HURIGHTS OSAKA finished its 11th volume of Human Rights Education in Asia-Pacific (2021) with articles from nine countries and three international/regional institutions (Hedayah based in United Arab Emirates, Search for Common Ground Sri Lanka office, and Asia Justice and Rights and the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights both based in Indonesia).
The articles cover educational programs for migrant workers in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong; non-governmental organization workers in the Philippines; youth from rural communities in Pakistan and Sri Lanka; community leaders from Timor Leste, Indonesia and the Philippines; school teachers in Japan; education and government officials in Australia and other countries.
The peace-related articles focus on how to manage trauma from armed conflict, and how to avoid violent conflict or prevent the rise of violent extremism.
Several articles provide significant lessons learned in the implementation of educational programs related to human rights. The article on memorialization in Sri Lanka discusses the importance of personal encounter among people belonging to different ethnic groups in minimizing prejudice and discrimination that constituted the root cause of the armed conflict. Personal encounters take the form of home and community visits. Home visits lead to better appreciation and acceptance of differences in culture and thinking of ethnic groups, and a more nuanced understanding of the suffering endured during the period of armed conflict. Community visits, on the other hand, "helped the participants to debunk cultural stereotypes, see the plight of Hindu minority, understand the feudal system and experience interaction with people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds." Stories and views expressed by members of the communities provide essential understanding of issues that beset people in rural areas.
Educational efforts at preventing extreme violence require measures such as "mitigating feelings of isolation or exclusion by establishing positive connections between students' own worlds and the worlds of others," and providing "alternatives to violence and violent extremism by cultivating attitudes and values that encourage students to participate as active citizens in their communities." Educational efforts for those who suffered from conflict and violence, on the other hand, provide the "opportunity to learn about how non-formal education influences healing for victims of trauma and how to help those individuals become empowered to assert their rights for transitional justice and accountability for human rights violations." Hedayah points to practical measures of changing thinking and behavior in this regard.
In training people on how to properly react to situations of abuse or violation of human rights, that is, raising a voice to stop the acts of abuse or violation or to change practice and system, the VEOHRC pilot project suggests the need for a "more iterative implementation of the program [that would enable] participants to further practice [...] skills and troubleshoot some of these challenges in a supportive environment."
The same project also stresses the need to tailor training program or module to the specific situations of the participants to make them more effective. Similarly, the experience of the Asia Justice and Rights (AJAR) in training field workers shows the need to create "training modules for individuals working with AJAR to better understand how to work with survivors of trauma, including key skills and principles for working with them effectively." The Education for Shared Societies (E4SS) headed by Hedayah echoes the same rule regarding its educational recommendations: "A guiding principle in the implementation of these recommendations is that they should not be considered universal, but rather guidelines that should be tailored to fit local needs and contexts." Knowledge and skills have to be appropriate to the context of the participants to ensure their application after the training.
Raising awareness of the general public is a big challenge. Human rights messages have to compete against a multitude of messages in mainstream and digital media. However, specific human rights issues that relate to daily life of people or to an important player in the national economy may attract considerable attention. The issues regarding domestic help who work in private homes and the migrant workers who are a key resource in construction, service and manufacturing industries in Singapore attract public attention through appropriate educational activities. This public attention is useful in pressuring the government to change policy. As experienced by Transit Workers Count Too (TWC2), "[P]ublic engagement to broaden popular awareness of migrant workers and their rights and encourage support has played a role in bringing about such changes as have occurred, and we think that it has been laying a good foundation for further advances in years to come." The changes refer to government policies regarding "better securing workers' pay, days off for domestic workers, and improving accommodation, transport and safety standards."
In the case of the Association for Toyonaka Multicultural Symbiosis (ATOMS), engaging the public has at least two major objectives: a) to make the Japanese public in the city understand the situation of the non-Japanese residents; and b) to gain public support for the protection and realization of their (non-Japanese residents') rights. In line with these objectives, ATOMS sees the necessity of focusing on specific issues of non-Japanese residents and offers services beyond "mere provision of information... [but]... are meant to empower [them] ... in engaging the Japanese residents towards "Creating a fair and sustainable, multicultural symbiotic society."
Practical Suggestions on Educational Programs
Several articles provide concrete recommendations on how to effectively implement educational programs.
The evaluation of the Sri Lanka project of Search for Common Ground recommends that "[O]verall, skills building should be more practical, more hands-on, and draw more from real life examples so that the youth can see their applicability to their own lived circumstances better." It also recommends that "[M]ore needs to be done after workshops end, to promote networking and developing structures of mutual support between participating youth."
Regarding the use of the "Champions model," the evaluation of Community Memorialization Project in Sri Lanka recommends "[S]upport [for] the champions to build their knowledge and conflict resolution skills by engaging with small-scale conflicts in their own communities, before engaging with large-scale conflict at the national level." VEORHC recommends more training to be provided to "Champions on how to be effective facilitators." And "ongoing opportunity to debrief/get support from the Commission staff" could make the Champions model "an even more effective approach to [project] implementation."
*This article is based on the Introduction in volume 11 of Human Rights Education in Asia-Pacific (2021) prepared by Jefferson R. Plantilla.
Volume 11 of Human Rights Education in Asia-Pacific (2021) is available at the website of HURIGHTS OSAKA: www.hurights.or.jp/archives/asia-pacific/.