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Food for a human rights learning thought

Human Rights Reader 248

-All humans have rights. But the question is: Do all of them know that…and do they know what their human rights are? (S. Koenig)

-People will have to know their human rights if they are to be able to even assess what it means these being met.

1. This Reader has repeatedly said that a manifold increase in human rights learning (HRL) is the key challenge we face right now. This, because human rights (HR) are not the wisdom of ‘crowds’…yet. Granted. *  Actually, still, many people ask: Are HR a luxury? Unfortunately, what they do not know is that many of their inalienable rights (which they are born with) are already, for long, being violated.

*: On HR issues, even many of our peers are very close-minded and inward-looking…still. Granted.  But HR are not just a rhetoric ornament! (A. Paasch, Contact, WCC)

2. The paradox, as said, is that people are already enjoying all sorts of rights –without even knowing they are. But they are also denied all sorts of rights… So, they do not really know the value (or the ‘taste’) of non-discrimination, of participation, of dignity…

3. Human rights learning is to discuss these values with them so they can then rightfully demand them –from a position of power. As a matter of fact, in the near future, we see HRL putting up a fight against the tendency found in many countries where these ‘crowds’ are becoming a ‘tired-and-empty-citizenry’.

4. HRL is about knowledge and about competence. But a major problem is that most agencies have reduced the meaning of ‘knowledge’ to mean ‘having information’. Information one can easily get from Google or from  Wikipedia, but not so knowledge. As far as acquiring knowledge-about-the-human-rights-framework is concerned, the big problem today is that it is hampered by weak leadership and a lack of determination to go full-blast for an all-out HRL implementation plan. ** (For instance, many UN staff are not expected-to or encouraged by their supervisors to read about ongoing developments in HR… mostly because their supervisors do not read such themselves. Better hire a consultant!) (U. Jonsson)

**: To become more engaged with the global HR problems and with the global community already working towards finding solutions to shared HR problems, among other, needed are: school-based HRL programs, youth-led and women-led global learning initiatives, government officers-based programs; NGOs-based programs; donor-based programs …and many, many other.  (Let it be emphasized here that heightening the awareness about HR among children and youth, as well as the awareness about the obligations and responsibilities that come with HR, is critical so as to, early-on, make them ponder the options for the social and political changes that will be needed in order to make HR central in the development paradigm).

5. Things that a HRL setting uniquely allows is to explore with the learners, among other, questions like: What are the different donors’ agendas on HR? How do aid policies influence local HR contexts? Are there political interests opposing a change towards using the HR framework in the country? How do policy-makers perceive the HR problem?

6. Furthermore, one can explore with learners whether there is enough of the right sort of evidence to convince others of the need for change and how the same evidence is to best be presented to key, targeted organizations and individuals. Also possible is to together with participants identify the key influential duty bearers to then distinguish between the ones that are very interested and already ‘HR-aligned’ (and can thus be considered strategic allies) and the others that are interested though not yet aligned and who can and need-to be brought-in to the fold. ***

***: Perceiving the interests of others is in itself an engine for accruing power.

7. During HRL exercises, efforts are made to discuss and develop strategies to promote HR changes ensuring the participants engage in teams that have the needed HR competencies to operationalize a coherent HR strategy. In other words, participants must come out with a set of skills that allow them to confidently inform and dialectically involve claim holders and duty bearers.

8. For HRL, participants must be carefully selected since authentic learning happens in and at the will of the learner. In the absence of an authentic interest, we will experience what training workshops in the development sphere so often do: participants are exposed to new knowledge, go back to their posts….and continue to do the same as they did before.

9. HRL’s main contribution is to instill in participants the recognition that we all need to intentionally shift our thinking; for them to internalize the importance of enhancing citizens’ collective and individual political capabilities thus increasing their self-esteem.

10. In HRL, participants will also learn that the HR-based framework challenges the dominance of quantitative statistical information as the sole, authoritative source of knowledge. In HR work, representative stories are treated on a par with representative samples. We go for both ‘evidence-based decision making’ and for ‘insight-based decision making’.

11. Bottom line, HRL aims at making HR part of the knowledge commons.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City


Partially adapted from Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger, Free Press, N. Y., 2008; L. Weinstein, Ed. Multiversidad, Editorial Universidad Bolivariana, Coleccion Nuevos Paradigmas, Santiago, Chile, Mayo 2009; D+C, 36:5, May 2009; D+C, 36:12, Dec.2009; Development in Practice, 19:8, 2009; The Broker, Issue 9, Apr 2010; and  D+C, 37:4, Apr 2010.

Postscript: I can unhesitatingly state that learning about human rights must become a lifestyle. This is what will ultimately lead to respect and understanding among people.  This is what should guide social transformation to liberate people from poverty and discrimination.  Human rights learning has been defined as an area that includes activities in the field of training and information dissemination to create a universal culture in the human rights sphere, i.e., activities to transmit knowledge and mold attitudes.  Learning human rights is a prerequisite for lifelong learning; and vice-versa. (V. Munoz V.)

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  1. 1shulamith KOenig

    I love every every word in his presentation .. lets us make it as public as we can
    I will share it with all my colleagues .. it will be part of developing the movement. Thank you good friend

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