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FOCUS June 2006 Volume 44

World Programme for Human Rights Education and Asia

The UNESCO Charter reminds us that the foundations for peace must be constructed in the human mind. This is a major challenge facing Asia and the Pacific, where a culture of equality, participation, and justice remains fragile in large parts of the region. At the same time, tremendous progress being made in the field of education is creating opportunities for new generations to become conscious of societal prejudices, to be empowered through knowledge about human rights, and to experience participation and inclusiveness

During the Decade on Human Rights Education (1995-2004), the international community placed human rights education high on the international agenda. The Decade created an occasion for the collection of valuable information on how countries around the world implement this important component of their education systems, including information on human rights curriculums, teaching methods, and teacher training. On 10 December 2004, in its resolution A/RES/59/113, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed a World Programme for Human Rights Education (WPHRE) which focuses in its first phase (2005-2007) on the primary and secondary school systems

The World Programme supports countries in the implementation of international commitments contained in Universal Declaration of Human Rights (article 26), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 13), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (article 29), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (article 10), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (article 7) and the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (Part I, paras. 33-34 and Part II, paras. 78-82), as well as the Declaration and Programme of Action of the World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 (Declaration, paras. 95-97 and Programme of Action, paras. 129- 139). It builds upon a number of initiatives of States in this area, including the World Public Information Campaign on Human Rights (1988-ongoing), the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) and its Plan of Action, and the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010)

Drawing on the principles set by those instruments and frameworks, the plan of action (A/59/525/Rev.1) of the first phase (2005-2007) of the WPHRE supports the development of human rights education in the school system as a complex process which entails various courses of action, equally important and mutually reinforcing:

  1. Developing and adopting coherent educational policies, legislation and strategies that reflect human rights principles, as well as of appropriate organizational measures to implement those policies, with the involvement of all stakeholders;
  2. Ensuring that all teaching and learning processes and tools- including for instance the content and objectives of the curriculum, teaching practices and methodologies as well as materials, including text-books - are based on and incorporate human rights principles;
  3. Promoting learning environments in which human rights are respected and upheld. All school actors (students, teachers, staff and administrators and parents) should practice human rights and solidarity through real-life examples and activities, and children should be able to participate fully in school life;
  4. Providing the teaching profession and school leadership, through pre-service and in-service training, with the necessary knowledge, understanding, skills and competencies to facilitate the learning and practice of human rights in schools, as well as with appropriate working conditions and status.

The plan of action of the WPHRE proposes a national implementation strategy to address those areas, in four stages:

  • Analysis of the current situation of human rights education in the school system;
  • Setting priorities and developing a national implementation strategy;
  • Implementing and monitoring;
  • Evaluating.

The plan of action also provides that an "objective of international cooperation and support will be the strengthening of national and local capacities for human rights education in the primary and secondary school systems"

Asia-Pacific context

In Asia and the Pacific, Governments agreed on strengthening human rights education as a pillar of human rights protection in 1998, when they identified it as one of the four pillars of the Framework for Regional Cooperation for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. Its importance reaffirmed on numerous occasions, human rights education has been an area of vibrant activity but this dynamism has not been consistent across the region. While innovative approaches are taken by some countries, communities, schools and organizations, elsewhere the lessons are not being examined or applied. In few countries there has been a systematic review of the extent, quality and access to human rights education and of the national support system for its development. Very few Asian countries have developed a comprehensive national plan of action for human rights education. Regional support for human rights education in the schools has been largely localized, disparate, or intermittent. Thus, the opportunities for cross-fertilization of good practices and ideas, although growing, remain limited

Considering this context, UNESCO and OHCHR jointly developed a project that supports WPHRE in Asia

The project aims at helping countries to systematically address three key aspects of human rights education. First, the content of human rights education will be critically examined in the light of national and international human rights norms and standards. As stated by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in its General Comment No. 1, "the education to which each child has a right is one designed to provide the child with life skills, to strengthen the child's capacity to enjoy the full range of human rights and to promote a culture which is infused by appropriate human rights values" (para. 2). The extent to which these aims of education are reflected in school curriculums and materials will be assessed

Second, the message of human rights can be undermined if not supported by pedagogical methodology. The use of corporal punishment, punishment by humiliation, reinforcement of societal prejudices against certain minority groups or against one gender, often girls, must be eliminated in the schools if a culture peace, tolerance and respect for human rights is to be transmitted through the schools. The project will therefore examine, along with the curriculums of participating countries, the methodologies used to deliver them. The proposal will thus support the implementation of the Dakar Framework for Action, adopted at the World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal in 2000, which specifically calls upon countries to improve on the quality of education, so that recognised and measurable learning outcomes are achieved. These would include outcomes on the well-being of the learners, the relevance of the contents and outcomes, the quality of the teaching/learning processes and the suitability of learning environments

Third, critical aspect of human rights education is the question of access. Non-discriminatory access to free and compulsory primary education is not only required for the delivery of human rights education, it is a basic human right provided for in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights treaties. The Dakar Framework sets a goal of ensuring that by 2015, all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, can access and complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality. Despite international commitments, however, many countries in the region have not introduced national legislation to guarantee free and compulsory education. Where it is provided for in a legal framework, the laws are often not consistently enforced. The imposition of formal or informal fees makes primary education for children of poor and marginalized families virtually inaccessible. In a number of Asian countries, problems of access are linked to direct or indirect discrimination. Such obstacles to education and their devastating impact on the most marginalized sectors of society are amply proven in the literature.[1]

The project aims to take stock of the progress made to date in the region and to contribute to the systematization of human rights education in the school system, with priority given to countries in South and Southeast Asia. In accordance with the WPHRE, the proposal is dedicated to primary and secondary school education. The project proposes a range of activities to be undertaken over three years, but aims at initiating a professional exchange of experience, lessons, and practical information that, it is hoped, will endure long beyond its own lifespan

Overall goal and specific objectives

The overall goal of this project is contribute to the implementation of the plan of action of Phase I of the WPHRE in Asia:

(a)To promote the inclusion and practice of human rights in the primary and secondary school systems;

(b)To support the development, adoption and implementation of comprehensive, effective and sustainable national human rights education strategies in school systems, and/or the review and improvement of existing initiatives;

(c)To provide guidelines on key components of human rights education in the school system;

(d)To facilitate the provision of support to Member States by international, regional, national and local organizations;

(e)To support networking and cooperation among local, national, regional and international institutions.[2]

The project aims at achieving these goals in Asia through three specific objectives:

  1. To identify and analyze achievements, weaknesses, and areas for improvement on human rights education in schools for each participating country, including by identifying and analyzing elements in the education system that would support human rights education, and across the region;
  2. To widely disseminate information and experiences about existing programmes, projects and other initiatives on human rights education in schools in Asian countries;

Implementation Scheme

The project will involve a high level of consultation among the stakeholders through a highly participatory process. The consultations will be led by a working-level national team on human rights education (NTHRE), composed of members of key institutions in each country, including professional organizations, civil society organizations, national human rights institutions and Ministries of education

The NTHRE of each country will be expected to undertake the following:

  1. Coordinate country-level activities under this proposal especially data and material gathering;
  2. Network with other institutions involved in human rights education such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), higher education institutions (teacher colleges and universities), media, international agencies (including those of the UN) on the documentation of human rights education in school system initiatives, and analysis of their current state;
  3. Together with members of the regional project team[3], prepare the national report on the state of human rights education in school system initiatives.

The selection of countries to be covered under this project will be made by an Advisory Panel, the functions of which are set out below, based on, inter alia:

(a) formal expression of interest of the concerned Government, (b) willingness to establish a NTHRE that would undertake the functions set out in this proposal, and (c) interest of the UN Country Team in the concerned country to support the country-level activities of the project

The sub-regional and regional consultations will be held involving educators (school teachers and NGO educators); education officials (including school administrators) and researchers; teacher educators; members of academia (especially those involved in university-based human rights centers); representatives of the human rights organizations, national human rights institutions, sub-regional and regional inter-governmental institutions related to education, and international organisations and United Nations agencies and offices (country by country)


1. See, for example, Tomasevski, Katarina, School Fees as Hindrance to Universalising Primary Education: Background Study for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2003/4, UNESCO, 2003

2. WPHRE, para. 21

3. The regional project team is being coordinated by HURIGHTS OSAKA