Each generation needs to fight for human rights

Only by fostering human rights knowledge, skills and attitudes in every generation, we can win the battle for human rights.

September 13, 2019 by Eva Grambye , Danish Institute for Human Rights
4 minutes read
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)

There is an urgency to ensure the support for human rights amongst Lena, Mohammed, and Liang who just enrolled in school for the first time in their lives. Only by fostering human rights knowledge, skills and attitudes in every generation, we can win the battle for human rights. The UN Human Rights Council stresses that states have an obligation. The 2030 Agenda gives direction.

“Democracy is a battle that should be fought in every generation.” More than 75 years ago, the Danish democracy researcher Hal Koch stated these wise words, and we believe one could say the same for human rights. Human rights education is a key instrument in this battle. You need to know what you are fighting for and what you stand to lose if you do not fight. States are obliged to ensure quality human rights education in schools and thereby prepare and support children and youth to stand up for their rights and to protect and uphold the rights of others. 

However, according to Freedom House, a total of 68 countries suffered net declines in political rights and civil liberties during 2018. Furthermore, about 1 in 5 children - adolescents and youth worldwide - are out of school, 75 million children have had their education disrupted by conflict or natural disasters, and less than half of the world’s refugee children are enrolled in school, according to data from UNICEF, UNESCO and the UN Refugee Agency.

Schools are key in the battle for human rights

The numbers expose that an alarmingly high number of our future generations are deprived of their right to education which includes education in human rights. Add to this that many of the children who do go to school, are enrolled in education systems, that are very far from being categorized as “inclusive and equitable quality education”, as is the goal 4 on quality education in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The generation of children who are currently walking through the doors of primary schools for the first time, will finish lower secondary by 2030. If children of this generation do not know their rights and are not taught how to support the fulfilment of the rights of others, more countries will most likely move in a less democratic and human rights protecting direction. It is time to act. Target 4.7 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development is firmly anchored in human rights and explicitly emphasizes the importance of integrating human rights education in the education systems. It thus drives stark impetus for promoting human rights education.

As schools are key to socialising younger generations, we must create learning environments characterised by respect and human dignity, where teachers provide students with opportunities for self-expression and participation in decision-making. Only by integrating human rights values into all aspects of schooling and education, can we promote a universal culture of justice, non-violence and equality. Human rights education therefore needs to be provided for in national education and policy laws.

States lack data and knowledge

States are already under obligation to implement human rights education through various global and regional conventions, resolutions, declarations and programs. However, we do not yet have a recognized methodology or indicator frameworks to measure progress for holding states accountable. Data and knowledge on the level of implementation of human rights education is poor or non-existing.

In some countries there is a tendency to assume, that human rights education is part of the DNA, and therefore also indirectly embedded in the education system. In other countries, human rights education is perhaps covered by an introduction to The Universal Declaration of Human Rights from 1948. And yet in other and by far most countries, children are not at any time introduced to human rights in schools.

Studies show increase in score and decrease in bullying in disadvantage neighbourhoods, where students received human rights education. To achieve such results human rights education must be embedded in education policies, curricula, teacher training and student assessment.

We need data on strengths and shortcomings in the existing legislation, programs and policies at a national level. It is a prerequisite for holding states accountable for progress and for having an informed dialogue with states.

To generate data, states need adequate tools and frameworks, that can help them clarify where more efforts are needed to secure effective implementation of human rights education.

New framework can boost the promotion of human rights

During the past two years the Danish Institute for Human Rights - in consultation with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Office- has developed an indicator framework, that we believe will boost the realisation of target 4.7 and the implementation of human rights education at the national level.

The framework is a contribution to the ongoing international process on developing a methodology for global monitoring of quality education. At the national level we are beginning to see how the use of the indicator framework is a way to benchmark progress in human rights education; among others, the National Human Rights Commission of Nigeria has piloted the indicator framework and therefore refocused and improved their programming.

Simultaneously the framework contributes to the implementation of the UN World Programme Human Right Education, adopted by the UN General Assembly. At the Human Rights Council in Geneva this week, a Plan of Action for Human Rights Education for Youth by states will be adopted. This will give momentum and direction for national implementation of human rights education for this and future generations of children and youth.

Only if states step up their efforts to implement human rights education, can we make future generations ready to win the battle for human rights.


Side event: Measuring human rights education for a quality education for all

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