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FOCUS March 2004 Volume 35

Workshop on Human Rights Education in Schools in the Gulf Region

Jefferson R. Plantilla

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNICEF and UNESCO, in cooperation with the Ministry of Education of Qatar and the Qatar National Committee for Education, Culture and Science jointly organized the Sub-regional Workshop on Human Rights Education in Gulf States' School Systems in Doha, Qatar on 15-19 February 2004.

The Workshop is an implementation of the Conclusions of the Eleventh Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region held in Islamabad, Pakistan from 25-27 February 2003. The Conclusions state that the participants

  1. Invite all States in the Asia-Pacific region to host intersessional sub-regional workshops within the Framework for Cooperation and welcome the offer made by the Government of Qatar to host the upcoming sub-regional workshop on human rights education in schools for the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and in cooperation with the GCC.

The Workshop is likewise based on Commission on Human Rights resolution 2002/82 entitled "Regional cooperation for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Asian and Pacific region" and General Assembly resolution 49/184 of 23 December 1994 proclaiming the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004).

The Workshop

Education officials and university professors from Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates attended the Workshop. Education officials from Yemen were also in attendance. There were representatives of several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), namely, Arab Institute for Human Rights, Arab Council for Childhood and Development, Bahrain Society for Human Rights, Cairo Institute of Human Rights, Human Rights and Information Training Centre (Yemen), The Ford Foundation Cairo office and Amnesty International Beirut regional office.

There were resource persons from Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, HURIGHTS OSAKA, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the UN CEDAW1 Committee, and the University of Delhi (India).

The Workshop aimed to:

  • Develop a common understanding of human rights education in schools,
  • Discuss strategies, based on lessons learned from other countries, towards the effective incorporation of human rights education in the school system,
  • Identify key components and sub-regional and national priorities for human rights education pro-grams in schools,
  • Facilitate sub-regional cooperation in the area of human rights education among relevant partners (Governments, national institutions, educational institutes and NGOs),
  • Develop national and sub-regional plans for human rights education in schools.

There were presentations on the concept of human rights education in schools, experiences in developing and implementing human rights education in schools programs in other Arab countries (Morocco, Tunisia and Jordan) and in Asia-Pacific in general, human rights education guidelines based on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Country delegations presented their respective experiences on human rights education in their school systems.

The plenary presentations and reports were followed by Working Group discussions focusing on three issues: 1) policy, 2) curriculum/textbooks/school environment, and 3) training for teachers and other education personnel. The Working Groups spent a whole day discussing their respective issues. Their discussions where later on reported at the plenary session.

There were also presentations, toward the end of the Workshop, on the human rights education work of the main organizers - OHCHR and UNESCO. No one from UNICEF was present at this time to make a presentation on its program.

The Workshop ended with the adoption, after some discussions, of a set of recommendations.

National experiences in the GCC region

The national experiences of the countries represented in the Workshop provide an important context for the development of human rights education in their school systems. There are several positive elements cited by the participants that support human rights education, such as the

  • Constitutions that have provisions about rights
  • Government actions for the integration of human rights into the curriculum (such as the formation of committee on human rights curriculum)
  • Acceptance of the idea of incorporation of human rights concepts in the subject on religion (linking human rights concepts such as equality, freedom and justice to Islamic principles)
  • Activities on the rights of the child.

The participants likewise presented what they consider to be general obstacles to the development of human rights education in schools program:

  • The absence of national plans in the field of human rights education that can be binding to all institutions concerned with human rights education issues;
  • Lack of proper awareness of human rights culture and human rights education in the concerned societies;
  • Weak participation of the civil society in human rights education;
  • Lack of human, material and technological resources that would help integrate and train human rights in the curricula of some countries.2

The plenary discussions point out the need to emphasize basic human rights principles of non-discrimination, equality, indivisibility and inter-relatedness of rights; link between human rights and culture (specifically relating to Islamic culture); human rights education as means to change behavior (and thus the importance of school environment and human rights practice in the school and the community); and the need for training of teachers.

Workshop recommendations

In view of these considerations, they recommended several measures such as the following:3

  1. Encouraging the concerned bodies in the Member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to ratify and study the international and Arab conventions and treaties related to human rights in order to identify the necessary material and human facilities required for their implementation, and to conform their educational policies to the provisions of these conventions;
  2. Motivating the concerned bodies in the Member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to develop national strategies and plans in the field of human rights education provided that they should include the disabled. Such plans and strategies should be supported by awareness and educating campaigns based on specific standards in addition to the financial support required for implementation;
  3. Motivating the concerned bodies in the Member States of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to expand with regard to introducing human rights education principles and goals in the educational and regulations in conformity with the Convention on the Rights of the Child in general and with comment No. 1 adopted by Child Rights Commission - Article 29 - in particular;
  4. Calling upon the Arab Bureau of Education for the Arab Gulf States to develop a set of standards for measuring and assessing the performance of the educational institutions with respect to the achievement of the goals of human rights education;
  5. Calling upon the concerned bodies to develop a curriculum for human rights education, and prepare the conceptual maps, scale matrix and sequence necessary for integrating these concepts in school curricula;
  6. Calling upon the necessity of developing (reference) manuals and teaching aids for teachers of human rights education;
  7. Calling upon the concerned bodies to build up data base for human rights education, and secure its documentation according to specific educational system channels;
  8. Calling upon the Arab Bureau of Education for the Arab Gulf States to include human rights education in the joint plan for curricula development;
  9. Calling for a survey on the text books and curricula of the Member States in order to promote the concepts related to human rights education;
  10. Adopting the integrative approach for the concepts of human rights education in the school curricula;
  11. Rendering (in-service) training on the principles of human rights education with respect to the development of the innovative mind, skills, behavior and the building up of a personality based upon the values of equity, dignity and justice;
  12. Exchange of expertise and information in the field of specialized training within the framework of the concerned educational institutions, centers and organizations specialized in training.

Regional context of the Workshop

The Workshop is the first-ever activity of such kind in the Gulf Region. Its report adds to the increasing number of inter-governmental regional documents that support human rights education in the Arab region.

In 1999, UNESCO organized the Arab regional conference on human rights education in Rabat, Morocco. Representatives of Ministries of Education in the region attended it. The conference document, known as Rabat Declaration "For an Arab Strategy on Human Rights Education,"4 provides that human rights education is a collective responsibility of States, peoples, individuals and components of the civil society. It calls for the promotion of human rights education in the region through the "reinforcement of cooperation, the exchange of experiences and perseverance of efforts aimed at setting operational plans" that will support the attainment of the objective.

In 2003, the Arab Organization for Education, Culture and Science drafted human rights education standards and guidelines. The guidelines are meant to implement the provisions of the Rabat Declaration.

Draft amendments to the Arab Charter on Human Rights are on the agenda for adoption in the 2004 Arab Summit. The proposed changes in the charter, which amend the original 1994 charter,5 provide for the integration of human rights education in all forms of education.

In light of these regional activities, the Workshop comes out as another step towards more concrete plan for human rights education in the Gulf states school systems.

Significance of the Workshop

Compared to the 1999 Northeast Asia workshop on human rights education organized also by OHCHR, the Workshop has a better result for a number of reasons:

  1. Educators from the Ministries of Education, universities (faculty of education), and NGOs in the Gulf States, and UN institutions attended it. The Northeast Asia workshop, on the other hand, has a mix of diplomats and educators (from governments, schools and NGOs). The type of participants defines the discussions in any activity. The Workshop has much clearer education-oriented discussions. There was repeated mention in the Workshop of a need for scope and sequence matrix for human rights, reference materials on human rights, curriculum development, school environment, human rights as practice not as mere knowledge, etc. which reflect the educational concerns in the region.
  2. The Gulf region has a political structure through which Gulf regional plans can be supported. The participants frequently cited the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as a vehicle to continue pursuing a regional effort on human rights education in schools. No such structure exists so far in Northeast Asia. GCC's counterpart can be found, on the other hand, in Southeast and South Asia subregions.
  3. There are good experiences as well as institutions in the larger Arab region that provide concrete examples on how human rights education in schools programs can be developed. Moroccan, Tunisian and Jordanian experiences provide ideas for the Gulf States. There are also institutions mainly non-governmental that have programs supporting human rights education in schools.
  4. There is no language barrier in the Gulf region that will hinder exchange of experiences and ideas among the countries involved, and development of common approach or strategies in developing human rights education in schools programs. There is also similarity of cultural background in terms of religion. Northeast Asian countries have many common cultural and social elements and yet still divided by language, political system and historical experience.

In sum, there is a good potential for the Gulf States to develop their joint as well as national human rights education programs by benefiting from their own collaboration, and the support from the UN and other institutions in the Arab and Asia-Pacific regions.

Jefferson R. Plantilla is a staff member of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

Endnotes

1. Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women

2. Final Report-Regional Workshop on Human Rights Education in Gulf States' School Systems, Doha, Qatar on 15-19 February 2004, pages 2-3.

3. Report, ibid. pages 2-5.

4. Adopted during the Regional Conference on Human Rights Education in the Arab Region held in Rabat, Morocco on 17-20 February 1999. The Ministry of Education of Morocco, UNESCO and UNDP jointly organized it.

5. Adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States on 15 September 1994.


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