Skip to main content

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Opening statement by Kate Gilmore, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, at the High-level panel discussion on the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training: good practices and challenges

Human rights education

14 September 2016

14 September 2016

Excellencies, colleagues and friends,

This Council is necessarily engaged in discussion of the world's human rights crises and chronic problems - from poverty to conflict, discrimination and exclusion, preventable diseases, false imprisonment, climate change impacts and beyond. Every day, we are confronted with further news of hatred for each other and of ready resort to violence; and the policy response so often we witness to be further violence and terror – leading to more terror and violence - a spiral it seems in many places degrading into contemporary barbarity.     

Strategies to tackle the world’s challenges cannot be confined to either those born of anger or lust for revenge nor the knee jerk of short electoral cycles – as compelling a realpolitik as these may be.  The wisdom instead of state leadership worthy of that name recognises that many time horizons structure the just public policy agenda and many more policy instruments offer enduring solutions than the false promise of the kick when kicked or the punch when punched. 

Yet for this wisdom to prevail over more expedient interests, the core values of leadership and constituents alike, matter enormously.  If our decisions – the choices we exercise are grounded in a shared understanding that we all belong to the one human family and that each of us is equally deserving of dignity, respect and justice, then a richer menu of policy choices opens up to us beyond the confines of those authored by might over right.

Transmission of these core and universal values – and exploration of the implications these hold for our daily lives – whether or not we have formal power – that is the task of human rights education (HRE).
In a few minutes, Premalatha, a Dalit child from a village in Tamil Nadu where poverty, and discrimination based on caste and gender, shape children’s lives from birth, will share with us her wisdom on this question.  From a human rights education programme in her school, Premalatha learned that which she knew in her heart to be true – that she is equal to every other human being; that the international community has encoded this in rights, and from this affirmation of her inherent worth, she draw strength and confidence in the future.  Even without change in her material circumstances she is transformed – remade no longer a victim but a human rights defender, eager and ready to stand up for her rights and those of others.

That is the extraordinary power of human rights consciousness and education is the accelerant of that transformation. Through its combination of self discovery, logic, facts, evidence and age old truths, children and adults emerge into a consciousness of their and others inherent rights to claim them more effectively and defend them more comprehensively; to freer, more informed choices; to develop the aptitude and attitudes the appetite - to resolve conflict non-violently, and to contribute effectively to community formation and renewal and sustainability. HRE supports critical, analytical thinking where passivity may otherwise reside and it invitees awareness of inclusive solutions rooted in tolerance, upheld in law and viable for one and for all. And, it helps those who bear human rights duties – those responsible for protecting and fulfilling rights to meet those obligations.

But HRE is not merely a curriculum content.  Because it addresses us in our most intimate selves – Who am I? On what basis shall I decide my daily actions? Whose voice shall I hear?  Because this empowerment through human rights education is more than content alone, the educational process must also be relevant to the daily lives and lived experience of the learners. To be effective, a human rights education programme’s methodology must engage those whom it addresses, through participatory learning methods, engage in a dialogue of human meaning and purpose - about how human rights norms can be translated into reality.


Our panel discussion today marks five years since the adoption by the General Assembly of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training. This Declaration places human rights education and training as a core pillar of our great project to realize all rights for all. It emphasizes States’ obligations under international human rights law to provide and facilitate human rights education and training, as well as the important role played by other national actors –such as national human rights institutions and civil society organizations. It highlights the value of multi-stakeholder initiatives and the need for support to national efforts by international human rights mechanisms and international cooperation in general.        

The adoption of the Declaration, in 2011, was part of a standard-setting process that began with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which expressly tasks every individual and institution to promote respect for human rights through teaching and education. Since then, provisions on human rights education have been incorporated into many international instruments.

Member States have also adopted many international frameworks for action such as the Decade for Human Rights Education, which ended in 2004, and the ongoing World Programme for Human Rights Education. Human rights education is also included in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, as a specific target of Goal 4 on quality education.

Thus, internationally, we have been witnessing the launching of numerous initiatives to encourage human rights education and training. However, all these instruments and commitments have little value unless they can inspire real action at the national and local levels, where human rights education and training need to constantly take place.

The good news is that this is happening. A recent report issued by my Office in the context of the World Programme (A/HRC/30/24) informed that, in some countries, institutions increasingly pursue human rights education programmes, with better tools and methodologies and with growing cooperation within government departments and among governments, academia, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations.

This panel aims to make sure that we keep improving. Let me offer five emphases, for your consideration discussion, this afternoon and beyond.

First, human rights education should be contextualised – it must address the realities and the specific human rights challenges people face in their lives.

Second, it must be coupled with broader human rights strategies that tackle problems holistically and involve many other courses of action - institutional reform, to name one.  HRE is essential but insufficient.

Third, human rights education requires all actors to cooperate, at all levels – local, national, regional and international. We will hear from our panellists of concerted national initiatives, which can be of inspiration to other countries. I hope that this panel will also look at strengthening the role of international human rights mechanisms and institutions in support of national efforts.

Fourth, an improved international reporting and monitoring system in the area of human rights education could encourage national implementation through disseminating good practice and expert advice. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides an additional opportunity for this to happen.

Last but not least, and coming back to my initial remarks, human rights education fosters our common humanity beyond our individual diversities. It is not an “optional extra” or just another routine obligation. It teaches fundamental lessons.

You don’t have to like me to respect my rights.  I don’t have to agree with you to uphold your rights.  You don’t have to be like me, for me to protect your rights.  Rights are not a system of endorsement or appreciation – they are not an award or a test result nor a beauty parade.  Rights are for the best and for the worst of us.  For each of us – to the exclusion of none of us in the interests of all of us. 

In short, human rights education is vital to sustain social cohesion, promote inclusion and participation and ultimately prevent violence and conflict in our societies. It is an investment in our future which we cannot afford to overlook.

We are gifted today with the world’s largest generation of children and adolescents – the largest ever seen in all of human history.  They are the sustainable development generation.  It is on their trajectory that human progress over the next 15 years will rise or fall.  We would be wise indeed then to heed the words of the incomparable Nelson Mandela put it, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”.  Is it not time to arm ourselves with this best of weapons there fore – curricula that underscores we are in deed born equal in rights and in dignity.

Thank you.