FOCUS March 2004 Volume 35
Workshop on Human Rights Education in Schools in the Gulf Region
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
- 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
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
- 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.
In view of these considerations, they recommended several measures such as the
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- 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;
- Calling upon the necessity of developing (reference) manuals and teaching
aids for teachers of human rights education;
- Calling upon the concerned bodies to build up data base for human rights
education, and secure its documentation according to specific educational system
- Calling upon the Arab Bureau of Education for the Arab Gulf States to include
human rights education in the joint plan for curricula development;
- 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;
- Adopting the integrative approach for the concepts of human rights education
in the school curricula;
- 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
- 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
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.