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ACT Project - Phase 1: Assisting Communities Together - Pilot phase 1998-1999

"Bringing Human Rights Close to ..."

"Where do human rights begin: in small places, close to - so close and so small that they can not be seen on a map of the world." 

Eleanor Roosevelt, 1948

l. INTRODUCTION

The ACT Project (Assisting Communities Together) was launched in 1998 as a practical contribution to the commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It focuses on a "bottom up approach" by emphasizing the role which civil society plays in the promotion and protection of human rights.  The long-term objectives of the ACT Project are to empower people at the local level to be pro-active in ensuring greater respect for human rights and to strengthen partnerships between the United Nations and local human rights constituencies.  The Project supports institutions and NGOs, as well as individuals undertaking human rights initiatives by providing micro-grants of up to US$ 2,000.  It provides an example of cooperation within the UN system, namely the ACT Project is made feasible through a partnership between the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Offices for Project Services (UNOPS).

In the pilot phase of the ACT Project, over 300 completed applications proposing activities for ACT Project funding were returned to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights through selected UNDP Resident Representatives and OHCHR field offices who provided written comments and recommendations for each application submitted through their respective offices.  69 grants totaling approximately US$ 130,000 from voluntary funds for the 50th Anniversary were awarded in 24 countries in the pilot phase of the project.

Various activities have been supported under the pilot phase.  All of them were aimed at raising awareness about and promoting either human rights as a general issue, or fundamental rights of specific populations (children, women, people infected by HIV/AIDS).  More than 7,000 persons have directly benefitted from the supported activities; indirect beneficiaries (families and friends of addressed persons) can be estimated to tens of thousands.  The feedback from both the grants recipients and UN field staff shows enthusiasm about the ACT Project and the need for a permanent support through it.

II. ACTIVITIES SUPPORTED UNDER THE PILOT PHASE OF THE ACT PROJECT

1. Raising awareness on human rights among the general public

Because informing about human rights is the basis for the protection of those rights, the ACT Project supported activities targeted to the general public, such as the creation of information centres on human rights, special TV programmes, etc.

In Burundi, a grant recipient organized a cultural event which consisted of songs, dances and dramatic performances.  139 participants (53 women, 20 men and 66 children) took part. The recipient reports that the purpose of the event was to assist people in looking back on the human rights violations which took place in the country nearly 6 years ago and to suggest useful recommendations for the country's authorities to protect human rights today. The recipient noted the difficulty of transporting some of the performers hired to the somewhat isolated area where the event took place. 

In El Salvador, the Instituto de Derechos Humanos de la Universidad Centroamericana created an information centre where victims of human rights abuses can be informed of their rights.  This Institute also organized days of sensitization about human rights from September 1998 to 20 January 1999.

Comments: the Institute stresses the need to be supported in its activities; its members need to be well informed about the United Nations human rights machinery, especially as far as children's rights are concerned; it could be provided with human rights materials from OHCHR.

In Georgia, "Studio RE" organized a TV discussion show focussed on the violations of human rights during public assemblies (Article 25 of Constitution of Georgia).  26 participants took part of the TV programme including representatives of Georgian NGOs, authorities and the public.  The grant recipient reports that governmental authorities acknowledged the problem.

In The former Yugoslav Republic of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a "human rights corner" was established at an elementary school in the multi-ethnic village of Dupjacani.  The OHCHR field office in Skopje reports that the corner was furnished with various human rights publications and books, and that activities such as an essay contest on the rights of the child were carried out.  OHCHR also notes that not all activities were implemented according to the proposal but concludes: 

"regardless of the deficiencies described above...the response to these human rights activities was overwhelming.  The interest and the awareness of human rights raised among the children as well as among the school's teachers was enormous and positive". 

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), the Ad Hoc Alliance for the Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the UDHR, an umbrella of 47 NGOs, distributed human rights promotional materials to its members, such as leaflets of the UDHR, lighters, stickers, badges with articles of the UDHR printed on them in order to inform the general public.  The highlight of the activities was held on 10 December 1998.  On that day, 500 persons (200 women and 300 men) participated in the distribution which took place in several towns in the FRY.  A ceremony was in one of these towns during which speeches were made and a play was performed.  The recipient noted the welcoming of the material by the general population who appreciated being informed on the topic in order to act for the protection of human rights; the actors of the projects did not meet with any difficulties.

Recommendations: the recipient stressed the need for greater financial support so as to improve the ACT Project in future.

In FRY, as a result of the grant received, the Public Library "Vuk Karadzic" purchased various books dealing with human rights issues, especially with women's and children's rights.  The Chief of Mission of OHCHR stated that " in this small remote community books have a special value".

Still in FRY, the Serbian Democratic Forum provided legal aid and services to refugees mainly for their return to Croatia.  800 persons benefited from the project and 200 people were able to return to their country of origin.

2. Translating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights into local languages 

1998, which marked the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, provided the opportunity to OHCHR to make the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the text translated into the greatest number of languages.  Many people cannot access basic information on human rights; they live in remote regions and speak local languages.  ACT allowed several thousands of persons, who probably would never have heard about human rights, to become aware of their basic rights.

In Burundi, a project focussed on women living in camps for displaced persons. The UDHR was translated into the Kirundi language and disseminated.  Audio cassettes of the UDHR were also produced and distributed and a series of human rights discussions were organised in the camps in which approximately 200 women participated.

In Malawi, Mr. Ali K. Phiri translated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi, into Yao.  The Yao people are the third largest tribal grouping; they are outgoing and very active in the political life of their communities.  The recipient made 1,500 copies of the translated UDHR in booklet form as well as 500 copies of the Bill of Rights.  Then, he visited various villages to distribute the booklets and to talk to people about human rights.  Many of the people who received the booklets said that they hoped that they would help them to know their rights and which button to press when a violation has occurred.

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, FROLI (Society for Roma Culture and Education) distributed 1000 copies of the UDHR in the Roma language and organized an open discussion on the theme "Roma Rights Are Human Rights", attended by about 50 persons.

3. Informing on children's rights

The United Nations has decided to develop a special text concerning children because, given their vulnerability, they are entitled to special care and assistance.  The Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the United Nations in 1989 and entered into force in 1990.  Almost all member States of the United Nations have ratified it.   Many initiatives supported by the ACT Project showed that awareness on children's rights has reached various young populations in many regions of the world.

In Burundi, the Association for Peace and Development of Bukeye organized a 3-day seminar in which 50 young men and women (aged 16 to 30) participated.  Discussions were held on experience sharing and on a new approach of dialogue between young people of various origins; this led to the adoption of a common way of reflecting on human rights issues.  The central theme of the seminar was that the respect of others' rights is respect of my rights.  The seminar finished with a football competition in which every one got a prize.  The success of that competition led the organizers to hold two other matches and new ones are planned.  The greatest achievement of the seminar was, according to the NGO report, that "people [hidden in the forest because of the fighting] were coming from the Kiriba forest by hundreds".  The NGO Legal Representative stresses the need for a sustainable effort on the part of OHCHR to support human rights activities in the field, and especially "Administration's [Headquarter members] should be more  sensitised , invited to collaborate.  In fact, they are more often in contact with the populations.  They could then be efficient if they are gained to that cause."

In Croatia, all three grant recipients organized events involving art and culture (exhibitions, theatre performances and concerts) along with seminars, round tables and lectures on the topic of human rights and the UDHR, targeted at youth. 

In Jordan, the Mizan Law Group for Human Rights organized a workshop entitled "Child labour - the actual reasons and solution as seen by working children". Participants included 74 children and 36 adults. UNDP reports that the workshop was well received and attended by the Government Minister for Social Development who committed the authorities to establishing a mechanism to finance schooling and pocket money for working children in Jordan who were currently not in school.  The grant recipient reports that it has established a committee, "Children for Children's Rights", to ensure that applicants for the above-mentioned financial assistance will receive help in completing a relevant questionnaire.

Comments: UNDP Jordan programme officer reports:"It is striking to see how much you can do with little money! You give it to the right, enthusiastic people on the ground and they do wonders with it!"  And, "I believe that very little seed money might often be exactly what it takes to move an idea from utopia to real action. In many cases I believe it is also of great help to have the blue print of a UN logo backstopping a project proposal. May I therefore give my strongest recommendations for the extension of the ACT fund idea." 

In The former Yugoslav Republic of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, one of the selected NGOs translated into Macedonian a simplified version of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, prepared by "Defence for Children International". This was disseminated among 220 children living in 3 orphanages.  A subsequent lecture and discussion were organized for the children with a representative of the Helsinki Committee on Human Rights in the The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  An art contest was also organized with the winning picture being printed on T-shirts which all the participants received. The recipient reports that it was the first time most of the children had heard about human rights.

In The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, a local office was set up where citizens can report human rights complaints, as well as a series of publicity and education initiatives to promote the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  OHCHR Skopje field office reports: "the implementation of the project was highly efficient. The grant recipient maintained close cooperation with OHCHR Skopje and...actively sought and followed advice and information on substantive issues; informed and gave explanations on activity and deadline adjustments it needed to make; provide timely and up-to-the-point reports on the progress made."

In Malawi, the Nkhomano Centre for Development was another recipient.  This recipient's aim was to mount an awareness campaign on the rights of women and children so as to change attitudes that reinforce violence against these groups in the Ndirande township, in the city of Blantyre.  This was achieved through the training of 6 community-based human rights educators and the production and distribution of leaflets.  Women responded by saying that they wished they had been made aware of their rights earlier, especially property rights.  The result has also been that the recipient organization is now receiving many phone calls from the community, especially children, who would like to know more.

Still in Malawi, the Youth Watch Society was the third recipient.  The project involved  the translation of the Bill of Rights of the Republic of Malawi Constitution and the Convention on the Rights of the Child into understandable Tumbuka language. A development brochure including highlights on children's rights was also completed.

Comment: the recipient said that Act projects, if carried out regularly, provide great positive change at the grass root level.  Also, ACT projects should be decentralized so that approval and funding could be done by local communities.

In Malawi, the Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement (AYISE) carried out a human rights programme in the Thyolo District by promoting human rights among youths and teachers in 13 schools in the Thyolo district and the establishment of 13 human rights clubs.  During the 2-day workshop, the following issues were discussed: human rights and responsibilities of citizens, national and international human rights instruments, children's and youth rights and responsibilities, women's rights and gender issues, rights of people with disabilities, democracy, the three branches of government and the roles of patrons. The participants were asked to fill in an evaluation form on completion of the workshop, in which they stated that they understood the above issues better but they felt that refresher courses were needed.

In Moldova, as a result of the grant, a recipient purchased a computer with connection to Internet for a secondary school.  The inauguration took place on 10 December 1998.

In Nepal, in December 1998, the Village Women Consciousness Centre, an NGO based in Sindhuli district, organised 18 one-day workshops on Children's Rights, Entitlements and Welfare in each of the 18 remote villages in northern Sindhuli.

In the Philippines, the Stairway Foundation Inc. organized a 5-day workshop on children's rights with former street children of Manila, including plays, sport competitions, songs, etc.

In South Africa, the Children's Rights Centre produced a poster kit which included two full-colour posters called "Human Rights Begin with Children's Rights": one printed in English, the other in Zulu. The kit also contained a pamphlet on the rights of the child, which included practical activities for adults, children and teenagers.  The poster kits were distributed to 300 organizations and institutions including 100 libraries throughout KwaZulu-Natal, 100 primary schools and 40 rural development organizations. 60 additional kits were given to member and partner organizations working on issues such as street children, child health and education, children with disabilities, children in the legal and penal systems and child labor.  The recipient notes that the  network of distribution which was developed for the project will continue for future projects. The recipient also stated, "We feel that particularly for remote schools the library as a central learning resource is vital.  We hope that in some small way we have strengthened this."   The recipient also notes that the delay in receiving grant funds made it impossible to complete the project as originally scheduled. 

The South African Council for English Education conducted a debating tournament in eight High Schools; three rounds were carried out on the following topics: human rights and environment, and human rights protection within a democratic government.  According to the NGO report, the full objectives were met and even more: a Debating League was established; another tournament was scheduled and should take place during a National Event in 2000.

In Swaziland, the supported project involved organizing school events on 10 December 1998 to mark Human Rights Day and to promote and create a culture of respect for human rights.  Drama, music and poems were presented by pupils from four rural based schools representing each of the four regions of the country. The recipient reports that the day began with participants marching along the main streets of the city of Mbabane in brightly coloured T-shirts and carrying banners and posters. In the workshop portion of the event, students were given copies of the UDHR and other materials and given the assignment of returning to their schools to teach others about human rights.

In the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, the Uzice Child Rights Centre organized a seminar on the rights of the child for the students of the Teacher's College and secondary schools of Uzice.  The Chief of Mission of OHCHR stressed that the NGO "had been established in August 1998 and grant received within ACT Project helped them to gain confidence and recognition in their community".  The Committee for Human Rights organized a literacy contest ("Human Rights are - My Rights") in 80 schools for pupils 11-15 years old.  The booklet of ten awarded essays, printed in 1000 copies, is both in English and Serbian.

4. Informing on women's rights

Like children, women are particularly vulnerable due to their status in many societies.  The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1979; the Convention entered into force in 1981.   All over the world, the expansion of the awareness of women's rights takes place first in communities (villages, schools, libraries, ...).  The ACT Project provides a good opportunity of observation from this perspective. 

In Mongolia, the Liberal Women's Brain Pool has developed a "Human Rights Teaching Manual", with women rights as the main topic in Mongolian language (1000 copies have been distributed to NGOs and human rights activists/teachers).

In Nepal, Women Feeling Unity Forum, an NGO based in Nawalparasi district, mobilised 18 higher secondary schools and its students for quiz and essay competitions on Human Rights in December 1998 and January 1999.  It also organised a district-level workshop on "Human Rights and Women" discussing issues like property rights, legalisation of abortion, gender equity and preferences for women in education.  121 people participated in the 3-day workshop.

In the Philippines, the Philippines Educational Theatre Association performed a play in many towns to raise awareness about violence against women at .  As of June 1999, more than 700 persons had seen the play.  Several newspapers in the country had written articles about it.

5. Informing on human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS

The HIV/AIDS pandemic is spreading all over the world, especially in developing countries and in countries in transition.  The respect of human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS is fully part of prevention against the disease.  The ACT Project, with the support of the Joint United Nations Project on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), gave the opportunity to activists to raise this issue at the local level.

In the Dominican Republic, a discussion forum and a workshop on the human rights of people living with HIV/AIDS was organized by the grant recipient.  UNAIDS also provided resources for the event, which was attended by 78 participants including local human rights and HIV/AIDS NGOs, government officials, UN representatives and individuals living with HIV/AIDS. The workshop, organized exclusively for people living with HIV, provided the opportunity to empower them with greater knowledge of their human rights.

Comments: the UNDP representative confirms that the project was successful in raising awareness and that a committee was formed at the forum which will collect information on cases of human rights violations of people living with HIV/AIDS in the country to be presented to the Supreme Court in March 1999.

In Uruguay, the grant recipient organized a seminar on human rights and health. 120 participants, mainly from the social service and health fields, took part in the event.  The recipient reports that the seminar addressed discrimination in access to health care, particularly by people living with HIV/AIDS and less children.  It also notes that the participation of local media helped to convey to the wider public that "health is a right for everybody."  The recipient also plans to publish a short publication outlining the proposals developed during the seminar, as well as descriptions of violations of the right to health. The recipient reports that problems with editing have delayed its publication until the end of March. 

III. LESSONS LEARNED

The pilot phase has confirmed that the ACT Project is a suitable tool not only in assisting human rights organizations already active at the local level but also for encouraging others to launch ideas and projects.  It has shown also that individuals, groups and non-governmental organizations at the local level, particularly in developing and transition countries, can be effectively assisted through relatively modest grants.  Great interest both on the part of civil society (as can be seen in the large number of applications submitted) as well as from UN partners who have demonstrated their willingness to cooperate with OHCHR in the implementation of the project, indicates that the ACT Project has responded to existing needs.

Governments welcomed the creation of the ACT Project and have encouraged OHCHR to continue its development.  The General Assembly of the United Nations in its resolution 53/153 welcomed the initiative of OHCHR to develop the ACT Project and requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue its implementation as a means for supporting human rights education activities undertaken by non-governmental organizations.

All of this confirms that the ACT Project has been a timely initiative and should be developed further so that it becomes an ongoing link between the United Nations human rights programme and local human rights activities around the world.