Strategies for using the UNDHRET as a tool for HRE advocacy and implementation

January 7th, 2013

Received by e-mail, From: Felisa Tibbitts, Date: 21/12/2012 (sorry, a bit late)

Dear Colleagues and friends, A year ago this week the UN General Assembly passed the Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training. This landmark document was supported by our own countries and endorses the right of every person “to know, see and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms and should have access to human rights education and training” (Article 1, para 1). The Declaration also calls upon governments to incorporate within their treaty reports references to relevant human rights education that is carried out.  

It is important, of course, to continue to remind our governments to accept and implement this essential function in relation to the human rights framework. Given the wide ranging themes and target groups for HRE, this is not always an easy road to navigate. But the collective experiences in HRE over the past 20 years have helped to pave this route. And these experiences are increasingly being presented in formats that can assist authorities in organizing HRE, in collaboration with stakeholders.

Since the Declaration was passed, UNESCO and the High Commissioner’s Office have continued to release HRE resources, including a self-assessment resource for educational authorities to assess their own efforts in carrying out HRE in schools. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) released guidelines for HRE for secondary schools and law enforcement officials. The tools are there for educational authorities interested to make use of them.

I anticipate that in the coming year, as our good practices continue to be documented and shared, the spotlight will be increasingly shone on governments to demonstrate political will to support HRE. I am optimistic that this pressure will not abate, not only because of the collective efforts of civil society in this area over the past decades but because the international human rights standards themselves will not go away. Regardless of the conceptual and political struggles related to universalism and cultural relativism, the critique of human rights being “Western” and “imperialistic”, human rights is a discourse that will continue.

As I think back on all of what I have just written, I have some advice for myself, which I feel compelled to share with members of this network as well.

The first bit of advice is not to lose the opportunity of this HRE policy wave at the United Nations to persuade our own governments and other educational actors in our environments to meaningfully integrate human rights values and standards into the schooling sector and trainings of duty bearers. In the United States earlier this month we established Human Rights Educators USA with the explicit intention to support HRE in schools.

My second bit of advice to myself is to make it easier for those who are unfamiliar with human rights, and human rights education in particular, to say “yes”. It is up to us to explain, for example, how HRE is unique yet complementary to other approaches that we can find in schools, such as citizenship education, peace education, anti-discrimination education, and so on. And in doing so, we need to be clear about how human rights education is relevant to the issues and challenges people genuinely care about and effectively enables learners to take action. A clear strength of HRE to my mind is that we call ourselves to be empowering and relevant. This is a high standard but if we don’t do this, then to my mind we cannot consider ourselves to be human rights educators.

My final bit of advice is something of a reassurance. In the end, I understand that the passion for HRE will inevitably be stoked within the civil society sector, by those of us committed to social change and recognizing that the human rights framework – rooted in the everyday concerns of any citizen – will help us in identifying what “human dignity” means for us and how to undertake actions to support it. Such efforts don’t only take place in schools. They take place in trainings, clubs and networks organized by human rights groups and other NGOs. Here is where the lifeblood of social activism flows. It is our “perpetual bottom up strategy”.

I hope that this year will reveal more authorities reaching across to the NGO sector in a joint effort to promote human rights education for all. But I know with certainty that those of with our roots in civil society will remain dedicated to this endeavor.

In solidarity, Felisa Tibbitts, Director,
Human Rights in Education Program, Carr Center for Human Rights, Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, Founder and Senior Advisor,
Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), 689 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-3302 USA,
Tel: +1 617 301-4379, Fax: +1 617 249-0278,
Skype ID: felisa_tibbitts,
E-mail, Website.


Tax exile: President Putin gives Depardieu a Russian passport, on Russia Today RT, Jan 6, 2013;

Video 1.49 min – Welcome to Russia: Putin grants citizenship to Depardieu, on Russia Today RT, Jan  3, 2013;

Inside the meat lab: the future of food – With billions of mouths to feed, we can’t go on producing food in the traditional way. Scientists are coming up with novel ways to cater for future generations. In-vitro burger, anyone? on The Guardian, by Alex Renton, Jan 5, 2013.

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