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  5. Guidelines for National Plans of Action for Human Rights Education: A Summary

 
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FOCUS September 1998 Volume 13

Guidelines for National Plans of Action for Human Rights Education: A Summary

At the United Nations, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has developed the "Guidelines for National Plans of Action for Human Rights Education." This document is intended to provide a framework to assist member states in the development of national plans of action for human rights education during the UN Decade (1995-2004). The objectives are based on several resolutions adopted by both the General Assembly and the Commission on Human Rights. This plan of action seeks to link human rights education efforts at the international, regional, national and local levels. Those sought for active participation in the planning include: governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), professional associations, broad sectors of civil society, and concerned individuals. The plan of action has five specific objectives:

  1. To provide needs assessment, and the formulation of strategies to promote human rights education.

  2. To build and strengthen human rights education programs at the international, regional, national, and local levels.

  3. To develop and disseminate useful human rights educational materials.

  4. To strengthen the role of the mass media in promoting human rights education.

  5. To promote the global dissemination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Human rights education is a concept that has been defined and articulated by the international community, including the United Nations. As such, human rights education can 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." The development of human rights education is aimed at five major goals within and among nation states:

  1. To build respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.

  2. To promote full development of the human personality and its sense of dignity.

  3. To promote understanding, tolerance, gender equality, and equality and peaceful coexistence among nations, indigenous peoples and racial, national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups.

  4. To enable every person to participate in a genuinely free society.

  5. To further United Nations objectives regarding the promotion and maintenance of peace.

National plans of action are central to efforts to promote widespread human rights education. Widespread human rights education is, itself, central to efforts to accomplish broad goals of respect and practice of human rights at all levels of human society (e.g. international, national, local, etc.). Specifically, the goals of national plans are concerned with establishing and strengthening national and local human rights institutions. Towards these ends, the national plans are designed to promote effective national programs for the promotion and protection of human rights. Accordingly, these plans are a first step in the development of useful strategies to prevent human rights violations and their devastating effect on the lives of people in contemporary societies.

Furthermore, access to human rights education should be seen as a human right in and of itself. Governments should develop plans that incorporate this fundamental assumption. Such a plan will include the basic premise to promote respect for, and protection of, human rights through education for all members of the society. Such education will also promote the interdependence, indivisibility and universality of human rights, as such. These human rights include: civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights, as well as, the right to development. Women's rights should be integrated as a central feature of human rights education as a whole. A fully developed plan for human rights education will also encourage the analysis of existing and developing human rights problems and promote solutions that are consistent with human rights standards. In addition, these plans will help to empower communities and individuals to identify their human rights needs and to ensure that they are met.

There are several steps that must be taken to bring about national plans for human rights education. There should be the establishment of a national committee for these purposes in each country. The national committee should include representatives from appropriate government agencies and non- governmental organizations with experience, or capabilities, in the area of human rights education. The national committee should, thus, be directly responsible for the development of the national plan. The plan should include the development and implementation of a baseline study.

Correspondingly, the committee should be responsible for maintaining contacts with regional and international bodies concerned with implementing the overall objectives of the UN Decade. The methods utilized by the baseline study must be "legitimate, credible and objective." The question of legitimacy must be related to the organizations commissioned to conduct the research, as well as the data collection methods themselves. Additionally, the baseline study should identify high priority groups for human rights education, and methods for making human rights education accessible to them. Finally, this study should be made public and widely disseminated.

The findings of the baseline study should be used to establish priorities in human rights education for the short, medium and long term. The priorities for human rights education should be based on providing education for groups that are most in need of such education. These groups may include organizations that have specifically requested assistance in setting up human rights education programs. Additionally, certain organizations may be identified as generally in need of human rights education. These groups may include: justice administration officials ( e.g., police, prison officials, judges and prosecutors); government officials (e.g., legislators, military personnel, immigration officials); key professional groups (e.g., lawyers, teachers, social workers, medical staff); organizations (e.g., women's organizations, minority groups, religious leaders, human rights organizations), and others (e.g., refugees, migrant workers, women, prisoners).

The national plan should include a framework for implementing and monitoring human rights education programs. If an education program already exists, it should be critically analyzed to indicate how the programs can be strengthened, or reformulated, especially with regard to increasing local input. Some additional issues can be addressed regarding the development of the program. First, the plan should promote practical networks among individuals, groups and organizations to promote human rights education. Second, the plan should include identification, support and establishment of institutions to promote and coordinate human rights education training and materials development. Third, the plan should promote the integration of human rights education into all levels of formal education. Fourth, the plan should promote further research into, and evaluation of, human rights education programs to foster further improvement. Finally, the plan should also promote public policy and legislative reform in relation to human rights education.

Regarding the continued development and furtherance of human rights education, it is important that the plan be periodically reviewed and revised to meet the needs indicated in the baseline study. Such reviews should include critical self-evaluation by the national committee, as well as independent evaluations of the process. There is, of course, variation among societies in their ability to plan and carry out such programs. All things being equal, methods that are based on participatory ideas are most appropriate for such follow-up efforts. National evaluations should examine, at minimum, three areas of concern: 1) the national plan of action; 2) implementation of the program, and; 3) the functioning of the national committee.

Whereas, states are obvious central players in the effort to promote human rights education, the roles of other groups and institutions needs to be more firmly established. The input of these non-state groups and institutions should be strongly promoted. Non-governmental organizations, for example, are important as monitors of governments, which are, by and large, the main violators of human rights. They have also been the key organizations promoting the debate about human rights education, and in the documenting of human rights violations. Their persistence in these institutional roles is essential if human rights education efforts are to be successful.


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