Re: Follow-up to the Decade at the international level

Dear Friends, Human Rights Educators.

With all humility, having been traveling extensively, I was not able to
write until now.

Being the person who --practically single handed-- had authored the Decade
of Human Rights Education and urged the UN through several countries
(Costa Rica, Slovenia, Philippines, Norway and Namibia) to declare such a
Decade already before the 1993 Vienna Human Rights Conference -- I cannot
refrain from sharing my thoughts of happiness for what we have all
achieved and also of sadness that we have achieved so little.

I remember the night we got a call form Ibrahima Fall's office (at the
time Director of the Human Rights Center in Geneva) -- asking us to
prepare a plan of action for the Decade before the conference in Vienna.
He, as others, were worried that the Conference would fall apart because
of the unresolved debate on "Universality". He wanted to present to the
conference a plan of action for the HRE Decade as a failsafe.  Steve
Marks, Tara Krause and I worked the whole night and in the morning sent a
plan of action that became the blueprint to which many have later
contributed after the declaration of the Decade became a reality.
Furthermore, many of us took a leap of faith and contributed in bits and
pieces to HRE in the last eight years. We should be all congratulated that
we did so in spite of all the obstacles.

The vision of the Decade that PDHRE --now the Movement for Human Rights
Education-- had, was:

a world whose six billion inhabitants know and claim and fulfill their
human rights; a world where women, men, youth and children learn, reflect
and act to achieve civil, cultural, economic, political and social human
rights for all -- assuming responsibility to eradicate poverty, violence
and marginalization.

The mission of the Decade as we saw it was:

(i) to formulate and convey the holistic human rights framework in a way
meaningful to people's daily lives and make it known to, and understood
by, all people as a powerful tool for action.

(ii) to enable women and men alike to participate as equals and without
discrimination in the decisions that determine their lives, and with their
elected authorities, to join in planning and implementing human, social
and economic development guided by the human rights framework.

(iii) to develop cadres of human rights educators for social and economic
transformation who will work in grassroots communities and develop written
and visual learning materials, strategic pedagogies and methodologies,
which are culturally relevant including a gender perspective to service
the facilitation of programs in the communities that join to become agents
of change.

We spoke of breaking through the vicious cycle of humiliation that brought
us to understand that human rights learning can indeed "horizontalize" the
world. We also believed that we need to always speak of "human rights" and
not of "rights", as rights can be given and taken; human rights have a
higher legal and moral value and can not be tampered with.

In the fourteen years since we started our work in the field, PDHRE has
engaged people in more than 100 countries in one form or another to bring
up to par the knowledge about economic, social and cultural human rights
and developed an in-depth learning about women and human rights with an
analysis about patriarchy as a cause for human rights violations. For that
purpose we developed a variety of training programs and pedagogical
materials for learning about the human rights of women with
community-based women's organizations.

We never engaged in HRE in schools as we felt that many are doing so.
Moreover, we felt that having human rights introduced as a subject stays
in the realm of information and does not create the reformative process we
all seek to develop.

What we have stressed the most is that human rights is about people's
lives and thus human rights education and learning is about the future of
all people. We have also stressed the importance of trusting the learners
who and wherever they are as being able to engage in critical thinking and
in systemic analysis using their experiences, narratives, and historical
memory of struggle for justice as a source of inspiration and action
within the human rights framework.

We believe that HRE needs to be taking place at all levels of society in
order to contribute to sustained social transformation. The argument that
"something is better then nothing" is not satisfactory at all. In my
opinion it is an irresponsible statement. I ask: Better for whom?

What we have to transmit to the learners is that human rights is a way of
life protected by International law. It is about morality and politics and
about the law -- all tied together. Thus, human rights education is the
process through which each individual passes to become --in the words of
Nelson Mandela-- part of a "new political culture based on human rights".
Each needs to learn to use the human rights framework as a guideline for
achieving economic and social justice for all.

Is this too big a vision and mission? Indeed it is -- but there is no
other purpose for human rights education. Thus, HRE needs to be attended
to by law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, the media the various
governing bodies -- all stake holders, including schools. (As the Director
of the Academy of the Police in Rosario Argentina said to me after holding
an intensive workshop on human rights with the cadets: "there is no other
option but human rights!" He indeed learned it well.)

Many of us have developed various pedagogies, methodologies and forms of
transmitting information and knowledge about human rights.  However, it is
too sporadic and sartorial and often too legal. We all have a long way to
go to overcome both the obstacles society puts in front of us and our
inadequacies which we must be very honest about.

For us to learn more and include as much knowledge as possible available
from all of you and from our experience too, PDHRE is developing human
rights cities and regional learning institutions for human rights

The practice is: Using the city and its institutions as a microcosm of all
the problems that exist in the world today and as a complex social
economic and political entity to become a model for citizen's
participation in their development. In human rights cites, learning
through all sectors of society takes effect resulting in an ongoing
dialogue, and examination of the relevance of the human rights framework
to the inhabitants concerns. This process leads to the mapping and
analysis of causes of violations and the designing of ways to achieve the
fulfillment of human rights in their city. Each a monitor and a mentor.
Appropriate conflict resolution is an inevitable consequence of the
learning process as women and men work to secure social and economic
transformation and the sustainability of their community as a viable,
creative caring society.

In the cities, in-depth learning about human rights plays a vital role in
guiding the future of the community and as a powerful transformation tool.
Strategies and methodologies are designed to have governing bodies, law
enforcement agencies, public sector employees, religious groups, NGOs and
community groups in the city, those working on the issues of women,
children, workers, indigenous peoples, poverty, education, food, housing,
healthcare, environment and conflict resolution, and all other
non-affiliated inhabitants, join in learning and reflecting about human
rights as significant to the decision-making process and the life of the
city. The Human Rights Cities initiative seeks to expand, facilitate and
institutionalize this process as a model for sustainability.

A steering committee representing all sectors of society develops specific
programs for various audiences. The plan includes the examination, with a
gender perspective, of laws, policies, resource allocation and
relationships that prevail in the city. For that purpose, they create a
vertical and horizontal progressive learning process for all.  Step by
step, neighborhoods, schools, political, economic and social institutions,
and NGOs, examine the human rights framework, relating it to their
traditional beliefs, collective memory and aspirations with regard to
environmental, economic and social justice issues and concerns. They learn
to identify, mentor, monitor, and document the human rights needs of the
people of the city.

The laws of the city are scrutinized against the background of the
Convention and covenants that their country has ratified. People examine
and influence policies and power relations. A possible tool is to present
yearly comprehensive alternative budgets to city authorities as an
integral part of their participation in designing and implementing future
development plans for their city. It is a question of moving power to
human rights.

Activities in the Human Right Cities are publicized throughout their
country, expecting to radiate knowledge, increase the adoption of the
human rights framework, and serve as a model for stabilizing democracy and
building good governance. This process helps to overcome the fact that
most people for whom human rights have been codified and ratified are not
familiar with or know how to use them to fulfill their hopes and
aspirations for a better life.

Such human rights cities are already in development in Rosario
(Argentina), Thies (Senegal), Nagpur (India), Kati (Mali), the Abra
Indigenous Municipality (Philippines), Dinajpur (Bangladesh). Further
detailed information of activities in the human rights cities can be found

In addition, four Regional Learning Programs for Human Rights Education
are being developed in Africa, Asia Pacific, South Asia and Latin America.
The regional programs are dedicated to intensive training of community
leaders so that they can initiate the further development of human rights
cities. The training program will include supervised internships at
existing human rights cities. In development are four Learning Programs
for Human Rights Education in Africa, Asia Pacific, Latin America and
South Asia.

Ambitious, yes, but it is already ongoing. Besides, the ongoing activities
in the existing human rights cites, the first six-week regional Learning
program for Human Rights education is being held in Mumbai, India in
February 2003 in the South Asia Learning Institute for Human Rights
Education. We hope in three years to have trained 750 human rights
educators from amongst community leaders from the four regions.

These steps lead to building communities which honor international human
rights instruments, leading to a commitment by governments and local
authorities, law enforcement agencies, the judiciary, regulators and
community leaders to implement and enforce civil, cultural, economic,
political and social human rights for every woman, man, youth and child.

We hope that the 30 human rights cities to be developed in the coming
three years will become a source of light that will radiate hope and
convince us all that human rights education can indeed change the world.

Shula Koenig

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025, USA
tel: +1 212.749-3156; fax: +1 212.666-6325

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