5 September 2008
Press Release

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York



Education and LEARNING as a way of life’

(Received from a UN Information Officer.)

PARIS, 5 September -- Three months prior to the launch, on 10 December 2008, of the International Year of Human Rights Learning, a round table was held this morning in Paris on the theme “Human Rights Education and Learning as a Way of Life”.  The panel discussion was held in the framework of the annual Department of Public Information (DPI)/Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Conference, which is concluding the work of its sixty-first session this evening at United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris.

Moderated by Michel Forst, Secretary General of the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights, the round table sought to examine the fact that many of the world’s inhabitants live in ignorance of the human rights to which they are entitled, and that could be addressed through promotion of human rights education.

Mr. Forst underscored that human rights education could not be improvised.  The goal of such education was to enable individuals to claim their rights, and that required closely tailored strategies.

Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS, World Alliance for Citizen Participation, emphasized that the people who most needed the protection provided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were often completely unaware of its existence.  Thus the content and the principles of that Declaration had to be more widely accessible.  Moreover, all civil society organizations should mainstream a human rights perspective in their work, in their policies and in their staffing.  The year 2008 was more than a simple anniversary (of the sixtieth adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).  Faced with the challenges of climate change, the global food and energy crises, and a looming world economic slowdown, it was more important than ever to reaffirm and work for human rights, as she feared that all of those challenges could be used as pretexts to flout human rights protections.

Tilder Kumichi, a Programme Coordinator with the Global Education and Environmental Developmental Foundation, said that in Africa it was often said that ignorance was an illness.  That was particularly true with regard to human rights.  Human rights education held a vital place in rectifying that situation.  Noting that it was not always easy to access certain populations, notably in traditional villages, where the idea of individuals as possessors of rights and what that meant was often poorly understood, he explained that to effect real change on the ground it was necessary to translate concepts and texts, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, so that not just their content, but their meaning, was accessible to all.

Saskia Law, a trainer and consultant in human rights and multicultural education, highlighted that many international human rights instruments mandated the promotion of human rights education.  Youth was not the future, as was so often said, but the present.  It was, therefore, necessary to redouble efforts to ensure that the human rights message was communicated to them.  In that connection, it was important to remember that young people best understood what was concrete and tangible.  For that reason, human rights educators had to demonstrate a high degree of integrity themselves, if they wished to teach youth about human rights.

Before opening the discussion on the subject at hand, Mr. Forst had drawn attention to an issue that had come up in the Conference yesterday, where many participants had complained that they had had difficulty in getting a visa from the French Government to attend the Conference.  For the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights the issue of visas and the right to freedom of movement was a particularly important one.

When the DPI/NGO Conference reconvenes at 3 p.m., it will hold a formal closing, which will provide feedback on the five round tables, and featuring closing remarks from a number of senior United Nations and Government officials, as well as human rights activists.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record