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  5. Human Rights Education in Asia-Pacific1

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FOCUS June 2002 Volume 28

Human Rights Education in Asia-Pacific1

Jefferson R. Plantilla

During the last twelve months since March 2001 a number of activities indicate key areas for developing human rights education programs in the region.

The "Asian Human Rights Education Trainers Colloquium," organized by the Asian Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Education (ARRC) in April 2001 in Chiangmai, Thailand, brought together representatives of NGOs from twelve countries to review human rights education experiences. Mrs. Mary Robinson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her message to the participants stressed that

increased mobilization of concerted effort is needed, in order to make this [UN] Decade [for Human Rights Education] a successful event. I would therefore encourage all of you to continue your important work, and in particular to contribute to the establishment of partnerships, among and within your respective countries, towards the realization of the Decade's objective: to make human rights education, everywhere, a life-long process by which all people learn to respect and defend the rights and the dignity of others.

In the process of reviewing experiences, the NGO participants realized the need for continuing study of, including experimentation on, the most appropriate human rights education methodologies.

The Canadian Human Rights Foundation (CHRF) and the Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), held a training program entitled "Protecting Migrant Workers: Strengthening Collaboration in Asia" in October 2001 in Chiangmai, Thailand. Asian labor attach市 and other government officials responsible for migrant workers discussed their role in protecting migrant workers' rights (especially women migrant workers), in sending and receiving countries in Asia.

The Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development (FORUM Asia) in cooperation with the Chulalongkorn University also held its annual training on the study of human rights during the latter part of the year. It was attended mainly by NGO workers.

In December 2001, the Asia-Pacific Center of Education for International Understanding (APCEIU) held its second regional workshop for human rights NGOs in Asia. The workshop entitled "Education and Training for Human Security in the Asia-Pacific" (Ichon, Republic of Korea) discussed human rights issues and human rights education experiences. APCEIU is an affiliate institution of the Korean National Commission for UNESCO (KNCU) and has the official support of UNESCO.

For human rights education in schools, the "Southeast Asian Workshop on Writing Human Rights Lesson Plans" (otherwise known as the SEA Writeshop) was held in June 2001 in Manila, Philippines. The Philippine Department of Education, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights and the Asia-Pacific Human Rights Information Center (HURIGHTS OSAKA) jointly organized this workshop. The workshop brought together representatives of schools, Ministries of Education, education research institutes and NGOs from six ASEAN countries (Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam). Teachers, curriculum developers, education researchers and NGO representatives worked together for nine days developing appropriate human rights lesson plans. If financial resources are available, the lesson plans will be published and training workshops will be organized to disseminate the materials to more educators within ASEAN.

At the national level, the technical assistance on human rights education being extended by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to the People's Republic of China is an important example. The program falls squarely under the Tehran Framework and the results of the Eighth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region held in Beijing, China on 1-3 March 2000. It is also, in part, a follow up to the OHCHR-organized "Sub-Regional Training Workshop on Human Rights Education in Northeast Asia" held in Seoul, Republic of Korea on 1-4 December 1999.

Under this program, a National Seminar on Human Rights Education was held in Beijing on 8-9 November 2001. It brought together heads of various governmental training institutions in the People's Republic of China.

The seminar drew up a set of activities that will address the development of programs 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. Follow up activities on each of these areas are now being prepared.

It must be stressed that there are several other human rights training programs being held at the regional and national levels. They are equally important programs deserving consideration by those interested in human rights education.

Lessons learned

The activities since the Ninth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region held in Bangkok, Thailand on 28 February - 2 March 2001 provide some important lessons in developing human rights education programs at the national and regional levels.

The national and regional experiences explained earlier prove that there are institutions, which are either providing human rights education training or in the best position to develop and implement human rights education programs. Their role in human rights education is crucial and should be maximized.

They also show that there are existing programs, which can be tapped to introduce human rights education programs in countries where such programs are not yet in place.

Reviewing the experiences during the past year yields some lessons learned:

  1. Program development

    Human rights education programs are still in the process of development. As the programs reach out to more sectors of society and become integrated into various educational activities, new ideas and issues arise.

    Legal education, values education, civic education, moral education and other types of education that have long been used in the region (especially in schools) can be developed further to include the discussion on human rights. Adult education programs can include discussion of relevant issues from a human rights perspective. Education for elderly people, for example, may include issues relating to their right to social security.

    Human rights education programs applicable in countries affected by armed conflict may have to be developed to include discussion on the rights of people caught in the crossfire between government forces and the armed opposition. The right to personal security as well as the protection of properties and sources of livelihood of unarmed civilians need to be stressed. In the same manner, education program for internally displaced people and refugees is needed to clarify their respective rights.

    Human rights education programs that empower victims of human rights violations such as those who have been trafficked, sexually abused, or physically and/or psychologically tortured are essential in the context of the current situation in the region. Women and children, many times the victims of these kinds of human rights violation, need programs that help them to recover as much as possible from the trauma and return to their normal lives.

    The development of human rights education programs may take into account the need to make the right to development and the economic, social and cultural rights more widely understood by the people. With the effects of the 1997 economic crisis in the region still lingering, people will find these programs relevant. This supports the right to development and the economic, social and cultural rights component of the Tehran Framework.

    Continuing review and exchange of ideas and experiences among human rights education practitioners within the countries and the region is therefore a need.

  2. Training

    The proliferation of training programs on various issues and for different audiences show the unceasing need for training on human rights in general and human rights education in particular. Notable among these training programs is the objective of facilitating national-level implementation of UN human rights instruments, strengthening skills in broadening public awareness of these instruments, and enhancing skills in realizing human rights.

    Training materials produced by UN agencies and other institutions in the region, have to be properly introduced and adapted to ground level situations. This task requires training for human rights educators in both formal and non-formal education systems.

    Training on how to use the media as part of human rights education programs is required. Broadcast (radio and television) and print (newspapers and magazines) media have been used for human rights education. But lack of technical skills among the non-professional media people will hinder their involvement in media-based programs.

    Training is also needed on the use of the new communication and information technologies. The internet has now become a major medium for disseminating information about human rights at least in many urban areas in the region. But its full potential has not been fully utilized, again due to lack of technical skills (as well as facilities such as computers and telephone lines) by those who work in the rural areas in the region.

    Effective educational methodologies also require training for educators who want more than lecture-based activities. It may be worth looking at methodologies employed by professional trainers on human resource development programs of the corporate world.

  3. Multi-institutional programming

    Based on the experiences in the region, different types of institutions find a common ground to work on. NGOs and government agencies work together on both formal and non-formal education systems. They also collaborate in training government personnel and members of the police and public security forces.

    National human rights institutions (national institutions), in countries where they exist, are important players in the development and implementation of human rights education programs. They, in many cases, facilitate the introduction of human rights education in government staff training programs, and in the schools. They also help bring together NGOs and government institutions in developing and implementing human rights education programs, or even to jointly participate in human rights training activities. Almost all national institutions in the region that have existed for at least a year or so have in one way or the other taken a leading role in promoting multi-institutional programming. Their participation in multi-institutional programming on human rights education supports the national institution component of the Tehran Framework.

    In the region, as pointed out in the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the mid-term global evaluation of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004):

    Networking with inter-governmental organisations by national institutions (governmental and non-governmental) and networking for cooperation, consultation and participation on human rights advocacy are raised as a need. In the absence of a regional human rights mechanism [in the Asia-Pacific], opportunities should be explored within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) and the South Pacific Forum (SPF), as well as with the Southeast Asian Ministers of Education Organisation - SEAMEO and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

    Other UN specialized agencies such as UNESCO, UNICEF and UNDP, which are implementing regional as well as country projects, need to take part in collaborative human rights education programming.

The next steps

Governments, NGOs and national institutions deserve the credit for putting in place various programs on human rights education. Their individual and collaborative efforts have served their purpose.

But since the impact of human rights education is measured by its contribution to the lessening of human rights violations and the increase in human protection and realization, the work of human rights education continues.

So many people are still beyond the reach of existing human rights education programs. Likewise, human rights education programs appropriate to specific sectors of society or vulnerable groups may not be in place in many countries.

In this process of continuous education on human rights, several challenges need to be considered:

  1. Development of new programs to cover issues such as discrimination against people affected by HIV/AIDS, abused children, foreign migrant workers, among others;
  2. Creation of national system for networking among governments, NGOs, national institutions, and international organizations;
  3. Provision of financial support by the government for the continued implementation of existing programs and the development of new ones;
  4. Integration of human rights education into more staff development programs of the government, and at all levels of formal and non-formal education systems; and
  5. Evaluation and redevelopment of human rights education programs.

The development of a national plan of action on human rights/human rights education will help cover both the lessons that can be learned from current experiences as well as the challenges facing all countries.

Human rights education deserves the support of all.

Mr. Jefferson R. Plantilla is the Chief Researcher, Program Group in HURIGHTS OSAKA.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.

  1. This is an excerpt of the Introductory Remarks on Human Rights Education in Asia-Pacific given in the Tenth Workshop on Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region (Beirut, Lebanon, 4 - 6 March 2002).

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