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FOCUS November 1995 Volume 2

Prospects and Problems of Human Rights Education

In a symposium held by HURIGHTS OSAKA on July 29, 1995 in Osaka city's Creo Osaka West auditorium, enlighthening presentations on various experiences on human rights education were made. The experiences range from the level of the United Nations to the level of community and issue-based education work. The symposium was participated by the Director of the United Nations Center for Human Rights, Mr. John Pace, and a panel of human rights educators namely Mr. Yasumasa Hirasawa, Mr. Mori Minoru, Ms. Junko Kuninobu and Mr. Jefferson R.Plantilla. Almost two hundred people from non-governmental organizations, schools, and other private organizations were in attendance.

Mr. Pace, in a keynote speech, made a comprehensive presentation on the events that form United Nations' efforts in promoting human rights. He cited the fact that there is now a clear recognition of the importance of preventive human rights work which is basically what human rights education is all about. He stressed the various mention of human rights education in major human rights instruments notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Vienna Declaration. He further explained the main features of the United Nations Decade of Human Rights Education which calls for the coordinative role of the High Commissioner of Human Rights and the drawing up of national action plans by governments. He highlighted the requirement of setting up human rights education resource centers in each country to support continuing work on teaching people about their human rights. He repeated the plea of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Jose Ayala Lasso, for everyone to be involved in accomplishing the tasks of human rights education.

Translating human rights into day-to-day reality, creating a universal culture of human rights and making human rights the common language of humanity are catch-phrases in the United Nations' drive for the global human rights education movement. They will hopefully be key areas of accomplishments of human rights education by the end of the decade.

There is a huge task lying ahead for human rights education in the next ten years that can create a significant difference in the situation of human rights in this world.

The panel discussion that followed the keynote speech focused on specific issues of human rights education work. Mr. Mori spoke of the experience in DOWA education. In Japan, an educational program on the issue of discrimination against fellow Japanese who happen to be labeled as Burakumin (descendants of groups of Japanese people who were politicallly outcast during the feudal era) is called DOWA education. It evolved due to the demands made by the Buraku groups on the government to take steps to stop discrimination against them. Mr. Mori pointed out that DOWA education tries to make people labeled as Buraku to understand their situation well and find out the means of resolving the problem. It is likewise directed at non-Buraku Japanese for them to understand the Buraku problem and eradicate discriminatory behavior and thinking toward Buraku people. He pointed out the problem of getting the non-Buraku Japanese to respond to this call for greater understanding and acceptance of the equal rights of Buraku people. He emphasized the value of understanding one's situation as a starting point in human rights education. He likewise pointed out that DOWA education can apply to issues regarding women, the disabled, and other minority groups.

Mr. Mori mentioned in his presentation the idea of developing self-esteem and asserting one's self without hurting others. He likewise pointed out the highly hierarchical relationships and the idea of homogenous community in the Japanese society that cause discrimination against those seen as inferior or different. This should be considered in creating human rights education programs. The hierarchical social and cultural practices, and the non-acceptance of people with different culture and other attributes need to be changed through human rights education. He also mentioned developing a pedagogy of the oppressor, that is, human rights education program that focus on people whose use of power or authority has been violating human rights. Government personnel for, example, would fall under this category.

Along the same line, Ms. Kuninobu expressed the need to have a fuller understanding of the discriminated situation of women. She summarizesd the problem of women discrimination as basically the domination of the weak by the strong. Discrimination comes in due to a social construct that treats women as the weaker members of society. To remedy this situation, the dominant group (men) should recognize the inherent equality of women and men. This is reflected in the type and value given to women's labor. This is also seen in the way society assigns lesser role to women on matters affecting the society as a whole. Women are mainly relegated to reproductive role - bearing and rearing children at home in addition to serving the men in the family. She thus recommends the adoption of education programs that present the proper gender roles of women and men. It must likewise lead to empowerment of women. At present, the education system does not incorporate subjects on gender sensitivity. Instead, there is a hidden curriculum (use of language and promotion of traditional ideas by the teachers) in educational institutions that sustain the common notion of inferiority of women. This hidden curriculum is actually in the form of social and cultural practices that reflect this conservative view on women. Any education program on this issue will cover both women and men. And the educational approach will have to consider their respective different experiences.

At the regional level, human rights education activities are varied. They not only cover issues about discrimination but also a whole range of human rights issues including related subjects on development, environment, health, peace among others. In majority of cases, human rights education activities are called by different names. What is common is the main idea of analyzing the present problematic situation of people and devising ways of addressing them. This whole exercise comprises the education process. At times, what may be lacking is a deeper adaptation of the human rights perspective in the education program. Such perspective must not only refer to the substance of the education activities but to the very process being used as well. Thus having human rights law subject must be coupled with participatory systems of learning human rights concepts and mechanisms. In many countries in the region, most human rights education activities are mainly done in the informal and non-formal education systems. There are very few initiatives in incorporating human rights education in the formal education system. To promote human rights education regionally, there must be more information sharing among the groups involved; the formal education system must be given equal attention; key/influential groups must be targetted for education such as government personnel, members of the media; and evaluation of the present programs and systems must be made to pave the way for further development. All these will help promote the UN Decade for Human Rights Education. This is the gist of the presentation made by Mr. Plantilla.

At the open forum, a participant raised the important issue of inadequate attention given to the rights of the disabled. He stressed the lack of government efforts in Japan to promote the rights of the disabled. Unclear government policies and withdrawal of special education for the disabled are examples. It was likewise pointed out that women's reproductive rights affect the birth of a disabled person since women can decide not to give birth to a baby detected as being disabled.

Another issue was raised regarding the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. It was clarified that the UN Decade can help a lot in creating a positive environment for human rights education in Asia-Pacific. As a UN initiative, it can persuade governments to adopt human rights education programs. Regional institutions such as HURIGHTS OSAKA can help promote the UN Decade. Greater networking among the various groups in the region is an effective way of doing this.

In his summation of the panel discussion, Mr. Hirasawa pointed out that human rights education to be effective has to address specific human rights issues; develop self-esteem and assertiveness among the people; create program for those who violate human rights (such as government personnel) to increase their understanding of the importance and relevance of human rights in their work . He stressed the importance of creating national action plans to implement the Plan of Action of the UN Decade . He cited the task of human rights educators in developing the universal human rights culture. One area, he said, that needs attention is human rights education program for people working in private corporations.

The Chairperson of HURIGHTS OSAKA, Professor Kinhide Mushakoji, in his welcome remarks pointed out that the people should have the right to human rights education which includes participating in activities such as this symposium. The Director of HURIGHTS OSAKA, Professor Dong-hoon Kim, in his closing remarks stated the commitment of the organization to help realize the goals of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education and take into account the plight of the disabled, among others.

HURIGHTS OSAKA held this sysmposium on human rights education on the occasion of its first anniversary and of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations.


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