs to address and encourage it
Prof. Quazi Faruque Ahmed
 Impact of human rights education

The Human Rights Day was observed yesterday. The Day is observed internationally every year since the adoption of Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 by the United Nations General Assembly. United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, in his message on Human Rights Day, 2019 says: `we celebrate the role of young people in bringing human rights to life. Globally, young people are marching, organizing, and speaking out: For the right to a healthy environment…For the equal rights of women and girls…To participate in decision-making…And to express their opinions freely…They are marching for their right to a future of peace, justice and equal opportunities. Every single person is entitled to all rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural. Regardless of where they live. Regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, social origin, gender, sexual orientation, political or other opinion, disability or income, or any other status. On this International Day, I call on everyone to support and protect young people who are standing up for human rights.’’ UN High Commissioner for Human Rights  Michelle Bachelet in her message on the Day says : ``Raising our voices is essential to the creation of a future of peace, justice and sustainable development. I am inspired by the courage, clarity and principle of the women, men and young people who are rising up peacefully, to create greater freedom and justice.

Their voices are the living expression of human rights – a movement that is fundamentally about building dignity and equality for everyone.Policy-makers everywhere need to listen to these calls. And in response, they need to shape more effective, more principled policies.We have a right to live free from discrimination on any grounds. We have a right to access education, health-care, economic opportunities and a decent standard of living. This is about our future, our livelihoods, our freedoms, our security and our environment .We need to mobilise across the world–peacefully and powerfully – to advance a world of rights, dignity and choice for everyone. With renewed determination, we all need to stand up for human rights.’

While human rights education had mention in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, there was little corresponding global action by governments or NGOs to address and encourage it. In 1993, soon after the end of the Cold War, the UN held a World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. The conference marked a turning point for HRE, since it created the post of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, charged with education and public information related to human rights. Further, the Vienna Conference Declaration and Program of Action (adopted by consensus by the representatives of the 171 countries present) exhorted “all States and institutions to include human rights, humanitarian law, democracy and rule of law as subjects in the curricula of all learning institutions in formal and non-formal settings”.

Given growing momentum for realizing the vision of the Vienna Conference, the United Nations declared 1995 to 2004 the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, resulting in various publications and initiatives, and the opportunity for nation-states to develop plans of action to implement HRE. In 2005, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva created the (still ongoing) World Programme for Human Rights Education to “promote a com-mon understanding of 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 grass roots” (OHCHR). International advocacy also led to the adoption of the 2011 Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training by the UN General Assembly. The declaration highlights the need for HRE at all educational levels—primary, secondary, vocational, tertiary—as well as in the professional training of teachers, law enforcement, state officials.

``Mukul Jaan completed the HRLE [human rights and legal education] course successfully … and became inspired by the idea of upholding human rights and dignity of destitute people. Afer she became equipped with theoretical human rights and legal awareness from the HRLE course, nothing could stand in her path from applying this intelligence in vital real life situations.… On 31 October 2012, Mukul and her fellow [com-munity Rights Implementation Committee] members, Monwara and  Afela, demonstrated their ingenuity in preventing a child marriage from taking place in their community. A student of Class 5 named Rizwana was being forced by her family to marry. On hearing this startling news, these [committee] members … reached Rizwana’s house. During their visit, MukulJaan spoke out about child marriage being a punishable offense. She explained how this crime had dangerous consequences on a girl child in terms of health risks, she spoke of the pitfalls of stopping  Rizwana’s education, and how [it would] inflict grave psychological trauma on Rizwana. In the end, this collaborative attempt proved to be successful. [Rizwana] has resumed her formal education due to her  family’s newly acquired social awareness against this injustice.’’

``Human rights education (HRE) has created a lot of change in the school itself. Earlier, there was this big tree behind my school and if  you take a stick from that tree, and hit someone on the hand or any-where, the place will swell up a lot. We used to get beaten black and blue with those sticks before human rights education. Once we got the book and HRE started, our teachers came and told us, “hereafter, we are not going to touch the stick.” That really took us aback and we were shocked, in fact.

That increased our interest and curiosity about the entire [HRE] book because they became so different. The teachers became so friendly that we could go and even stand close to them, which we couldn’t do earlier because you would not know what kind of mood they are in, and if they were just going to hit you and take it out on you. Now we even go into the staff room and ask any questions we have.… So we really like school now.’’

In Bangladesh there was no mention of it in the syllabus of school students. The scenario changed since 2013. Human rights now are there in primary and secondary text books. The rights of the children, women and senior citizens are included. It is stated in the grade six books: “Every citizen is entitled to five basic rights —-food, clothing, home, health and education from the State”. It further says, “Every one under eighteen is a child. They are equal in rights, irrespective of gender, nationality, religion.” “Deployment/engagement of children in war or armed battle is prohibited”. About senior citizens, it is said in class seven text book: `In the developed countries every one above sixty or sixty five is a senior citizen. They are provided with a set of privileges. We should give due honour and respect to them”

Needless to say that only mention of human rights in text books or issuance of govt.orders or enactment of laws alone can not ensure human rights in practice. For that series of action programmes to help build mass awareness is very much required. Mention of govt. orders of 2010 and 2011 prohibiting corporal punishment of students in schools, and also the Child Act of 2013 for ending physical and mental torture of children  may be mentioned here for example. True, the spread of human rights education is essential to achieve the desired result. The role of national leadership, teachers, parents, cultural activists and the conscience keepers and of course involvement of the media, both print and electronic, is very vital. Attainment of functional literacy and life-long learning creates such congenial environment. Let’s uphold the conviction today that education and rights are inseparable. One supports the other. So it is high time to prioritise human rights education and follow the guidelines bestowed by the United Nations. It’s the function of the government as well as the proper role playing of the governed.

Good governance is the obligation of those who are at the helm of affairs or in government and the citizens are to extend lawful support in accordance with the principles of the universal declaration of 1948. It is high time we realize the impact of human rights education and follow the good instances of far and near.

The writer is Chairperson, Initiative for Human Development (IHD). [email protected]



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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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