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"Human rights are our common heritage and their realization depends on the contributions
that each and every one of us is willing to make, individually and collectively, now and in the future."

Louise Arbour
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

 

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2004 - Statement by the United Nations Deputy-Secretary-General to the General Assembly

Every year, Human Rights Day provides us with an opportunity to review the progress we have made, since the inception of the United Nations, in meeting the Charter objective of encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms for all.

I think we can all agree that we have made some impressive progress.  Today, largely thanks to the United Nations, a global system of human rights law is now in place.

But this Human Rights Day is also an occasion to remember persisting human rights abuses around the world, and to point to the enormous efforts still needed to make human rights a reality for all.  It is an opportunity to rededicate ourselves to the essential strategy of human rights education.

Human rights education is an indispensable tool:

  • For ensuring that every individual enjoys a life of dignity;
  • For public officials to give effect to the human rights commitments of the State; and
  • For society as a whole to develop and nurture a culture of human rights, and which is a prerequisite for harmonious and peaceful development.

Human rights education covers many facets:

  • Learning our rights;
  • Learning mechanisms for their protection;
  • Developing skills for using those rights in our daily lives; and
  • reinforcing behaviour aimed at defending and promoting them.

In other words, human rights education is a people-centred and action-oriented process.

Today, as we mark the end of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, you will look at possible future initiatives for the enhancement of human rights education worldwide.  You will consider, in particular, the launch of a World Programme for Human Rights Education to start on 1 January 2005.

For its first three years, this programme would focus on the integration of human rights education within the primary and secondary school systems.  You have before you a draft plan of action for this first phase, prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in close consultation with UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), as well as governmental and non-governmental experts and practitioners.

The draft plan draws on principles and frameworks derived from several international human rights instruments.  It recognizes that the integration of human rights education in the primary and secondary school systems is a complex process requiring action on several fronts, all equally important and mutually reinforcing. These would include:

  • Developing and adopting coherent educational policies, legislation and strategies that reflect human rights principles, as well as measures to implement those policies, with the involvement of all stakeholders;
  • Ensuring that all teaching and learning processes and tools incorporate human rights principles;
  • Promoting a learning environment in which human rights are respected and upheld –- one in which students, teachers and parents practise human rights and solidarity in daily life; and
  • Providing the teaching profession and school leadership with the knowledge and skills needed to facilitate the learning and practice of human rights in schools.

Mr. President, on this Human Rights Day, I join the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in paying tribute to the many human rights educators and human rights defenders around the world who contribute day to day to building a universal culture of human rights.

These men and women do so in formal and informal settings, in small or large communities, and very often in the face of difficulties and danger.  They do so both through the development of educational initiatives and by setting an example with their own human rights conduct.  They should serve as an inspiration to all of us.  Human rights are our common heritage, and their realization depends on the contribution that each one of us is willing to make.


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