Human Rights Education

Human Rights Education (HRE) is key to the implementation of human rights and equal treatment. As defined at the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (A/HRC/RES/16/1, 2011),  “human rights education comprises all educational, training, information, awareness-raising and learning activities aimed at promoting universal respect for and observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and thus contributing, inter alia, to the prevention of human rights violations and abuses by providing persons with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviours, to empower them to contribute to the building and promotion of a universal culture of human rights.”

Moreover, HRE encompasses education:

(a) about human rights, which includes delivering knowledge and understanding of human rights norms and principles, the values that underpin them and the mechanisms for their promotion and protection;

(b) through human rights, which includes learning and teaching in a way that respects the rights of both educators and learners. The teacher deliberately acts in accordance with human rights by promoting equal treatment and empowering decision-making processes among students;

(c) for human rights promotion, which includes empowering persons to enjoy and exercise their rights and to respect and uphold the rights of others.

Several key points emerge from this definition as well as from the Declaration. Firstly, the Declaration clearly articulates the vision that HRE is about empowerment. For example, it would not be sufficient for students to only gain knowledge about the human rights systems and rule of law and learn by heart all the articles set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Instead HRE is a process whereby students learn about their rights and the rights of others through interactive and participatory learning methods that respect the rights of both students and teachers. Through HRE students reflect on their own attitudes and values and learn about the legal and normative aspects of human rights as well as strengthen concrete skills.

Secondly, HRE - as any other education process - needs planning and understanding of learners. It begins from needs assessments amongst students, teachers and principals and requires clear learning objectives, which are in compliance with the needs discovered. It is crucial for a successful HRE process, that there is cohesion between the needs of a target group and the learning objectives. This is the only way to secure a commitment and accountability for success from both students and educators. Evaluation and follow up in relation to the development of skills, attitudes and values and understanding are essential in order to ensure that education is relevant and applicable in the context.

Thirdly, HRE is a preventative tool, as it allows participants to identify and address the root causes of human rights violations and to develop the skills and necessary tools to effectively address them. The education is delivered in compliance with human rights principles in an inclusive learning environment that fosters a human rights culture. Students have the right not to be discriminated against and not to face negative stereotyping, oppressive attitudes and practices. They should learn about their rights as well as duties or co-responsibility not to violate other person’s rights.

Lastly, HRE is about students obtaining knowledge and vocabulary of human rights and equal treatment; reflecting on values and attitudes; learning new skills, and promoting the exchange of knowledge and information. All these elements put together may lead to changed behaviours in compliance with human rights and equal treatment principles.

In addition, as shown in the figure, HRE focuses on the learner and the learning process – as opposed to the teacher and the teaching process. The pivot of the process is the empowerment of students, their learning needs as well as students’ reflections over values and attitudes. The experience is that this approach has a much more powerful impact on the learner and leads to more effective results than focusing on simple ‘knowledge transfer’ from teacher to learner.
HRE leans on Human Rights Based Approach (HRBA), which is applicable to all human rights work. HRBA activates the human rights system and clarifies the roles, rights and obligations of rights-holders (most commonly represented by the citizenry) and duty-bearers (most commonly represented by the state). The approach takes as its point of departure human rights instruments and principles to guide the work of duty-bearers and civil society actors (e.g. NGOs). HRBA makes the human rights framework work for human development by relating development goals to human rights standards and applying human rights principles to the process, including the programming and implementation of programmes, projects and activities. In case of conducting education, HRBA is first and furthermost about having clear goals and a plan for the education session that is in compliance with human rights and equal treatment principles.

See also DIHR Human Rights Education Toolbox


Short video about Human Rights Education