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People's Decade of Human Rights Education

Organization Overview
& Activities Reports:1995-2000

Report From the Director

Activities Report:

Major Programs

New Initiatives


Board & Staff

Report From The Director

The People's Decade of Human Rights Education is a vital ever-growing network of dedicated human rights learning and social justice advocates, educators, trainers, lawyers, and consultants who share a long history of successful collaboration toward commonly held human rights goals.

At the heart of the PDHRE network is our staff in New York, our Board, our international and national affiliates, and our regional networks of grassroots communities and non governmental organizations (NGOs). Members of the Independent Commission on Human Rights Education, an offshoot of one of our many initiatives also functions as an extended advisory Board. Beyond this organizational core, PDHRE draws on the strengths and expertise of the individuals and organizations who make up our International Advisory Board, our endorsers, and those who have been actively involved in our national and international lobbying, and our human rights education campaigns and training of trainers programs, workshops, and conferences over the last eight years.

Our strength lies in this vibrant, multilevel, and multifaceted international network and our proven ability to function as a much needed liaison and catalyst among grassroots communities, NGOs, governmental agencies, and international organizations, such as the United Nations (UN) agencies.

PDHRE's organizational structure best serves our primary function and concern: worldwide promotion and development of informal and nonformal human rights education across diverse issue areas. Such education must be relevant to all people, be they women, rural and/or indigenous communities, street children, refugees, migrants, or minorities, and their daily concerns relating to economic development, the environment, peace, and so forth. Such education must be accessible and appropriate for all levels of society, especially the grassroots.

As an ongoing and constantly evolving process, human rights learning seeks to reveal, reinforce, and invigorate fundamental human rights concepts - such as equality, justice, freedom, self determination, nondiscrimination, social responsibility - in the culture of global civil society. By doing so, we hope to be instrumental in creating communities, including the international community, capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century, be they human rights violations as a result of globalization, religious and ethnic conflicts, environmental scarcity, or development aggression, and the list goes on.

Founded in 1988, PDHRE arose at the end of the Cold War out of its founders' concerns for seeing "enlightened" democracies take root around the world, and for revealing the hypocrisy of governments who preached equality and freedom while oppressing others. Upon further analysis, the founders began to conceive of democracy as a delivery system for human rights, and embraced the idea originally put forth by South African President Nelson Mandela of building a political culture based on human rights. For democracies to function as such, the people living in them must be aware of their rights and therefore their potential to engender social transformation.

To nurture and protect democracy, people must learn human rights. For this reason PDHRE's founders sought a strategy to promote global human rights education throughout societies around the world. From 1989 to 1991, Board members traveled the globe to begin to build networks of grassroots educators and trainers. Many of PDHRE's founders who were involved in the United Nations Decade for Women (1975-1985) had firsthand knowledge of how effective that Decade was for building support groups and putting women's and gender equality on the international agenda. Using the concept of a decade, but placing it in the hands of grass roots communities, PDHRE proclaimed 1991 -2001 the People's Decade for Human Rights Education. We saw this as a strategy for advancing human rights, social justice, peace, and democracy worldwide. This original people's initiative eventually made its way onto the international agenda, thanks in large part to PDHRE's persistent input and lobbying. In December, 1994 a United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) was declared.

The international spotlight has long been trained on abuses of civil and political rights, advances in the rule of law, and raising people's awareness with regard to these rights. Civil and political rights have received an even greater emphasis as a result of the global democratization trend since the late 1980's. Unfortunately the equally prevalent trends of economic globalization, liberalization, and marketization have not been met with equally fervent concern for economic, social, and cultural rights. Education with regard to these rights is rarely undertaken. With the momentum of the UN Decade behind us, PDHRE is among the organizations spearheading the movement to equalize the promotion, protection, and realization of the rights contained within the two international human rights covenants: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). We do so in the firm belief that all human rights are universal, indivisible, and interconnected, as restate in the 1993 Vienna Declaration. Through thoughtful and balanced treatment of the rights contained in the International Bill of Rights, PDHRE's work emphasizes that all human rights are interdependent, as are peace, development, democracy, and human rights.


The Vienna Conference and the UN Decade for Human Rights Education

Since its inception, PDHRE has been at the forefront of efforts to create international public policy and a public space for human rights education. Most notable have been PDHRE's lobbying for, and substantial input into the emphasis placed on human rights education at the World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna. the founding of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education, and the elaboration of the Plan of Action for the Decade.

The founding of the Decade began in March 1992 At PDHRE's prompting Sonia Picado, then director of the Inter-American Human Rights Institute in Costa Rica and now the Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States, convincingly suggested to the Costa Rican Ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva that the UN should consider the creation of a Decade for Human Rights Education. The UN Commission on Human Rights later adopted a detailed Resolution (1993/56) on the importance of human rights education and a recommendation to the UN General Assembly to declare a decade. This was a direct result of our earlier collaborations with Ambassador Picado, who had joined with PDHRE to cosponsor an international consultation on human rights education in Costa Rica in 1991.

With the Decade elevated to the Commission on Human Rights agenda, PDHRE began an all out lobbying effort for the Commission to champion human rights education at the Vienna Conference. Prior to the conference, PDHRE Board members and staff contacted and lobbied participants to work for the inclusion of human rights education at all NGO and regional governmental preparatory committees leading up to the Costa Rica, Tunis, and

"Human Rights Education should include peace, democracy, development, and social justice, as set forth in international and regional human rights instruments, in order to achieve common understanding and awareness with a view to strengthening universal commitment to human rights...The proclamation of a United Nations decade for human rights education in order to promote, encourage and focus these educational activities should be considered."
- Vienna Declaration, II, d.

Bangkok Declarations. A letter was also written to the Chancellor of Austria asking him to refer to human rights education in his remarks; he began his speech with just such a reference.

At the urgent request of the director and staff of the Center on Human Rights in Geneva, PDHRE drafted a Plan of Action for the Decade that was introduced to all delegates at the fourth preparatory committee for the Vienna Conference. PDHRE proceeded to successfully lobby for its mention in the final Vienna Declaration (see above). Also of note, PDHRE wrote to then UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali to suggest language that later appeared in his Statement at Vienna: ..Human rights is the common language of humanity."

Following the Vienna Conference, PDHRE prepared a resolution for the UN Third Committee on the declaration of a Decade for Human Rights Education and called for meetings of governments to promote the resolution. On December, 10, 1994, the General Assembly proclaimed 1995-2004 the Decade for Human Rights Education.

Putting Human Rights And Human Rights Education On The Agenda At UN World Conferences

Since its victory at Vienna, PDHRE has carried the message of human rights education and the need to place global social issues in a human rights framework to the major Social Summits. PDHRE has worked continuously and simultaneously with governments, NGOs, and UN bodies to include human rights language in their Statements and resolutions, with the goal of having human rights and human rights education incorporated into most of the enunciations and Platforms for Action of all of the major UN world conferences of the 1990s- Beijing, Cairo, Copenhagen, and Istanbul.

Thus, not only was PDHRE pivotal in lobbying the United Nations to declare the Decade and for having human rights education included in the Vienna Declaration, but it has been and continues to be central in lobbying at the other major UN world conferences and their follow-up meetings. In its persistent efforts, PDHRE has created public policy and a public space for the possibility of human rights education as an ongoing process at all levels of society.

As an added benefit to PDHRE's work, human rights education tends to break down counter productive compartmentalization among NGOs and grassroots groups at such Social Summits, facilitating needed collaboration across multiple issues areas. It is for this reason that PDHRE was instrumental in preparing a resolution for the Decade, supported by the Philippines, Namibia, and Slovene, that emphasized the role that NGOs must play in the Decade, drawing on the importance of NGO inclusion as enunciated at Vienna. PDHRE has held human rights caucuses and intensively lobbied human rights NGOs so that they may learn and seize the benefits of making human rights education an integral part of their work.

At the Social Summit in Copenhagen in 1995, for example, Board members ran four major workshops for non-human rights-related NGOs and young lawyers. There it was informally but unanimously proclaimed by more than 120 NGOs that human rights education is social and human development. And, as a result, the influential European Law Students Association (ELSA) has chosen to include human rights education in their human rights work and invite PDHRE Board members to their meetings in Europe to carry out workshops.

From our analyses of the UN World Conferences, PDHRE has found that human rights education provides a unique entry point for grassroots communities, NGOs, and governments to engage in a constructive dialogue about human rights and their realization, avoiding the rhetoric and polemics of the human rights debate.

Working with Grassroots Communities and the NGOs that Work with Them

PDHRE has found its primary inspiration and derived its momentum from dialogue and sharing with grassroots movements and struggles around the world. The grassroots are a largely untapped resource for the design and execution of creative and contextualized human rights education programs. These programs are made all the more meaningful by their evolving out of, and servicing, the communities that have most to gain from such learning. As a direct result of the alliances we have forged, PDHRE firmly believes that human rights are given their great meaning and power in the context of people's daily lives at the grassroots level. It is our deep conviction that the daily struggles for survival and social change are the privileged site of learning that creates the possibility for human rights culture, as much so and even more so than officially designated or formal human rights training.

PDHRE provides a direct link to an ever expanding network of grassroots communities and groups, whose work is often unknown to, or unrecognized by most formal institutions, be they governments or international aid agencies or private foundations.

Often, these grassroots communities and groups are just beginning to learn to identify their struggles with human rights, but lack the confidence and resources, financial and otherwise, to pursue human rights education programs alone. In such cases, PDHRE is essential to nurturing these "startup" organizations of future human rights trainers by sharing with them the educational materials and the human rights and education expertise of our staff, Board, affiliates, and the Independent Commission. In many cases, PDHRE has both fund raised to support groups' projects as well as assisted groups with their own fund raising. PDHRE works on leadership and staff development in the human rights education field, sponsoring future trainers to attend international networking events and conferences, and then assists these individuals with program development in their own countries. It is our end goal to have groups with whom we have worked to become both confident as human rights education trainers and independent financially, so that they may go on to assist other groups in their region.

PDHRE's contact with the grassroots began in its early years of coalition building around human rights education. In the early 1990s, PDHRE sought to identify organizations engaged in human rights education and the issues important to them and implemented projects that led to the initiation of

"Now that the UN Decade for Human Rights Education has been formally designated and started this year, we notice at the basis of this decision such ideas as 'If people have no knowledge of their rights, their rights will not be protected' and 'Human rights can only be realized by people's own struggles.' Needless to say that dedicated groups like PDHRE are behind this initiative and the conceptualization of this effort."
- Buraku Liberation Research Institute. Japan

specific local and regional grassroots activities aimed at the establishment of on-going education in human rights. For example, PDHRE, invited by President Vaclav Havel, ran workshops in 1990 with 65 newly founded NGOs in the former Czechoslovakia. These resulted in a national program on human rights education that continues today in both republics. This work also led President Vaclav Havel to proclaim a Spring of Human Rights Education in 1992. Such early educational programs were also undertaken by PDHRE and its Board members in complex humanitarian situations with such groups as the Human Rights Organization of Israeli Arabs in the West Bank. In 1991 in Costa Rica, PDHRE cosponsored and organization with the Inter-American Institute for Human Rights the first regional conference on education in human rights at the grassroots level in Latin America. The event, attended by 32 people from l4 countries, including the Justice Minister of Costa Rica, generated excitement about human rights education by, for, and of the people. The meeting resulted in a report calling on groups in Latin America to participate in the People's Decade for Human Rights Education.

Also in 1991, P.N. Bhagwati, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India and founder of AWARE, a major Indian grassroots NGO, invited PDHRE to the inauguration of their Center, which has since evolved into a Human Rights Education Centre. There, PDHRE facilitated a human rights education training program for 140 South Asian grassroots organizations. The contacts made during this initial outreach continue to mature into effective Indian networks of grassroots human rights educators and trainers, most of which are often serviced by PDHRE.

One of the strongest examples of the effectiveness of PDHRE's networking from the grassroots up can be found in Japan. In 1990, PDHRE Board members first traveled to Osaka to meet with the Buraku Liberation Research Institute (BLRI), the group responsible for spreading Dowa (or liberation) Education, which was designed to end discriminatory practices and beliefs against minority populations, such as the Buraku, in Japan. Today the Buraku are a major force behind implementing the Decade for Human Rights Education in Japan. One of our affiliates, the International Movement Against Discrimination and Racism (IMADR), is a group that has extended Dowa education globally. PDHRE works to train IMADR Staff and develop programs and workshops with them.

In August 1996, PDHRE was invited back to Japan by BLRI and IMADR to hold several workshops for grassroots human rights educators and consult with representatives of Japanese government ministers on developing mechanism to implement the Decade. There PDHRE stressed that government officials and NGOs must work together in these efforts. Japan is now one of a few countries supporting such collaborations for the Decade. Furthermore, with the support of the Japan Foundation, 16 activists and educators from the Buraku movement will attend a two-week human rights education training program organized by PDHRE in New York in August, 1997. Such exchanges with Japan will continue, and those attending will become collaborators in the future campaigns and initiatives of PDHRE and its affiliates. PDHRE also hopes to put such exchanges with educators from other countries into place.

With a firm foundation laid, PDHRE in the last few years has pursued the identification of major grassroots organizations working on basic needs issues - food, housing, health, education, and labor- who have not identified their work with human rights. We are now devising new methodologies to facilitate their learning to understand the social, economic, and cultural problems with which they work in a holistic human rights framework.

Working with United Nations Agencies

PDHRE, due to its location in New York and status as an affiliate to the UN Center for Human Rights, continues active outreach, advocacy, and collaboration with various UN agencies - WHO, UNICEF, UNESCO, UNIFEM, UNDP, DPI and the ILO - and UN commissions, and committees. In fact, in trying to institutionalize human rights education at the United Nations, PDHRE has sought the creation of a special UN fund to support human rights education in all of the resolutions it has penned for the Decade.

Between 1989 and 1993, PDHRE attended numerous UNESCO meetings and maintained a continuing discourse with the Division of Human Rights and Peace at UNESCO on how the definition and scope of human rights education could be enlarged to include informal and non formal learning. As UNESCO was the organization primarily responsible for including human rights education in their Statement for Vienna, PDHRE attended the International Conference on Human Rights Education in Montreal. There PDHRE Board members provided substantial input into what became the "Montreal Declaration," introducing into the UNESCO declaration the language: "Human rights education is a human right."

At the request of the UN Center for Human Rights, PDHRE has held human rights education workshops at the yearly sessions of the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, except in 1996. It was also at the prompting of the Center that PDHRE draft a Plan of Action for the Decade for Human Rights Education, and the Center cosponsored the pedagogy development meeting in Costa Rica in 1996. PDHRE and the Center continue to collaborate on the development of human rights education pedagogies.

In 1995, PDHRE was invited to address a meeting off all Chairs of the UN Treaty Bodies, at which time PDHRE Staff and Board member, Stephen Marks, were requested to prepare a draft General Comment on the importance of human rights education to each one of the treaties. Each treaty body did eventually add a Statement on governments' obligations as to human rights education. It is worth noting that Ivanka Corti, then Chairperson of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), came out with a strong statement on human rights education, publicly recognizing PDHRE's efforts and contributions.

PDHRE is present at all commission meetings of the Third Committee, often organizing human rights caucuses and preparing resource kits of educational materials for distribution that place the social issues on the agenda in a human rights context. In spring of 1997, for example, PDHRE prepared resource kits and was active at the meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women (which it attends every year) and the Commission on Sustainable Development in preparation for the General Assembly's. "Earth Summit + Five" meeting in June.

PDHRE's work with UN agencies also goes beyond lobbying and dialogue to carrying out programs for UN agencies. For example, in 1993, PDHRE received a contract from the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia, UNTAC, to undertake a six week training of trainers program on women's human rights and human rights for 120 Khmer women. And, in 1995, UNDP provided funding for PDHRE to run four major workshops on human rights education and its relevance to social and economic development for non-human rights- related NGOs and young lawyers at the Social Summit in Copenhagen.

Working with Governments

The vast scope of PDHRE's efforts to advance human rights education would not be complete without mention of the organization's ongoing collaboration with and lobbying of governments on human rights and human rights education initiatives. Our collaboration with the government of Costa Rica in bringing about the Decade and pedagogy development has already been mentioned. In its efforts to create public policy on human rights education at the national and international levels, PDHRE has also worked closely with the governments Kenya, Ghana, Namibia, Uganda, Norway, Austria. Slovenia. the Philippines, Brazil, Australia, and Japan.

Most recently PDHRE Board members traveled to Japan and met with representatives of seven ministries who are part of the prime minister's Working Committee created to implement the Decade for Human Rights Education in Japan, and with leaders and NGOs from several Japanese prefectures interested in developing plans of action for the

In the United States, PDHRE Board members have repeatedly visited various members of the State Department to speak on the importance of enlarging the U.S. definition of human rights. PDHRE has also testifies at Congress, before the Appropriation Committee, to have funds allocated for human rights education. Our efforts are now focused on having the United States develop a national committee to implement the Decade for Human Rights Education. PDHRE has also worked with governments to secure funding for our initiatives. In the last two years PDHRE has enjoyed, and is grateful for, support from the European Union and the governments of Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

Towards the Future

PDHRE's early efforts sought to create public policy on human rights education as a platform for future mobilization We also survey the field, from an academic front institutions to grassroots communities, to seek out individuals and organizations thinking about and engaged in human rights education and learning. Now that the Decade and a solid and growing global community of people engaged in human rights learning and action have been established, we have turned our energies to more programmatic work with grassroots communities and NGOs in the field. As always, we will use the insight gained at the grassroots level to continue our dialogue with and lobbying of governments and international agencies to "integrate economic, social, and cultural rights and the essential human rights concepts underlying them into national and international discussions of social issues.

In this way, PDHRE works through multiple entry points - the grassroots, government, UN agencies- so that all sectors of society, whether working locally, nationally or thematically, are joined together in creating communities of learning that integrate human rights education into their member's day to day activities. Our unrivaled network and ongoing projects and programs have evolved out of all that we have learned and done in identifying issues and needs with regard to human rights education, and in bringing together constituencies around the world to develop such education as a discipline and tool for social transformation and political mobilization. New paths, new opportunities, new ideas are constantly before us, and, PDHRE will continue to break new ground towards building a human rights culture for the 21st century.

-Shulamith Koenig. Founder and Director

For more information, please contact PDHRE:

The People's Movement for Human Rights Education (PDHRE) / NY Office
Shulamith Koenig / Executive Director
526 West 111th Street, New York, NY 10025, USA
tel: +1 212.749-3156; fax: +1 212.666-6325
e-mail: pdhre@igc.org