Human rights education received a renewed declaration of support from a number of countries in Asia-Pacific. In a conference held in December last year, the issue of human rights education and development was discussed. Government representatives from China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Australia, Vietnam, New Zealand and the Philippines affirmed that human rights education must embody the right to development, and that the programs and activities in development must uphold human rights in all its dimensions.
The Philippines' Commission on Human Rights organized the two-day conference named "Asia-Pacific Human Rights Education for Development" on December 13-15, 1995 in Manila. Government representatives were joined by the Special Adviser on National Institutions to the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and representatives of government agencies and non-governmental organizations.
In the final document of the conference, the participants agreed that human rights education must be rooted in the realities of the lives of people especially the most marginalized and vulnerable, and empower them to participate fully in the development process. They likewise state that human rights education must draw on the rich cultural heritage and diversity in the Asia-Pacific, including appropriate recognition of family and community values. It must likewise cultivate participative values of governance, consensus-building and accountability.
Human rights education, the document states, should sensitize all levels and sectors of society including government, local and international civil servants, the police, security and defense forces, the school system, the family, the media and all other social institutions.
The participants formulated a set of recommendations aimed at supporting the growth of human rights education programs in the region especially in relation to development issues.
Some of the recommendations, addressed to governments, national institutions, and non-governmental organizations, are as follows:
a. appropriate and effective human rights teaching strategies that build on the liberating elements of indigenous concepts, folk knowledge and cultural practices have to evolve;
b. curricular programs that are responsive to the needs and concerns of vulnerable groups such as children, youth, women, elderly, indigenous peoples, refugees, migrant workers, persons in extreme poverty, rural and urban poor, persons with special needs, persons in custody, minority groups and others have to be developed. Such curricular programs should promote the values and practices of healing, reconciliation and conflict resolution, and cultivate participative values of governance, consensus building, accountability and solidarity;
c. the realization of fundamental human rights and freedoms especially the right to development through human rights education programs including the empowerment of citizens and governments to impress upon intergovernmental or bilateral agencies (e.g.. International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, World Bank) and private sector organizations (e.g., transnational corporations) the need to uphold human rights in all their policies and activities related to development have to be promoted; and
d. the possibility of convening a working group of government, national institutions and non-governmental organizations to continue the dialogue in the Asia-Pacific region on the necessity of human rights education for development and to request financial support from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights/Centre for Human Rights for this endeavor have to be examined.
It appears that this conference is the first ever of its kind when governments, with non-governmental organizations' participation, have a cordial dialogue on human rights education. What is more notable is the linking of human rights education to the increasing attention given to development issues. Certainly, this initiative must continue for more action on human rights education.
This initiative deserves support as any dialogue between governments and non-governmental sectors deserves encouragement. As long as there is room for exchange of ideas and possible joint actions to realize human rights, there lies a possibility of a better prospect of protecting the rights of those who are most vulnerable to the adverse impact of development activities.