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Human Rights in the Asia Pacific Region

Rights and Freedoms

Twelfth Workshop on Regional Cooperation
for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region

Consultation of Non-Governmental
Actors Doha, Qatar, 1 March 2004


Mr. Chairman, Excellencies, Distinguished
Participants, Ladies and Gentlemen

It is my pleasure to report to you
today on the outcome of deliberations of the Working Group on Human Rights Education.
This working group was relatively small in size but very diverse and robust
in its deliberations. It consisted of representatives of Arabic countries, including
the host country Qatar as well as Japan, the Philippines and Australia.

Because of time constraints I will
provide you with only the general outline of our discussions and add my personal
viewpoints where appropriate.

Allow me to start with a few comments
of a general nature.

There was a general agreement that
education, understood in the broadest sense of the word, is the key mechanism
to ensure development of a non-discriminatory and fair civil society. There
was also agreement that effective human rights education is in all our interests
and that its aim should be to advance a society where the human rights of all
are respected, protected and promoted.

Having said that, it needs to be
recognized that education alone is usually not enough to achieve major shifts
in human behavior and/or attitudes. Often the strong anti-discrimination laws
that are in place have the capacity of significantly assisting educational processes
in setting fair and just standards for society to follow. Even if it is not
always possible to immediately win the hearts and minds of people and to change
their attitudes, anti-discrimination legislation will usually impact on behavior
in the short term; and in a longer time frame attitudinal change will follow.
In countries where there is effective sex, race and disability legislation,
change in behavior and attitudes were reported over time.

Finally, knowledge und understanding
of human rights needs to be the subject of an on-going educational campaign.
In other words there is no end date for human rights education. This is because
children are being born every day; they grow up, commence schooling and continue
to learn as life goes on. This is also because new human rights issues emerge
every day and this requires us to learn new information and form judgments on
an on-going basis. So we cannot drop the ball. There is the need for continuous
education; therefore the group supported the establishment of a second decade
for teaching human rights.

Now allow me to focus on some more
practical questions, namely:

  • who is responsible for human rights
  • who should be targeted for human
    rights education to be most effective? and
  • how should human rights education
    be delivered?

So, who should be responsible for
human rights education?

In an ideal world human rights standards
would be learned in a family setting and then throughout one's life experiences.
But the real world is much more complex. In some situations children learn prejudice,
racial intolerance and sexist stereotypes in the family home. This creates a
need for us to have institutional promotion of human rights ideas and standards.
Such education should start as early as feasible and continue to be an ongoing
feature as persons progress through their lives.

In most societies, human rights education
is a joint responsibility of both national governments and of all other civil
society institutions such as schools, churches, trade unions, universities,
private enterprises, media, etc.

At the heart of this issue is the
question of balance; to what extent are different players responsible for delivery
of human rights education? What is the role of the government in particular?
Does it have a key responsibility for human rights education? The response relates
to the role of government played in any given society. Where the role of government
is dominant, it should also have a leading role in human rights promotion. Where
civil society is well advanced the education should be seen more as a shared

The political and historical context
of any state, will therefore establish the outer limitations of this. For instance
in a state with no trace of pluralistic governance and rule of law you would
expect different techniques to a state which has a clear separation of powers
and strong democratic traditions and processes - a civil society which emanates
unity of voice through diversity of opinion.

In any case it is also important
to form partnerships between governments and the key institutions that comprise
"civil society". This usually results in a much more effective delivery of human
rights education.

There is also an important role for
the Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner, for the Asia Pacific Forum and
other similar organizations to provide coordination of activities, transfer
of know-how and best practice materials. And here I wish to congratulate the
UN Acting Human Rights Commissioner on the proposal to develop country specific
human rights assistance programs. I hope, however, that the office will maintain
key elements of its current central policy development and clearing house functions.

Now to the second question: Who should
be targeted for human rights education to be most effective? This question is
clearly linked to the question about priorities. So what are the key priorities
for human rights education?

Clearly there is a broad agreement
that a particular focus of human rights education should be children of school
age. Children are keen and able to learn and it is during their school years
that their attitudes are being formed. There is, therefore, a clear need to
incorporate human rights education into school curricula.

Here I would like to report on an
interesting discussion about the relative merit of two different human rights
education models adopted by Australia and the Philippines. In the Philippines
- it was reported - human rights are incorporated into educational curricula
for all schools; so every child attending school will have to attend classes
on human rights. Australia is different. It has fully developed modules linked
to different State/Territory curricula that are available for utilization by
interested teachers. While this means that the Australian approach is more flexible
and gives teachers a choice, it also means that some children may miss out on
human rights education.

Another group which should be accorded
priority in human rights education is people who play important roles in the
development and maintenance of civil society, such as legislators, judges, the
military, police, media etc. One can imagine the damage that can be done were
leaders of our society to publicly display prejudice, racism or sexism. They
need to perform as role models and then human rights education will be much
easier for all of us.

Finally we come to the third question:
How to best deliver human rights education? An integral part of this question
clearly relates to the resources available for human rights education. Nobody
has unlimited resources for educational activities. How much is needed is as
difficult to answer as the question - how long is a piece of string? So instead
we should define some guiding principles for the effective delivery of human
rights education.

First, it is always useful to develop
a well thought out national education plan. Such plans assist with focus. They
best express educational aspirations, establish national goals, provide much
needed leadership and assist with obtaining the necessary resources for educational
activities. The national human rights education plans can be developed either
as self-standing documents or as a part of national human rights plans of action.

Second, it is important to ensure
that human rights education is delivered in a culturally sensitive way and is
tailored to the educational needs of a particular society. The last statement,
however should not be read as supporting cultural relativism in human rights
education. It rather means that to adopt the principle of one size fits all
to human rights education is a mistake and most likely would undermine its efficiency.
It is not always wise to transplant educational programs from one country to
another without first making appropriate adjustments.

Third, education programs need to
be relevant and easily understood by the target groups. They need to be practical
and relate to real life issues. For example programs for school children in
Australia may deal with the stolen generation, refugees, bush-fires, ethnic
diversity or bullying at schools. These issues may provide good "hooks" or departure
points from which lively human rights discussion may develop in a classroom.

Four, a wide range of different delivery
mechanisms are available for delivery of human rights messages, for example:

  • inclusion of human rights topics
    into school curricula;
  • campaigns on particular human
    rights issues, for example, trafficking of women and children;
  • organization of conferences, seminars
    and workshops on HR issues;
  • formal training for selected groups
    and train the trainer programs;
  • utilization of media, for example
    radio talk back programs;
  • conduct public inquiries into
    issues of major concern - most inquiries have the ability of placing human
    rights issues on the national agenda and to change public opinion because
    of long term, systematic coverage of an issue;
  • undertaking legal challenges on
    topical human rights issues; and
  • establishing web sites - for example
    this is a very successful method of communication in Australia where HREOC
    registered nearly 4.5 million page views in 2002 - 2003.

However, proper analysis of target
audience and messages to be communicated must be undertaken before deciding
on which of the above delivery mechanisms is to be used. Creativity and thinking
outside the square should also be high on the agenda. Let us not forget that
human rights education is about effective communication of values and standards
to target audiences.

Finally, the effectiveness of human
rights educational activities should be evaluated from time to time and there
should be proper evaluation indicators established.

In conclusion, there was support
for the idea that there is a need for a second UN decade for human rights education.
However, this should only be undertaken after taking stock of the achievements
of the first decade and should focus on areas of greatest need.

Consequently, the state parties to
this workshop are encouraged to support the establishment of the second UN decade
for human rights education to begin on 1 January 2005. National human rights
institutions and non-government organizations are likewise encouraged to support
this effort.

updated 16 March 2004