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Human Rights Education (Peace through Justice)

Page history last edited by Stephanie Knox 10 years, 3 months ago

Human Rights Education: Lesson Objectives

After this section, participants should be able to meet the following objectives:

  • Define human rights education (HRE)
  • Describe the key principles of human rights education
  • Understand the key documents related to human rights education
  • Understand ways to integrate human rights education in the classroom


Guiding Questions

Before you read this section, consider the following questions:

  • Are human rights culturally relative? 
  • When you think of "human rights," what first comes to mind? 





If you want peace, work for justice.

      -- Pope Paul VI (1897-1978)



Introduction: What is Human Rights Education?

According to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Education is defined as:


"Training, dissemination, and information efforts aimed at the building of a universal culture of human rights through the imparting of knowledge and skills and the molding of attitudes directed to:

a) the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms

b) the full development of the human personality and the sense of dignity

c) the promotion of understanding, tolerance, gender equality, and friendship among all nations, indigenous peoples and racial, national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups

d) the enabling of all persons to participate effectively in a free society"

(United Nations, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1997).


The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and related international conventions and treaties form the foundation of human rights education. HRE seeks to promote knowledge of the rights within these treaties, ways to promote rights, and the mechanisms for handling rights violations. Learning about human rights is largely cognitive, and includes human rights history, documents, and implementation mechanisms (Flowers, 2000).


HRE is more than just understanding rights, however. As mentioned above, HRE is education for the full human development and participation of all members of society. Reardon (1999) explains that the HRE field seeks to


  • develop the general acceptance of human dignity as a fundamental principle to be observed throughout society,
  • assure that all people are aware that they are endowed with rights that are universal, integral, and irrevocable, and
  • demonstrate the connection between human rights issues to a broad range of social problems (p. 15).


Therefore, human rights education is both education for and about human rights. When HRE is education for human rights, it promotes understanding and embraces the principles of human equality and dignity and the commitment to respect and protect the rights of all people (Flowers, 2000). This requires values such as understanding, tolerance, equality, and friendship. The objectives of education for human rights are more personal and include values clarification, attitude change, development of solidarity, and the skills for advocacy and action (Flowers, 2000). HRE is education about human rights when students are learning about the human rights treaties, mechanisms, terminology, and institutions. 


As HRE seeks to promote justice, it involves examining existing power imbalances and inequalities and seeking to address these through action. HRE, like all of peace education, is greatly influenced by the work of  Paulo Freire and his pedagogies for ending the cycle of oppression. Freire's pedagogies are used widely in HRE. Exercises such as power mapping (explained below) can be used to examine power relations and find the source of imbalance, and windows of opportunity for action.


HRE emphasizes the reciprocal relationship between rights and responsibilities. We all have rights, and we also have the responsibility to exercise our own rights, as well as protect the rights of others. 


Human Rights documents and basic principles

Human rights documents and basic principles are the key component of knowledge development in HRE. 


Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)

The UDHR is the primary document of human rights education. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly (1948) in the aftermath of the horrible human rights violations that took place during World War II. It is important for peace educators to be familiar with this document and apply it practically to HRE. Please see the Appendix for the full text.

According to Nancy Flowers (1999), the foundational principles of the UDHR include:

Equality- Article 1 of the UDHR proclaims that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights"

Universality - Human rights are universal; they are based on certain moral and ethical values that are shared by all regions of the world. Governments and communities have the responsibility to recognize and uphold them. However, this does not mean that human rights cannot change or that they are experienced in the same way by all people.

Nondiscrimination - Human rights apply equally to all people, regardless of any aspect of their identity or role.

Indivisibility - Human rights should be addressed as an indivisible body, including civil, political, social, economic, cultural and collective rights. 

Interdependence - Human rights are connected, much like petals of one flower, or beads on one necklace. The rights of one person are connected to the rights of others. Violation of one right detracts from other rights. Conversely, promotion of one right supports other rights.

Responsibility - responsibility falls upon governments and individuals. Governments have the responsibility to respect and protect the human rights of all citizens. Individuals also have the responsibility to uphold human rights, and to hold violators accountable (including governments and other institutions). 


 The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is the key human rights document, in addition to the UDHR, that expressly outlines the rights of children (UN General Assembly, 1989). While the UDHR equally applies to children, they remain one of the most vulnerable groups in terms of rights violations. This is why a convention that explicitly states their rights was necessary. Like the UDHR, it is important for peace eduators to be familiar with the complete text, which can be found in the Appendix.


The CRC rights can be divided into 3 categories: survival and development rights, protection rights, and participation rights. Survival and development rights ensure access to the resources, skills and contributions necessary for the full development of the child. Protection rights include protection from all forms of abuse, neglect, and cruelty. Participation rights protect children's right to free speech and right to participate in matters affecting their social, cultural, religious, political, and economic life.


The CRC is an important tool in human rights education. It is very important for children to know and understand their own rights, and to begin to develop a sense of responsibility for the rights of others. The Human Rights Education Associates website has example lessons for different knowledge and development levels concerning the CRC, and is an excellent resource for teachers.


Pedagogy example: Power mapping

Power mapping is an interesting tool that can be used to examine the power relations in a given situation. This exercise involves looking at a problem or issue, and examining the institutions and individuals connected to the issue, and the power relations between them. While this activitiy is probably best done with upper level learners, it could also be adapted for learners at earlier developmental phases.


For this exercise, you will need a white board/black board or large paper and markers. The idea is to start with a circle in the center, and each step moves outward in concentric circles.

1. Identify a key issue or problem that you would like to solve, or a person or institution that you think can solve the problem. Place this issue/person/entity in the center (on a flip chart, on a blackboard)

2. Identify the key institutions or associations related to that issue/person/entity. Place these institutions in a ring around the item in the center.

3. Map individuals associated with the institutions in #2. Place these individuals in a ring outside the  second ring.

4. Map all other associations with the individuals in the second ring (for example, connections that group members might have to the individuals, etc)

5. Determine power relations - draw lines connecting individuals and institutions that have relations to one another

6. Target priority relationships - looking at the power relations, look at the paths that are easily accessible, or paths that have the most potential for impact.

7. Make an action plan.


Sample Lesson 

The following lesson for primary grades is an example for how to apply the CRC in the classroom.


The Convention is Essential to the Lives of Children (Reardon & Cabezudo, 2002) 


“The Hague Appeal for Peace supports initiatives to ensure the universal adoption and implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child including the elimination of child labor and the use of child soldiers.”

—The Hague Agenda, Recommendation 7, p. 1939



"The Unit that follows introduces the Convention on the Rights of the Child and provides an opportunity to demonstrate how human rights issues relate to other world questions such as the health of the environment, and how symbols and folk art can express human experience and meaning. The tree of life is a wonderful metaphor for use in human rights education. Metaphors of living systems also help to introduce learners to holistic and ecological thinking. This Unit [and Unit 8] were designed by Susan Lechter, a Canadian graduate of Harvard University and Teachers College, Columbia University."

SOURCE: Quoted and adapted from Betty A. Reardon, Educating for Human Dignity: Learning About Rights and Responsibilities, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1995, pp. 51-56.

GRADE LEVEL AND SUBJECTS: Elementary grades, 3 – 6; language arts, social studies, art

MATERIALS: Newsprint, magic markers, a large piece of cardboard, assorted markers, colored construction paper; copies of the complete CRC can be found on-line (www.unicef.org/crc/crc.htm) or ordered from the United Nations.

METHODS: Defining and distinguishing between rights and needs; interpreting the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

CONCEPTS: International conventions, principles, human rights, basic needs

OBJECTIVES: Students will

✦ Acquire information about children’s rights through study of specific articles from the Convention, and they will also be introduced to information about some obstacles to the fulfillment of these rights;

✦ Recognize some denials of the human rights of children, and participate in a group project aimed at helping to overcome these denials;

✦ Develop a sense of their own individual places in their world, and develop respect and concern for others around them and for children who are victims of unfortunate and dire circumstances. 

✦ Learn to distinguish between wants and needs;

✦ Identify basic survival needs;

✦ Become acquainted with the principles and provisions of the CRC.



1. Draw the Tree of Life on a large piece of cardboard and have students color it. The roots can represent the four basic needs of children outlined in the convention. Tell the children that the tree will not survive without having its basic needs fulfilled and protected, and neither will the children. Ask what trees need to survive and grow; note why trees are important to our life and the life of the planet. The future of the Earth depends a good deal on healthy trees and living forests. It also depends on healthy children and peaceful communities. Ask what children need to survive and grow. A theme to stress is that unless the children’s needs are fulfilled they cannot grow, learn, and develop. List the needs identified on newsprint and post them in the classroom.

The trunk is the entire CRC from which the branches, twigs and leaves grow. The branches may represent the basic principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Explain that principles are ideas about what is good and important, guidelines for what needs to be done. The CRC extends these ideas out into the world for all to know, just as the branches extend the tree and its leaves into the air providing us with oxygen. When children enjoy health and wellbeing the whole community is better off, just as we have a healthier environment when there are lots of healthy trees.

The twigs can be the individual articles of the CRC. The teacher can select an appropriate number of the articles most relevant to the topics to be emphasized. Each leaf may represent a child in the class. This Tree of Life will be a symbol to draw on throughout the lessons to follow.


2. On separate pieces of large paper print a summary of each CRC article selected for class discussion. Divide the children into learning groups. Each group is to receive one summary. As you distribute them read each aloud to the entire class. Then allow a few minutes for the children to discuss the article while you pass out drawing paper. Ask the children to relate the needs they listed to the rights they have discussed. Write the number of the article stating the right next to the need it is intended to assure.


3. In small groups, students will do drawings representing one article of the CRC. Put the number of the article represented on each drawing, and put the drawings all around the classroom. The teachers will then put the number on a twig on the Tree of Life.


4. Announce that students will do drawings of the articles at the end of each lesson until all the articles are completed. Repeat this exercise until all articles studied are on the Tree of Life. Needs may be added to the list if others are discovered in discussing the rights.

Note: The children need not try to remember all the articles, but should discuss them so that their purposes are understood.


Questions for Comprehension and Reflection 

  • What are the key principles of human rights education?
  • What are the key principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?
  • Why do the rights of children require the additional protection of the Convention on the Rights of the Child? 
  • Sometimes human rights can seem very abstract to learners. What are some ways that you can make human rights a reality for your students? 



Flowers, N., (Ed.). (1999). Human Rights Here & Now: Celebrating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Minneapolis: Human Rights Educators' Network of

     Amnesty Intarnaional USA, Human Rights Resource Center, Stanley Foundation. http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/edumat/hreduseries/hereandnow/Default.htm


Flowers, N. et. al. (2000). The Human Rights Education Handbook. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Human Rights Resource

     Center. http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/edumat/hreduseries/hrhandbook/toc.html


Reardon, B. A. (1999). Peace Euducation: A Review and Projection. Peace Education Reports: Department of Educational and Psychological Research.

     School of Education, Malmo University. August, No. 17.


Reardon, B. A. & Cabezudo, A. (2002). Book 2: Sample Learning Units. Learning to Abolish War: Teaching Toward a Culture of Peace. New York: Hague Appeal

     for Peace.


UN General Assembly. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from  http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/InternationalLaw.aspx


UN General Assembly. (1989). Convention on the Rights of the Child. Retrieved from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm


Additional Resources

http://www.hrea.org Human Rights Education Associates. This international organization has an extensive online database of peace education materials, and also offers online courses on HRE. They also have a listserv that educators can subscribe to.


http://www.bonner.org/resources/modules/modules_pdf/BonCurPowerMapping.pdf An informative, step-by-step guide to power mapping


http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/students/toolbox/power-mapping.html Another power mapping tool


http://www.unicef.org/crc/ UNICEF web site on the CRC


http://www.amnestyusa.org/educate/page.do?id=1102117 Amnesty International HRE site, with extensive resources for lesson planning

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