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Human Rights Education

No single definition for human rights education will serve the many ways in which people young and
old come to understand, practise and value their rights and respect the rights of others. The Council of Europe’s Human Rights Education Youth Programme defines humanrights education as:
educational programmes and activities that focus on promoting equality in human dignity, in conjunction with programmes such as those promoting intercultural learning, participation and empowerment of minorities.

The telling phrase in this definition is “in conjunction”, for human rights education is rarely undertaken outside of a specific context, ideally based on the needs, preferences, abilities and desires of the learners. The key to defining human rights education is its purpose, for no matter what the methodology or context, its aim is always the development of a culture of human rights. The essential elements of such a culture can provide general objectives for human rights education:

ü  to strengthen respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms
ü  to value human dignity and develop individual self-respect and respect for others
ü  to develop attitudes and behaviours that will lead to respect for the rights of others
ü  to ensure genuine gender equality and equal opportunities for women and men in all spheres
ü  to promote respect, understanding and appreciation of diversity, particularly towards different national, ethnic, religious, linguistic and other minorities and communities
ü  to empower people towards more active citizenship
ü  to promote democracy, development, social justice, communal harmony, solidarity and friendship among people and nations
ü  to further the activities of international institutions aimed at the creation of a culture of peace, based upon universal values of human rights, international understanding, tolerance and nonviolence.

Human rights education for children
Childhood is the ideal time to begin lifelong learning about and for human rights. And the far reaching objectives of general human rights education can be interpreted to fit the world of the young child in more concrete terms of personal experience in the community, in the family and in the personal relationships the child encounters everyday with adults and other children. Human right learning seeks to foster feelings of confidence and social tolerance, the fundamental bases for the whole culture of human rights:

ü  to value self and others
ü  to recognize and respect human rights in everyday life
ü  to understand one’s own basic rights and be able to articulate them
ü  to appreciate and respect differences
ü  to acquire attitudes to address conflicts in non-violent ways that respect the rights of others
ü  to develop children’s confidence in their ability to take action and their skills to defend and promote human rights.

Although they are at the beginning of their formal education, children possess a wealth of knowledge about their world and the people in it. As far as possible, human rights learning should connect with and enlighten what children already know. For example, although they may not use words like justice, equality or discrimination, by the age of seven or eight most children have a strong sense of what is ‘fair’.

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