Electronic Resource Centre for Human Rights Education:
Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights - How to Protect Human Rights 

 

"How to Protect Human Rights?"
 
 

The first step toward building an international system of human rights protection was taken on December 10, 1948 in Paris when the UN General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights along with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights adopted by the UN in 1966 specify the catalogue of human rights set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Many specified treaties exist within the UN system of human rights protection. These treaties refer to specific human rights (such as the prohibition of torture) or to the rights of persons belonging to a particular group (such as children, or refugees).

Poland became a party to the Covenants in 1977. On February 10, 1992, Poland signed the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which allows victims of violations of these rights to submit a complaint directly to the Human Rights Committee. Polish citizens, however, have not yet taken full advantage of this means of protection available within the UN structure.

In 1993, Poland became a party to the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Most people who believe that their human rights were violated by the Polish state choose the regional procedure since this regional system has a more effective mechanism for protecting human rights and freedoms than the UN system. However, it is important to remember that even though the UN system of protection is less effective than the European system, it does work faster. When time is of the essence, the UN system might prove the better choice.

The aim of the authors of this packet is to familiarize the user with the human rights protection mechanism that exists within the United Nations. 

Included in this packet are:

1. A text for the instructor, The UN Human Rights System, (later referred to as the main text) which covers the background of the United Nations and its various human-rights related organs.

2. Fundamental UN documents regarding human rights.

3. Videotape entitled, "The United Nations' System of Human Rights Protection" which uses a fictional story of an American dentist in Poland to present fundamental information on human rights protection at the international level and discusses how to file a complaint to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva.

4. Lesson plans for presenting the UN human rights system:

Plan 1 -  The United Nations and Human Rights - Iin the course of these lessons the participants learn about how the United Nations was formed as well as how the international system of human rights protection was developed. An important element of these lessons is the work done with the documents. Participants compare the catalogue of rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights with the rights defined in the International Covenants. The main goal of these lessons is to familiarize the participants with the role played by the UN in protecting fundamental rights and freedoms.

Plan 2 - Submitting a Complaint to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva - The subject of this lesson plan is the catalogue of human rights found in the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights. Participants learn about the powers and functions of the Human Rights Committee in Geneva which was created in order to protect the rights defined in the above-mentioned Covenant. They also are introduced to the procedure used to submit an individual complaint to the Committee. Two approaches to introducing the lesson on preparing a complaint to the Human Rights Committee are proposed here. The first suggests writing a complaint based on a situation thought up by the participants; the second suggests writing a complaint based on the situation presented in the film "The United Nations' System of Human Rights Protection." 

Plan 3 - The Human Rights Committee Considers an Individual Complaint - as in Plan 2, the subject of this lesson plan is the individual complaint to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva. The lesson consists of actively watching the film "The United Nations' System of Human Rights Protection" and working in groups to write a complaint to the Human Rights Committee and to consider the complaint. Participants learn about the conditions for admissibility and the procedure under which the communication is considered.

Plan 4 - How to Approach the Commission on Human Rights - The activities suggested here are for participants who already have some knowledge of the UN human rights system. They will have the opportunity to learn about the mandate and functions of the Commission on Human Rights.

Plan 5 - Children's Rights in the UN System of Human Rights Protection 

Plan 6 - Refugees in the UN System of Human Rights Protection - In the lessons concerning children's rights, emphasis has been put on developing skills to evaluate a situation from the perspective of whether or not the rights in the Convention on the Rights of the Child are being respected. It is also important to note that non-governmental organizations can submit their own reports on the state of compliance with a given convention to the treaty-based organ (such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child). The lessons concerning refugees are aimed at bringing the participants attention to a specific category of foreigners who, for various reasons, are in need of special protection. 

Plan 7- The United Nations and its Specialized Agencies - The lessons in this scenario can be used to sum up the material covering the United Nations' human rights system. Participants learn the structure of the UN's various human rights organs, specialized agencies and organizations active within the United Nations. An interesting element of this lesson plan is the artistic exercises.

The lesson plans for the UN SYSTEM OF HUMAN RIGHTS PROTECTION are a collection of suggested scenarios. It is the instructor who in the end will decide on the shape that they will take. We believe that the scenarios can be used as a source of inspiration for the instructors. We also believe that instructors, by adapting the scripts to their own didactic needs, will both alter and improve them. 

 

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Electronic Resource Centre for Human Rights Education:
Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights - How to Protect Human Rights