Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Friday, February 16, 2007

CHRC holds briefing on human rights education

During a briefing today arranged by the bipartisan Congressional Human Rights Caucus and the International Human Rights Education Consortium, a panel discussed the importance of human rights education, and the need to help Congress address this important issue. Witnesses included Dr. Reuben E. Brigety II, Dr. Jo-Marie Burt, H. Victor Conde, Ed O'Brien, Theodore Orlin, and Felisa Tibbitts.

All of these individuals are dedicated to the understanding and application of human rights. They also believe that education, training, collaboration, and research are essential components of the global human rights movement. In addition, they stressed ensuring accountability, providing an ethical framework for the development of just and peaceable communities, and building a culture of human rights in everyday life at the national, regional, and global levels.

According to Theodore Orlin, the Clark Professor of Human Rights Scholarship and Advocacy at Utica College and the current President of the International Human Rights Education Consortium (IHREC), we need to see a general appreciation of the significance of proliferation in human rights education. The United States needs to be consistent in our commitment to human rights to reach the ultimate goal, which he considers a universal respect of dignity. There is no easy fix, he said, but education is the most effective way to bring about change. However, he sees a lack of resources regarding funding – IHREC is not asking for millions, simply small grants – with no bureaucratic ties.

Dr. Jo-Marie Burt took a different approach in discussing the importance of a growing international awareness. She said that supporting and promoting human rights education in newly developed and democratized countries in Latin America is important. She also talked about the significance of transitional justice, in reference to dealing with the legacy of old authoritarian regimes. The international community should promote new mechanisms, she said, by establishing truth trials where the criminals are held responsible. This is the only way to achieve accountability for the victims, she argued. Burt said that we can not accept a situation like the one in Uruguay, where victims were told to simply “forgive and forget – bury and move forward”.

H. Victor Conde, J.D., an international human rights lawyer, educator, and author from California, believes the United States have failed miserably in teaching human rights within our own school systems, and as a professor he would give the United States a D on our general knowledge of human rights. The majority of Americans today remain functionally illiterate on human rights, he said, arguing that only one out of forty college students would be able to recognize five articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In addition, he believes the United States is acting rather hypocritical in trying to “teach” the international community human rights. To do so with integrity, he said we must first educate ourselves objectively and reach our standards of a tolerant, pluralistic, broad and diverse society.

Ed O'Brien, Executive Director of Street Law Inc., a Washington-based NGO working to raise legal awareness, democracy and human rights in all 50 states and over 30 countries, agreed with Conde that the United States needs to reinvigorate its role as a world leader in promoting human rights and demonstrate this commitment through support of human rights education at home. O’Brien requested that the Human Rights Caucus call on the Bush administration to pay attention to the United Nations World Programme for Human Rights Education. This program calls on all countries to develop a plan for implementation of human rights education in their primary and secondary schools. To date, the United States seems to have ignored this mandate.

Finally, Felisa Tibbitts, Executive Director and founder of Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), stressed the need for a stronger community of human rights educators and advocates around the world. She believes dignity is the key word in being one step ahead of the game, and she finds inspiration in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states “that every individual and every organ of society…shall strive by teaching and promote respect for these rights and freedoms.” She also made the important point that human rights are truly a dynamic field, and a critical component in promoting and teaching human rights on a national, regional and global stage is to remember to attack both the mind and the heart, although she cautioned that we must convey the stories of human rights violations to our children very delicately.


Post a Comment

<< Home