Since the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) was declared in late 1994, the role of the UN in promoting human rights education has become more focused. With the Decade, the UN has a clear human rights education agenda to pursue.
Two UN-sponsored activities held in November 2001 in support of human rights education have implications for the Asia-Pacific region. These activities exemplify the roles that the UN must assume in promoting its agenda. The UN has to facilitate the formulation of international guidelines that can help governments adopt human rights education programs. At the same time, it has to provide technical assistance to governments in translating international guidelines into national programs.
The International Consultative Conference on School Education in relation with Freedom of Religion and Belief, Tolerance and Non-discrimination held in Madrid, Spain from 23-25 November 2001 provided the avenue for international guideline formulation. The National Workshop on Human Rights Education held in Beijing, China from 8-9 November 2001 is a concrete national-level effort made possible by technical cooperation agreement between the UN (through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) and the government of China.
In the Madrid conference, the main question is: how does religious education contribute to the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination, hence to the promotion of human rights?1
The conference declared that "...education in relation with freedom of religion or belief can also contribute to the attainment of the goals of world peace, social justice, mutual respect and friendship among peoples and promotion of human rights and fundamental freedoms." It can also contribute to the promotion of "...freedoms of conscience, opinion, expression, information and research as well as acceptance of diversity." (paras q and r, Final Document)2
The conference highlighted the following factors in the education system:
The conference stressed the importance of providing attention to the educational needs of women and girls, and members of other vulnerable groups.
The final document of the conference, treated as an international guideline for school education on freedom of religion, tolerance and non-discrimination, complements the Decade's Guidelines for national plans of action for human rights education.3
In view of the recent World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa last August 2001, the Madrid conference is a direct response to the call for practical steps at eradicating discrimination and intolerance.
As a result of the UN organized "Annual Workshops on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region," a "Framework of Regional Technical Cooperation Programme in Asia and the Pacific"4 (Tehran Framework) was developed. This document lists activities that can help governments in the region develop human rights programs.
The Tehran Framework provides under the item on human rights education the following:Activity (b): Provision by the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) of technical cooperation and assistance at the request of Member States for the development of national capacities for human rights education, including the holding, as appropriate, of workshops...
The South Korean government, Korean National Commission for UNESCO and OHCHR jointly organized the Northeast Asia workshop on human rights education in schools, on 1-4 December 1999 in Seoul following the Tehran Framework. Government, NGO and school representatives from China, South Korea, Mongolia and Japan attended the workshop.
Subsequently, the Chinese government and the OHCHR signed a memorandum of agreement for technical cooperation activities. This became the basis for the holding of the Seminar on Human Rights Education in Beijing on 8-9 November 2001.
Heads or representatives of various government personnel training institutes, the ministry of education, universities, and schools, attended the seminar.
The participants were able to put together a set of recommendations on follow up activities touching on four areas: 1. Human rights education for primary and secondary schools; 2. Human rights training for professionals and other groups; 3. Research; and 4. Institution-building.
The recommendations on human rights education for primary and secondary schools cover the following:
On human rights training for professionals and other groups, the following activities were identified:
For research, the following were suggested:
a. Development of research studies on the following topics:
And lastly, for institution-building the following were suggested:
The suggestions take into consideration the view that human rights education in China should reflect the Chinese realities, including culture, values, history and current economic development.
In March 2002, the UN-organized Tenth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region held in Beirut adopted a set of activities supporting human rights education, among other concerns. The programme of action has the following main objective: To strengthen national capacities for human rights education with a focus on the incorporation of human rights education within the school system. Activities comprising the programme are the following:
The Beirut programme of action is based on the Tehran Framework and builds on the Beijing programme of action (1999). This clearly demonstrates the direction that the annual UN-organized regional workshop is taking. There is a major thrust towards concrete activities that respond to the needs concerning the development of human rights education programs in the region.
The results of the three UN activities have value as far as they are geared toward the adoption and development of human rights education programs at the regional, national and local levels.
While the guidelines/suggestions from these UN-sponsored activities appear fairly ordinary, they are necessary to make governments adopt a more active role in human rights education.