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Shulamith Koenig
Founder and Executive Director,
People’s Movement for Human Rights Education

PDHRE International Symposium
on the Information Society and Human Dignity
(Geneva, November 3-4, 2003)

"T.S. Elliot in one of his poems writes: Where is the knowledge we lost in information and where is the word we lost in words?

Technology to the information society is like the wheel to the Stone and Iron Ages. Mere tools to enable humanity to achieve its aspiration and hopes, move away from humiliation and use this tool to live in community in self-respect and the respect of the other…--women and men alike moving in the world in dignity. In the 20th century alone the world population grew from one billion people in the in 1900 to two billion in 1950 to six billion in the eve of the 21st century. World wars, violence, ignorance, poverty, and oppression mark the 20th century. Yet, a miracle happened in the last 50 years, a moral transcends of all Member states of the United Nations, recognizing a dire need for a guideline and a framework that binds humanity in its journey. For the last 50 years, since the Universal Declaration of Human rights, voicing the hopes of humanity was accepted as the foundation of the UN, Nations joined to make commitments and undertake obligations about human rights as a way of life. We who have come to dialogue on the future of the information society must know: Whatever the road we want to take there is not other no other option and no other guideline but human rights!

In today’s complicated dialogue about the responsibility of the information society, osculating between form and content, the first inquiry must be into what kind of society do we want to develop that will be serviced in a meaningful way by the tools of information? The answer for human rights educators working towards economic and social transformation at the community level is: a society where the tools of information enables women and men to transform the prevailing oppressive and egocentric hierarchical system to a horizontal human rights system in equality and lack of discrimination for all. A Human Rights Society where information evokes critical thinking and systemic analysis with a gender perspective about civil, cultural, economic, political and social concerns apply the knowledge about the human rights framework and using it as a powerful transformative tool.

The voices, the language, the words flowing through the high roads and low pavements of information must be thoughtfully equipped, defined and designed to break through the vicious cycle of humiliation, which causes endless pain, confusion, frustration, violence and desolation….--Where injustice is justice and where people exchange their equality for survival…-- a bleak future that can be easily reversed if we simply abide by the commitment and obligations made to uphold the moral, political and legal vision of human rights.

Sharing the knowledge about the holistic meaning of human rights, as relevant to peoples’ daily lives, will evoke the missing dialogue about human rights as a way of life, and contribute to the questions and answers that promote social responsibility. The information society indeed has the " wheels" to create mass education and learning about human rights. It must help to weave a society where women and men participate in the decision that determine their lives.... Where women and men put together a new political culture based on human rights.  Our apprehension about the information society, its roles and new responsibilities must be analyzed, very carefully, both in the human security widely defined and the holistic human rights contexts.

All confusion is dismissed and vague thinking becomes concrete if one thinks of ICT access as enforcing a vision of a human rights culture – as a foundational paradigm of both human development and human security. A "win-win" partnership based on advancing a human rights culture would surely overcome objections and barriers. This is why PDHRE, People’s Movement for Human Rights Education, an NGO in consultative Status with the UN, has worked to have the UN declare a Decade of Human Rights Education- 1995-2004…--For all six billion people to know and claim their human rights, where this information becomes knowledge that evolves into consciousness. The ensuing action guided by the human rights framework will make this a better world to live in for all.

As educators we often ask ourselves is whose knowledge we hope to evoke? How do we define knowledge? What type of information leads to creative, viable knowledge? What are the moral and political roots on which the information society relies and/or limits itself to the "production" of information?

Isn't knowledge the ability to use wisely scattered and often unrelated pieces of information with which we are bombarded during our lifetime? Can we speak of information integrated into knowledge and wisdom on which our ability to lead a meaningful life is founded? And most important our ability to recognizes the humanity of the other? It can be said, therefore, that knowledge is know-how. It is analysis. It is our capacity for evaluation, for making decisions and for solving problems. The knowledge we acquire becomes the framework for interpreting the world, for thinking about our lives and the lives of others. It is living. And it is, above all, the development of values that guide our lives.

Thus, "information" that leads to knowledge that leads to a worldview, which is grounded, yet is open to questions, dialogue, and sometimes to answers, is what we need to wish for. "Information" as a tool with which one builds, or weave, or construct, or determine the future of humanity and its economic, social and human development. This is a heavy burden put on the "information society" that must be carried out with tenacity.

The important starting points to concentrate on in the discussions about the Information Society are the development of new forms of cooperation, new modes of social and economic organization, and new ways of thinking that MUST BE GUIDED BY THE HUMAN RIGHTS FRAMEWORK, if it is to succeed in its tasks and aspirations.

Furthermore, when we hope to develop new modes of social and economic organization these modes must be understood as the human rights norms and standards which have been developed in the last fifty years, These norms an standards are the tools devised for changing institutions to serve the people..,--for, with and by the people. And lastly, as we identify opportunities in economic, social, political, and cultural areas, concrete action and global commitment should be taken, which human rights enables us…--as no one human rights can violate another ( Article 30 UDHR) and all conflicts must be solved the human rights way!

We cannot get away or go around human rights. Again: It is the only real option we have. The first good step has been taken. Most governments have ratified most Convention and Covenants. But unfortunately many governments do not take the second step, as mandated, to scrutinize their national laws accordingly. Even if there are countries that do they do not enforce them, it is not reflected in their policies and the people do not know about them. It is therefore the duty of the those who deliver information to make sure that people will learn about these international and governmental processes and the obligations undertaken by their leader to know them and claim them!.

Governance has become a buzzword for development. Indeed the governance approaches are critical, especially if they move democracy to become a delivery system of human rights. The ICT can be of tremendous help in such a process. However, political economic concerns can not be on the same level as the ICT concerns: The ICT must be of service to the political and economic future of the world In this context "Information" can indeed be a line of business, as a service to humanity. But knowledge which is multi dimensional that includes memory and hope and love cannot! Knowledge includes vision, mission and the practical solutions for achieving global public good. Public good is indeed well defined by the holistic vision of human rights that must be constantly supported by many forms of delivery of information to strengthen human rights as the banks of the river in which life flows freely.,

And finally: we need to ask with all that it implies: What kind of society do we hope to have? How can the ICT meet the needs of society with its multiple identities and struggles? Answering this question we must also remember that not too many have access to ICT, those who need it the most, the poor and disadvantaged., living mostly in the South, and whose governments can manipulate them with information.

There are many answers to what may seem to be simple questions and every answer will pose another question. Circumstances that breeds violence and despair may change if people had the information and will develop the knowledge about human rights as a way of life.

What does this "information society" look like? Two billion people live in cities today where the information society is most active. The forecast tells that 4 billion people will live in cities within 15 to 20 years. There is no inherent knowledge of how to live with one another…--with the massive amount of people and issues one has not known before. Cities are microcosms of states. They carry all the burdens, struggles, concerns and hopes for well-being of its inhabitants, very similar to those of a state. They carry the search for a life free from fear and free form want, for women and men alike. People in the cities yearn to belong in dignity in these often-alien large communities. They need to know the promise of human rights for food, education, housing, healthcare, and work at livable wages. They need to own human rights and claim them. And we must remember that more then half of them are under 25, who see through communication technology what society can offer, which many of them will never have.

For that purpose PDHRE, initiated the development of human rights cities, where wisdom and experiences accumulated in a community come together to be anchored in human rights. Where people are working to change oppressive systems of all kinds, and have people become agents of change. Where vision, opportunities, partnerships and action at the community level can now be greatly enhanced through horizontal collaborations…-- moving power to human rights!

Twelve Human rights cities are now 12 in development and 20 more are planned in partnership with UNDP. These are cities where the inhabitants, their local government, with community groups, and stakeholders learn human rights and together they map the violation and realization in the city. Through dialogue each becomes a mentor and a monitor joining in planning the future development of their city with regard to laws, policies, resources and relationships within a human rights framework. To support this initiative with human resources, PDHRE has developed four Regional Learning Institutions for Human Rights Education, where a new vocation will be created: Human Rights educators at the community level. These new educators will work in cities, towns and villages to support the learning for social and economic change by using human rights as a tool of action.

The success of this initiative depends on the good will of society to integrate the understanding of human rights as a guideline for its development. Its vitality could radiate throughput the world…--giving us solutions for the future and a new political culture based on human rights. It is from the human rights cities that meaningful analysis and real change will come. The Human Rights Cites initiative poses an important challenge to the information society and gives direction as to the contributions that must be made so that all people will learn and know human rights as a way of life!! Human Rights is the truth, we have non other!

And finally, the good news is that the information society is working hard at the mainstreaming of human rights, promoting the recognition and affirmation of development as a human right not to speak of recognizing women’s rights as human rights, and poverty as a human rights violation. These are major achievements of on going information and continuous learning that are shaping the 21st Century. These human rights we speak about so emphatically are comprehensive, transcending and reassuring and should be the guiding light of the information society.

For more information, please contact PDHRE:

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
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org

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