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Speech for launch of Information for Students page: John von Doussa QC (2006)

Rights Rights and Freedoms

Friday 24 February 2006

Speech for launch of Information for Students page

Customs House Library, Circular Quay, Sydney, Friday 24 February 2006.

John von Doussa QC

President, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission


Good afternoon and welcome.

The Hon Philip Ruddock - the Attorney General,

Commissioner Graeme Innes - Human Rights Commissioner and Acting Disability Commissioner,

Jessica Bloom,

Educators, young people’s organisations, school students present,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to this Event for the launch of HREOC’s new web based education resource -“Information for Students”.

The promotion of human rights and education go hand in hand. At the international level human rights education is an essential function of the work of the UN and its many agencies. And it is fundamental to the work of a National Human Rights Commission.

The whole UN system is presently going through a reform process to make it a more effective human rights body. The States have agreed on the establishment of a new Human Rights Council to replace the Human Rights Commission based in Geneva. It is envisaged that the new body will come into existence and hold its first meeting on 6 June 2006.

The Chair of the General Assembly has drawn up the specific functions of the new body. The very first of the functions specified is to “promote human rights education and learning…”

With human rights education and the understanding it gives about the essence of human dignity, we become better equipped to combat the stereotypes that lead to racism and intolerance. We can identify and promote personal freedoms. We can highlight human rights abuses so that we may work against them happening again. Through knowledge, we can empower individuals to assert their own rights and freedoms.

On Human Rights Day 2004, the United Nations proclaimed a World Program for Human Rights Education. A Plan of Action for the initial phase was agreed just six months later.

The initial years of the World Program will focus on human rights education in primary and secondary schools. It calls on Governments to analyse existing human rights education in schools, to develope strategies and to implement them.

The Australian Government has given its strong support for the World Program. The Commission welcomes that support and looks forward to working with the Government and other educational groups to ensure the program is delivered.

The Commission anticipates that this will involve introducing an explicit human rights dimension in programs that complement civics and citizenship education and values education. The educational material on the HREOC website is intended to be a valuable resource for this purpose.

The Commission is proud of its record in education, not just in schools but in the broad community.

Educating the community about human rights is not just about disseminating the right information. Somehow, people have to be influenced by it, to understand from it what human rights are about, and why the rights should be accorded to everyone - especially members of minority groups.

When we look at the Commission's major successes the reason why I think they have changed public sentiments is that they have focused not on generalities and broad statements of normative principle but on the plight of particular individuals whose stories have been told in detail.

Once the focus moves to the individual, other people - we, the audience - are able to sympathise with that person.

We then start to enter into the suffering and despair which inequality or discrimination has caused that individual. We start to realise that the other person is suffering as we would suffer.

We begin to feel indignity and begin to understand that ill-treatment of one person brings shame on all of us. In this way we come to appreciate that members of different minority groups have the same aspirations for the safety of their families, for equality and for happiness as the rest of the community.

So human rights education is not just about reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or any of the derivative Conventions.

I think it is grass roots stories, personal narratives, that help to give real meaning to the fundamental rights which the Declaration and international law spell out.

Our education programs are designed and directed to multiple levels of the community, from primary school students through to politicians, lawyers and judges and across all fields of public activity - employers, education institutions, service providers, to name a few.

The schools program is one crucial facet of our education role.

Its broad aim is to develop in students an awareness of their human rights, and their responsibilities as members of the community in which they live.

In so doing, a central aim is to assist young people in their development as informed, active citizens and to encourage values of tolerance, respect and empathy.

Our web-based Information for Teachers has been developed over several years, and is now very extensive. It will be known to many of you. It includes curriculum linked series of resources for secondary school teachers to assist them to introduce human rights subjects to students. But that resource is directed to teachers, not to students.

Information for Students , the web-based resource we are launching today, will compliment the information for teachers, and provide answers to most of the questions young people have about human rights.

It is intended to be a “virtual one stop shop” about human rights. It is a multi-layered website that draws students through a range of human rights issues.

It includes a human rights timeline that stretches back to concepts of human rights in the earliest civilisations. It gives a "plain English" guide to what human rights are; common questions and answers on human rights; an explanation of the Universal declaration of human rights; and more detailed information on issues such as Indigenous Social Justice, "Stolen children", refugees and asylum seekers, children in immigration detention, sexual harassment and discrimination, including harassment and bullying in the school yard; and has separate sections about Human Rights Overseas (and where to get more information on them) and Children's rights.

Information for Students is also linked to other key areas of HREOC’s website that may interest students including:

  • "Human Writes" essay competition and the national youth dialogue page
  • resources from the Youth Challenge modules
  • Voices of Australia
  • The Face the Facts publication
  • Bringing them home module
  • Information for Employers kit

It also has a human rights calendar, ideas for ways students can become involved in human rights issues and colourful posters they can download.

I now invite the Federal Attorney-General, the Hon Philip Ruddock, to launch the Information for Students webpage.

See Also