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FOCUS June 2006 Volume 44

Conference on Human Rights Education in Asia

Jefferson R. Plantilla

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

The 1948 exhortation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that "every individual and every organ of society ... shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedom..." finds support in the "International Conference on Human Rights Education in a Diverse and Changing Asia" held in Soochow University, Taipei, Taiwan on 22-24 May 2006

Presentations in the conference confirm the broad realm of human rights education, and thus support the participation of educators from various fields in the task. Education initiatives ranging from Graduation Pledge (for university students), creation of human rights cities, peace education, citizenship education, Dowa education,[1] and gender education provide avenues for human rights learning

Graduation Pledge, for example, helps create consciousness among graduating students about the need to apply human rights principles (among other principles) in their respective future fields of work. Citizenship/civic education may provide a broader definition of citizenship by considering the human rights of minorities who should be properly considered as active members of society. The establishment of human rights cities provides the opportunity for the incorporation of human rights in local government policies and programs, and thus facilitate local level education activities

The conference likewise reviewed some experiences at the national and regional levels. The socio-political contexts and human rights education experiences in Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Afghanistan and the Philippines were discussed. The regional experiences of HURIGHTS OSAKA and the Asia-Pacific Regional Resource Center for Human Rights Education (ARRC) were presented

On the panel discussion on China, one panellist pointed out the problem of North Korean refugees. The worsening economic situation in North Korea provides a major reason for North Koreans to flee to China, particularly in areas where Chinese of Korean descent live. It was noted that when famine hit China in the early 1960s, Korean-Chinese sought refuge in North Korea. Now it is the other way around. This situation puts China in a dilemma. Any response could give rise to the ire of either North Korea or the international community. It is noted however that China should allow full operation of international humanitarian programs (mainly through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to help alleviate the plight of North Korean refugees

The presentations on the activities of Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor (HKHRM) discussed concrete problems in implementing human rights education programs. Aside from the lack of institutionalized human rights education program for the police in India, training the majority of the members of the police force is not an easy task considering their situation. Many of them, as constabulary and other subordinate officers, are underpaid and have bad working conditions. Getting non-governmental organization (NGO) programs into Hong Kong schools faces the challenge of overcoming negative views among teachers and parents about human rights and NGOs. Both CHRI and HKHRM however are fully aware of these problems. They are determined to maintain their programs despite the difficulties

Other presentations stressed the need for networking at national and regional levels. A new network among Indian educators to promote human rights education was started recently in India by the Mumbai -based Peace and Justice Commission. HURIGHTS OSAKA, on the other hand, relies on its network of institutions to be able to implement its regional program

Conference context

Professor Mab Huang, in his opening remarks, noted the absence of a regional human rights mechanism in Asia-Pacific. In view of this situation, cooperation between the academic community and non-governmental organizations in the region becomes more important and compensates for the lack of regional mechanism

The keynote speech of Professor James Seymour[2], on the other hand, took issue with the international human rights system and its failure to address many problems. He asserted that

State sovereignty precluded (or at least made difficult) the ascendancy of transnational values and institutions that might have protected human rights. Eventually, inter-governmental organizations were created to deal with the problem, but so far these have proven inadequate.

He also lamented the inadequate teaching of human rights in schools, while in "too many countries, children were taught values of nationalism and political discipline, rather than genuine citizenship and human rights." He observed that some

people were led to believe that "human rights" were part of a conspiracy to undermine Asian values. Thus, at least with regard to Asia, there was the myth abroad that the East did not care.

But he also noted positive developments such as the weakening of absolute sovereign states that facilitated the establishment of regional mechanisms such as the European Union and the Council of Europe, the more democratic world compared to a generation ago, the growing rejection among Christians and Muslims of religious extremism, the new Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN), and the increased human rights consciousness among people resulting from efforts under the UN Decade for Human Rights Education

Regional meeting

Alongside the international conference was a regional meeting to discuss the program of the International Human Rights Education Consortium (IHREC). The meeting introduced IHREC to the Asian human rights education community. Professor Theodore Orlin of Utica College in New York State, and current President of IHREC, explained its history and activities. He emphasized that the IHREC is a loose network of institutions and individuals that are involved in human rights education. He presented the activities held in North America and Europe since its establishment in 2002

The mission statement of IHREC states that it "promotes education, collaboration, and research on human rights at the national, regional, and global levels." It has two Vice-presidents from Asia (Allwyn D'Silva of India and Mab Huang of Taiwan). IHREC intends to develop a regional network for Asia and thus invites the participating institutions to join the network

The participants agreed on the need for human rights educators in the region to meet in order to exchange experiences and ideas, and to closely collaborate on particular activities. Thus they agreed to hold a regional conference in Asia in 2008. The specific issues to be discussed in the conference are still to be agreed upon, while the Philippines has been identified as a possible venue. Prof. Huang's remark about the need for more cooperation between the academic community and NGOs in Asia in view of the absence of regional human rights mechanism provides another rationale for the planned conference

IHREC, with its strong link with people in the academe as well as colleges and universities, points to the role that the academe in general should play in human rights education (both formal and non-formal forms). These roles can be research and documentation, training, development of teaching and learning materials, and provision of resource persons. Human rights education programs of schools and NGOs will benefit much from the support that the academe can provide

For further information, please contact: Mab Huang, Chang Fo-Chuan Center for the Study of Human Rights, 70, Linshi Road, Shihlin, Taipei, Taiwan 111; ph (8862) 2881-9471 ex. 6279 or 6110; fax (8862) 2881- 2437; e-mail:;; or, Theodore S. Orlin, J.D, P resident, IHREC, Utica College, 1600 Burrstone Road, Utica, NY 13502, USA; ph (315) 792-3267; fax: (315) 792-3381; e-mail:;


1. This is an anti-discrimination education started in Japan in late 1960s to address the discrimination suffered by a section of Japanese society called Burakumin

2. He is a professor in Columbia University (New York) and Chinese University of Hong Kong.