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Human Rights Education:
A Development Strategy Toward Human Security
-Our Contribution to the People's Agenda

States are challenged as never before in providing for the security of their citizens. The vast majority of these new security threats are, however, not related to inter-state conflicts but the consequence of national and trans-national processes of disintegration of societal and state structures. Such threats undermine the well-being and fundamental security of persons and communities.

Most threats to human security reveal a direct or indirect human rights dimension. This is why the various initiatives concerning specific human security issues (land mines, small arms, child soldiers, etc.) should be complemented and underpinned by an overall human security development strategy focusing at the establishment of a global human rights-based political culture.

The "promotion of human rights" and the "fostering of democratic skills for peaceful resolution of conflicts" are among the key objectives for international cooperation of the current human security agenda. The effectiveness of the protection of human rights should be seen as being at the very core of the human security agenda. The political values, behavioral patterns and societal skills at local, national and international levels determine the implementation of human security projects. To be truly effective, the promotion of human rights and of democratic skills for the peaceful resolution of conflicts must, however, go beyond the traditional patterns of human rights education.

It is proposed that on the basis of the current efforts within the United Nations Decade of Human Rights Education (1995 - 2004) leadership be provided for a new broad-based, long-term and multi-generational process of human rights learning to be launched on the universal, regional and local levels. In accordance with the past approach in pursuing the human security agenda, such a process of human rights learning must be participatory at levels. In addition to governmental institutions it must involve all sectors of civil society, parliamentarians as well as universal and regional international institutions.

1. The Changing Patterns of Security

The global security agenda has been characterized by a growing focus on the security of the individual citizen. The citizen rather than the state is both actor and victim in a new set of security challenges. Ninety-five percent of current violent conflicts occur within the boundaries of a single state. Civil populations comprise ninety percent of the victims of these internal conflicts.

At the same time, the well-being of individuals is facing new trans-national threats for which military-based security has proved inadequate and to which national governments alone cannot respond. These new challenges include the exploitation of women and children, illicit drugs, environmental despoliation, trans-national crime and corruption, terrorism, the proliferation of weapons and the trade in small arms.

On closer review, threats to human security are characterized as being both the cause and the result of processes of disintegration of society and of state institutions.

2. Human rights/human dignity and human security

Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims the right to security of persons as a fundamental human right, together with a right to life and liberty. The Lysöen Declaration on cooperation also recognizes this right with regard to the newly emerging human security issues including the "promotion of human rights" and the "fostering of democracy and good governance" among the key objectives for cooperation on promoting human security. The new threats to security essentially derive from deficits in the societal and political cultures of citizens and groups as well as from weaknesses in the structures of civil society and the state. The current human security crises reflect the need for the strengthening of shared human values within and among societies and for empowerment of the citizens. Ultimately, human security can be achieved only through a global political culture based on genuinely shared values, particularly those of human dignity and human rights. Such political culture requires a coherent world-wide process of human rights education.

The introduction of human rights into the political culture of any society has generally occurred in three phases: the establishment (codification) of human rights standards ("rule-making"); the establishment of structures and procedures providing for monitoring and adjudicative processes; and in a third phase: human rights values become an essential part of socialization and learning processes and thus a central feature of the political culture of a society; it is worth noting that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Helsinki Final Act as well as, more recently, the UNESCO International Congress on Education for Human Rights and Democracy (Montréal, 1993) explicitly recognize a right of the individual to know and act upon his/her human rights. The success of this third phase is a pre-condition for the effectiveness of the two previous ones.

3. Human security and human rights education

It is through human rights education that the dignity of all human beings and their living in dignity with others is defined. Human rights education provides the skills for the peaceful resolution of conflicts and the affirmation of the "plurality of otherness", both essential for overcoming the divisions in and among societies.

A comprehensive long-term policy towards a human security should consider the establishment of human rights values within a society as a key objective. United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education proclaimed by the UN General Assembly, on the insistence of international human rights NGOs, is a suitable basis for launching a broader and longer term programme of human rights education. Many of the efforts undertaken so far, while impressive in their creative approach to human rights learning, have remained unnoticed by the overwhelming majority of the world's population; the resources devoted to them have been grossly insufficient. Their impact on preventing and coping with the threats to human security has therefore been limited.

There is a pressing need to transform the current efforts into a world-wide people's movement of human rights learning. Building on the know-how and experience available in many communities around the world. New and powerful initiatives have to be taken under a strong political as well as operational leadership at global, regional, national and local levels.

4. A long-term human rights development strategy towards human security.

In addition to the specific efforts of rule-making and standard-setting as well as intergovernmental cooperation with regard to the various agenda items of human security, there is a critical need for a long-term pro-active development strategy, based on a multi-generational process of human rights learning.

It is proposed to launch a long-term development strategy for human security through human rights education. Such a programme must be international and inter cultural, it must focus on global as well as on local processes of learning, provide for the involvement of government and civil society. Human rights must be understood as holistic and the learning processes must include all forms of formal education as well as of informal processes of socialization and value acquisition at the community level. Human rights education must also be an education to the peaceful resolution of conflicts and as a means of confidence building in and empowerment of civil society. It must be participatory and gender sensitive.

The people's agenda for the 21st century must include a call to all who work in making the world a better place to live in to integrate the learning of human rights in all their activities and introduce human rights as a holistic framework which provides a powerful arena for action.


For more information, please contact PDHRE:
The People's Movement for Human Rights Education, 526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025
tel: 212.749-3156; fax: 212.666-6325; e-mail: pdhre@igc.org