The goal of the United Nations is to translate international human rights norms into national day-to-day reality. Sadly, United Nations efforts in realizing this goal have been slow.
Recent developments show that United Nations has shifted from drafting to implementation of international human rights norms. In 1987, the United Nations set up the Voluntary Fund for Technical Cooperation in the Field of Human Rights. By permitting voluntary contributions to be made toward the emerging program of technical cooperation, the United Nations boosted preventive action in the field of human rights, a form of activity that was essentially new at that time. In 1988, the World Public Information Campaign for Human Rights was launched. It has five major types of action:
This campaign aims to facilitate the assimilation of international norms into the State administrative process in order to make the process of implementation a matter of course.
The decision in 1989 to convene the World Conference on Human Rights is another development in support of realizing human rights. These developments led to the proclamation of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education in December 1994.
The United Nations' program for implementing international human rights norms now has three parts: protection, promotion and preventive action. Promotional and preventive action were added to the protection mechanism that had been worked out in the earlier years in the conventional and extra-conventional fields. The addition of the two latter parts is due to a realization that awareness and education is a prior condition for any meaningful implementation of human rights standards.
The United Nations is seeking to build a universal culture of human rights based on its charter and the international bill of human rights. As phrased by the United Nations Secretary General, human rights should become the "common language of humanity". Human rights education is the means to attain this.
In the United Nations World Conference on Human Rights, where so much acrimony and polarization of views characterized the process of drafting the Vienna Declaration and Program of Action, human rights education received the greatest concurrence by governments.The Vienna Declaration and Program of Action contains a significant number of statements on human rights education. They all call on States to initiate and support human rights education. It also calls for the proclamation of the Decade for Human Rights Education.
The Decade for Human Rights Education has a Plan of Action that sets out a complete strategy for education activities. It has the following objectives:
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, with the support of the United Nations Center for Human Rights, will promote and coordinate the implementation of the Plan of Action. Governments, national human rights institutions, national NGOs, various United Nations agencies and other international organizations working on human rights will be involved.
The Plan of Action aims to bring the objectives of the Decade to as wide an audience as possible through both formal and non-formal education, and encourages an approach which is designed to build permanent capacity, including the training of trainers.
Activities will provide special attention to women, children, the aged, minorities, refugees, indigenous peoples, persons in extreme poverty and other vulnerable sectors as well as to police, prison officials, lawyers, judges, teachers and curriculum developers, the armed forces, international civil servants, development officers and peacekeepers, NGOs, the media, government officials, parliamentarians, and other groups which are in a position to effect the realization of human rights.
Educational establishments and programs, and appropriate institutions in society will be encouraged to incorporate human rights education into the formal and non-formal education systems respectively.
The Plan of Action envisages the designation of national focal points for human rights education in each State which will be charged with identifying national human rights education needs, developing a national plan of action, raising funds, coordinating with regional and international bodies and reporting to the High Commissioner.
Each State is encouraged to establish a national human rights resource and training center capable of engaging in research, training of trainers, etc. Where such centers exist, the plan encourages States to work toward their strengthening.
The concept of human rights education appears in a number of international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 26), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 13), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 29), and, most recently, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (section D, paragraphs 78-82). Taken together, these instruments provide a clear definition of the concept of human rights education as agreed by the international community.
Human rights education may thus be defined as training, dissemination and information efforts aimed at the building of a universal culture of human rights through the imparting of knowledge and skills and the molding of attitudes which are directed to:
a. the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
b. the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity;
c. the promotion of understanding, tolerance, gender equality, and friendship among all nations, indigenous peoples, racial, ethnic and religious groups;
d. the enabling of all persons to participate effectively in a free society; and
e. the furtherance of the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
Translated into teaching lessons, these objectives become lessons for life because they teach the sanctity of life and therefore of human dignity; they provide guide for everyday life; they apply from the first day of life to the last: protecting children, developing the youth, empowering adults and elevating the seniors.
The task of the United Nations is to bring these lessons for life to the world.
(Note: This is an edited version of the keynote speech of Mr. John Pace in the Symposium on Human Rights Education organized by HURIGHTS OSAKA on July 29, 1995.)