SGI Quarterly

Issue 66 | October 2011

The United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training | Interview with Marcia V. J. Kran

  • Human rights education

[Photo credit: © OSCE/Alberto Andreani]

Marcia V. J. Kran is Director of the Research and Right to Development Division in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). She explains the context and importance of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training.

SGI Quarterly: Can you explain the role of human rights education in building a “culture of human rights”?

Marcia V. J. Kran: Let me start by giving two concrete examples where knowledge by rights-holders about their rights has been crucial in enhancing the realization of human rights: First, the progressive recognition of women’s rights over the last decades, and second, the recent democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East. In both cases, the culture of human rights has been a significant factor in bringing about change.

A culture of human rights envisages communities and societies where human rights are valued, respected and protected. It also requires human rights norms to be promoted at different levels, from schools and the formal education system to informal community networks and associations. It can develop in a setting where it is supported by state institutions, for example, law enforcement, the judiciary or national human rights institutions that protect the human rights of all. This also requires an environment where everyone can express their opinion freely without fear of repression by the state or other actors.

We often speak of human rights education as an important means for building a universal culture of human rights; learning, education, training and information efforts concerning human rights can help make these rights a reality in society at large. Through human rights education, learners are empowered to identify and understand their entitlements and to effectively claim them, while respecting the rights of others. And, for government officials and other persons with the responsibility to respect, protect and fulfill the rights of others, human rights education develops their capacities to do so.


The 16th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, 2011. [Photo credit: © UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré]

SGIQ: What is the significance of the United Nations Declaration?

MVJK: The adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training by the Human Rights Council in 2011 signals a renewed commitment of the international community to human rights education and training. As the first United Nations legal instrument devoted exclusively to human rights education and training, the Declaration is an important reference and guiding document, supporting both states and other stakeholders in this area.

The text places human rights education and training at the center of efforts to promote, protect and effectively realize human rights for all. It clearly defines human rights education and training as a lifelong process which builds human rights knowledge and skills as well as attitudes and behaviors which uphold human rights. It highlights the existing obligations of states under international human rights law to provide and facilitate human rights education and training, and the important role played by other national actors such as national human rights institutions and civil society. It also refers to the role of United Nations human rights mechanisms and international cooperation in support of national efforts.

Once the United Nations General Assembly adopts the Declaration later this year, we will encourage broad dissemination and promotion so it may be used as guidance in the elaboration and implementation of quality human rights education and training initiatives and programs. The active involvement of civil society will be important both to promote and to provide human rights education and training, for which the Declaration can have an empowering effect.

The value of international instruments lies in the action they can catalyze nationally and locally, when relevant actors seize them as useful opportunities or tools of empowerment.

SGIQ: How can United Nations initiatives support human rights education?

MVJK: The international community has adopted a number of global frameworks such as the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004), the World Programme for Human Rights Education (launched in 2005), and, the most recent initiative, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, which encourage the development of sustainable national strategies and programs.

While the Declaration essentially represents an inspirational statement, the World Programme seeks to promote a common understanding of the basic principles and methodologies, to provide a concrete framework for action and to strengthen partnerships and cooperation from the international level to the grassroots. Two Plans of Action offer guidance on implementing (1) human rights education in primary and secondary school systems and (2) human rights education in higher education and human rights training for teachers and educators, civil servants, law enforcement officers and the military. Global initiatives such as the World Programme can also facilitate awareness-raising, an exchange of information and dissemination of good practice, by means of our website and through OHCHR publications.

The increasing number of international initiatives marks a growing recognition that human rights education plays a vital role in fostering respect, participation, equality and nondiscrimination, human rights standards to which all individuals are entitled. At the same time, the value of international instruments lies in the action they can catalyze nationally and locally, when relevant actors seize them as useful opportunities or tools of empowerment.

For these efforts at national and local level, states “should create a safe and enabling environment for the engagement of civil society, the private sector and other relevant stakeholders in human rights education and training, in which the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all, including of those engaged in the process, are fully protected,” to quote from Article 7 of the new Declaration.

The international frameworks, instruments and tools I have mentioned provide key principles for the development and implementation of national strategies for human rights education and related activities. As a significant amount of human rights education is carried out by civil society in settings outside the formal education system, state action in this area should be inclusive and involve a variety of other actors within society, for example, professional networks and associations; human rights resources, training and documentation centers; nongovernmental organizations; the private sector; and others. Participation and close collaboration of these actors are indispensable to maximize resources. National and local activities can be supported by international cooperation from the United Nations system and other international and regional intergovernmental organizations.