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FOCUS March 2020 Volume 99

Discussions on Human Rights Education (2020)

Jefferson R. Plantilla

Several regional and international events discussed human rights education in Asia during the second half of 2019. The 8th Asia Pro Bono Conference, held for the first time in South Asia (Kathmandu) on 13 – 15 September 2019, pursued the aim of developing “socially aware, ethical lawyers and non-lawyers to actively participate, advocate and lead pro bono initiatives as a means to strengthen access to justice on behalf of people in fragile or vulnerable situations.” The pro bono workers do not only provide legal service but also participate in “free community legal education on issues affecting disadvantaged or marginalized members of the community or on issues of public interest.”1 The 9th World Human Rights Cities Forum (WHRCF), an annual event held since 2011, had special training sessions, namely, a course on Local Government and Human Rights and a course on the Right to the City for local government officials. The 19th Informal Seminar on Human Rights of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM), held in Tromso (Norway) on 4-6 November 2019, focused on human rights education.2

Event Discussions

The Informal ASEM Seminar had a wide-ranging discussion on human rights education. Its preliminary report (Key Messages report) stresses the following:

Human rights education is essential for creating a culture of human rights — that is, societies in which each of us is encouraged and empowered to take the initiative to respect, protect and promote the full spectrum of human rights for all. With the current global backlash against human rights, human rights education and training is more important than ever.
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Participants shared views that in order to build on the momentum of this global/regional human rights education movement it is important to invest in the human rights education infrastructure: invest in strengthening support for educators, trainers, university instructors and all those others who facilitate learning about human rights; invest in ensuring more coordination and coherence in legal and policy frameworks and guidance for actors involved in human rights education; invest in sharing good practices and lessons learned; and, last but not least, invest in research and evaluation in order to develop educational practice and create the necessary evidence-base for making the case for human rights education. It was noted as well that democratic space is crucial for human rights education and training to be fully embedded in the societies.

In addition to these areas for “investment” to support human rights education, there should be “institutional commitment, sufficient funding, proper methodology, long-[term] perspective and assessment plans” at various levels and fields of education.

The discussions in the Informal ASEM Seminar support the need to build on the existing human rights education initiatives in Asia, and also to create infrastructures that would enhance the implementation of these initiatives including training, research and exchange of good practices and learnings.

The Declaration of the World Human Rights Cities Forum 20193 subtitled “Local Governments and Human Rights: Reimagining Human Rights Cities” includes a number of statements on human rights education. It includes an over-all view on the need for human rights education:

13. Concurring with the view that human rights education is a prerequisite to the human rights city, and that it is necessary to make every person residing in the city or local community aware of their rights as well as their duty to engage in working towards the realization of the inclusive city.

This paragraph emphasizes that human rights education should make “every person” in the city aware and engaged in working for an inclusive city. This idea hews closely to the point raised in the 19th Informal ASEM Seminar that each person should be “encouraged and empowered to take the initiative to respect, protect and promote the full spectrum of human rights for all.”

The 8th Asia Pro Bono Conference stressed the importance of “continuing legal education” for those providing pro bono legal services to the poor and marginalized. The pro bono legal service should come from “a variety of sectors, including the government, judicial, legal, private, academic and civil society.”4 Supporting “access to justice” of a specific sector in society (the poor and marginalized) also meant empowering them. A broader definition of pro bono work includes educational work (such as the Street Law program5) that aims to enable the poor, underprivileged or marginalized persons or communities access justice on their own. Paralegal training also features prominently in this empowerment concept for pro bono legal service providers as shown in the discussions in the 8th Asia Pro Bono Conference.

In sum, the three events consider human rights education as an essential tool in facilitating people’s action in building a society that upholds human rights.

Follow-up

Recognizing the need for “[c]apacity building for all actors including the National Human Rights Institutions, civil society organisations, government agencies, private sector and media to deliver human rights education,” the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) started planning for a follow-up project in mid-2020.6

This project supports the Informal ASEM Seminar’s “overall objective of promoting mutual understanding and cooperation on human rights issues at ASEM level,” and targets “early to mid-level practitioners from across the ASEM Partners.”7

The training is meant to8

  • Support ASEM Partners’ efforts to strengthen the implementation of national programs in human rights education;
  • Take stock of the progress of some human rights education programs as case studies and identify best practices and challenges related to their implementation;
  • Build capacity and improve competency in using existing practical tools, methods and techniques to evaluate the implementation of human rights education programs;
  • Facilitate information-sharing on evidence-based best practices in human rights education.

The 2019 WHRCF declaration, on the other hand, includes support for human rights education seen in the following provisions:

3. Promise to empower local governments to promote human rights as recommended by the report on Local Government and Human Rights (A/HRC/42/22), starting from the participating human rights cities,
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5) Promise to closely collaborate with the UN [United Nations], other expert institutions, and local governments in establishing a systematic and professional human rights education program for local government officials and citizens for the purpose of [raising] the capacity of citizens and local governments in promoting human rights.

Holding of training activities for local government officials and other relevant persons was also discussed as part of the WHRCF next steps.

These discussions on human rights education re-emphasize the importance of training or any form of empowerment of people who can promote human rights on various issues and at different levels and institutions in society.

Jefferson R. Plantilla is the Chief Researcher of HURIGHTS OSAKA.

For further information, please contact HURIGHTS OSAKA.


Endnotes

1 See Asia Pro Bono Conference, www.facebook.com/pg/asiaprobono/about/?ref=page_internal and www.probonoconference.org/about/what-is-pro-bono/.
2 ASEM is an “intergovernmental forum for dialogue and cooperation established in 1996 to deepen relations between Asia and Europe” and “aims to promote mutual understanding and co-operation between Asia and Europe in the area of political dialogue, particularly on human rights issues.”
3 Full text of declaration available at www.whrcf.org/bbs/board.php?bo_table=eng_p4_05.
4 See 8th Asia Pro Bono Conference Declaration, 15 September, 2019, Kathmandu.
5 Further information on the Street Law program can be found in Street Law website, www.streetlaw.org.
6 "The Seminar was co-organised by the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF), the Raoul Wallenberg Institute (nominated by the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Peoples’ Republic of China. The 19th Seminar was hosted by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in partnership with the Arctic University of Norway (UiT)." Text from www.asef.org/projects/themes/governance/4695-19th-informal-asem-seminar-on-human-rights-#4966-asemhrs19-podcast-launch-conversations-on-human-rights-education.
7 See ASEF’s

8 ASEF, ibid.


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