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What is Human Rights Education?

Human Rights Education is all about equipping people with the knowledge, skills and values to recognize, claim and defend their rights. Various Human Rights organizations and representatives have defined human rights education in their own ways. Here are some of the most prominent definitions:

Education, training and information aimed at building a universal culture of human rights. A comprehensive education in human rights not only provides knowledge about human rights and the mechanisms that protect them, but also imparts the skills needed to promote, defend and apply human rights in daily life. Human rights education fosters the attitudes and behaviours needed to uphold human rights for all members of society.” (United Nations World Programme)

Through human rights education you can empower yourself and others to develop the skills and attitudes that promote equality, dignity and respect in your community, society and worldwide.” (Amnesty International)

Human rights education builds knowledge, skills and attitudes prompting behavior that upholds human rights. It is a process of empowerment which helps identify human rights problems and seek solutions in line with human rights principles. It is based on the understanding of our own responsibility to make human rights a reality in our community and society at large.” (Navi Pillay, former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights)

Human rights education means education, training, dissemination, information, practices and activities which aim, by equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and moulding their attitudes and behaviour, to empower them to contribute to the building and defence of a universal culture of human rights in society, with a view to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” (Council of Europe)

Why is Human Rights Education Important?

Human Rights Education is important for many reasons. Below are some of the most frequently mentioned reasons why human rights education is important.

  • Human Rights Education is crucial for building and advancing societies
  • Human Rights Education empowers people to know, claim and defend their rights
  • Human Rights Education promotes participation in decision making and the peaceful resolution of conflicts
  • Human Rights Education encourages empathy, inclusion and non-discrimination

Often abbreviated as “HRE,” human rights education is also an essential tool for human rights awareness and empowerment. Many teachers don’t label their curriculum as “human rights education,” but they include features of HRE. Educational frameworks that consider non-discrimination, gender equality, anti-racism, and more help build an understanding and respect for human rights. Students learn about their rights, history, and their responsibility as citizens of the world.

In 2011, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights Education and Training. It called on countries to implement human rights education in every sector of society.

Here are ten more reasons why human rights education is important:

#1 It enables people to claim their rights

This is the most obvious benefit of HRE. In the “Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups, and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms,” Article 6 states that everyone has the right to know about their rights. By receiving that education, people can identify when rights are being violated and stand up to defend them.

#2 It teaches young people to respect diversity

When young people are exposed to human rights education, it teaches them to respect diversity from an early age. This is because no matter the differences between people – race, gender, wealth, ethnicity, language, religion, etc. – we all still deserve certain rights. Human rights also protect diversity. The earlier people learn about this, the better it is for society.

#3 It teaches history

Understanding history through a human rights lens is critical to a good education. If human rights weren’t included, lessons would be incomplete. Learning about human rights through history challenges simple and biased narratives. It teaches students the origins of human rights, different historical perspectives, and how they evolved to today. With this foundation in history, students better understand modern human rights.

#4 It teaches people to recognize the root causes of human rights issues

By recognizing the roots of problems, people are better equipped to change things. As an example, it isn’t enough to know that homelessness is a human rights issue. To effectively address it, people need to know what causes homelessness, like low-paying jobs and a lack of affordable housing. Studying history is an important part of identifying the roots of human rights issues.

#5 It fosters critical thinking and analytical skills

HRE doesn’t only provide information about human rights. It also trains people to use critical thinking and analyze information. Many human rights issues are complicated, so one of HRE’s goals is to teach people how to think. Students learn how to identify reliable sources, challenge biases, and build arguments. This makes human rights discussions more productive and meaningful. Critical thinking and analysis are important skills in every area of life, not just human rights.

#6 It encourages empathy and solidarity

An important piece of human rights education is recognizing that human rights are universal. When people realize that and then hear that rights are being violated elsewhere, they are more likely to feel empathy and solidarity. The violation of one person’s rights is a violation of everyone’s rights. This belief unites people – even those very different from each other – and provokes action.

#7 It encourages people to value human rights

When people receive human rights education, what they learn can shape their values. They will realize how important human rights are and that they are something worth defending. People who’ve received human rights education are more likely to stand up when they believe their rights (and the rights of others) are being threatened. They’ll act even when it’s risky.

#8 It fuels social justice activities

If people didn’t know anything about human rights, positive change would be rare. When people are educated and equipped with the necessary skills, they will work for social justice in their communities. This includes raising awareness for the most vulnerable members of society and establishing/supporting organizations that serve basic needs. With HRE, people feel a stronger sense of responsibility to care for each other. Believing in social justice and equality is an important first step, but it often doesn’t move far beyond a desire. HRE provides the knowledge and tools necessary for real change.

#9 It helps people support organizations that uphold human rights

Knowing more about human rights and activism helps people identify organizations that stand up for human rights. It also helps them avoid organizations (e.g. corrupt corporations) that directly or indirectly disrespect rights. These organizations are then forced to change their practices to survive.

#10 It keeps governments accountable

Human rights education doesn’t only encourage people to hold organizations accountable. It encourages them to hold governments accountable, as well. Human rights experts say that HRE is critical to government accountability. Armed with knowledge, skills, and passion, citizens have the power to challenge their governments on issues and demand change. HRE also helps provide activists with resources and connections to the global human rights community.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.