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UN Human Rights Commission Adopts Follow-up Resolution on Human Rights Education
5/4/2004 9:20 AM

[Cross-posted from the Global Human Rights Education listserv:]

Human Rights Commission resolution 2004/71 entitled "Follow-up to the
United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education" recommending that the
General Assembly of the United Nations launch a World Programme for HRE to
begin in 2005 was adopted without a vote on 21 April 2004 as a result of
the coordinated efforts of Costa Rica and of a group of committed NGOs
worldwide. The views of NGOs gathered via the HREA network were
transmitted to delegations in Geneva and to a number of capitals
throughout the world.  These lobbying efforts which were carried out in a
very constructive manner played an important role in convincing doubtful
members of the Commission of the need to maintain HRE on the international
agenda after the end of the current decade.

The European Union, the US, Canada, Norway, and Australia who sponsors the
resolution on HRE before the General Assembly, had expressed reservations
regarding Costa Rica's initial proposal to launch a second decade for HRE.
The EU viewed a second decade as an ineffective instrument and suggested
that emphasis shift from an all-encompassing framework to concrete action
to be implemented step-by-step and funded by voluntary means exclusively.
The idea of an international convention focusing primarily on formal
education put forth by the Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights was
not seen as a valid alternative. Delegations felt that a new instrument
would not contribute any additional value since relevant legal obligations
already exist and the proposal was deleted from the original draft.
Following these remarks new options were considered to help achieve
consensus and ensure that the International Community remain involved.
Members of the Commission finally agreed to a World Programme, the first
phase of which (2005-2007) shall focus on promoting HRE in primary and
secondary schools. Although the resolution was adopted by consensus, the
UK delegate took the floor to express doubts on the effectiveness of
operative paragraphs 3, 4 and 5, also questioning whether an open-ended
commitment to HRE was the best way to achieve substantive results.

World Programme or Second Decade?

During consultations the question was raised as to the difference between
a World Programme and a Decade. Are they truly different or do they differ
only by name? The decade was meant to be a mobilisation tool, focusing on
the development of national strategies/plans for HRE, which were to cover
priority sectors in each country. The World Programme is envisaged as an
ongoing process focusing on specific sectors worldwide, with objectives to
be met within a 2 to 3 year timeframe. Compared to the comprehensive
approach of the decade, the World Programme provides for a more focused
approach, "structured in consecutive phases" to be implemented worldwide
with clear allocation of responsibilities in each country, thus enabling
governments to make tangible progress in specific areas.

Consecutive Phases Covering All Sectors

The World Programme is a framework for international cooperation and
government-civil society cooperation covering the whole range of HRE
activities. The new initiative encourages governments to further their
commitments to HRE and requests that the OHCHR and UNESCO submit "for each
phase" a plan of action that includes "an indication of at least minimum
action" as well as "provisions to support activities undertaken by all
actors, and in particular non-governmental organizations". The consecutive
phases should be viewed as an opportunity to develop innovative strategies
in specific areas and as a means to facilitate implementation and
evaluation of achievements.

The common understanding is that HRE does not only belong in the formal
education sector, nor is it aimed exclusively at professional groups
involved in human rights protection and advocacy. HRE is intended as a
life-long process aimed at all groups in society, particularly vulnerable
groups such as populations involved in post-conflict reconstruction, women
and other discriminated groups, and the poor as potential actors of
development. As stressed in op 3 of the resolution, the overall objective
of the World Programme is "to maintain and develop implementation of human
rights education programmes in all sectors". The reference to the
Millennium Development Goals at the outset of the resolution is further
evidence of the potential scope of the initiative. Setting goals in a
specific area does not preclude the carrying out of activities in other
sectors.  However it should be noted that the resolution says little to
nothing about future phases of the World Programme. On one hand the agenda
remains open, on the other the resolution carries with it a lot of
uncertainty as further priorities have yet to be defined.

The First Phase of the World Programme

During the first phase concrete steps can be foreseen focusing on specific
goals to be achieved in school systems with regard to national
legislation, the development of curricula, of learning materials, of
participatory methodologies, of teacher training and of extra-curricular
activities involving students, parents and the community, etc. Ministries
of Education can integrate HRE within "Education For All" national plans
in consultation with National Institutions and National Commissions for
Unesco. They can allocate human and financial resources to develop
capacity building and networking of experts and practitioners. They can
support school / NGO partnerships to build on preexisting experience and
help promote community involvement, thus avoiding improvisation. It is the
responsibility of governments to carry out the action plan but clearly
governments cannot achieve this on their own. Cooperation with NGOs is
vital in all areas.  In recognition of this, the resolution invites the
OHCHR and Unesco to consult "with relevant governmental and non
governmental actors" when drawing up the action plan. The terms of this
consultation have yet to be defined but, based on previous consultations,
it is likely that these organizations will facilitate NGO input, perhaps
via an online forum.

HRE and National Systems

Operative paragraph 6 brings added value to the resolution as it
recommends "that the Secretary-General ensure that an adequate component
of United Nations assistance provided at the request of Members States to
develop their national systems of promotion and protection of human rights
supports human rights education."  It has been suggested that efforts be
made within the framework of the UN Reform Program to empower all UN staff
with regard to human rights, since the work of all UN agencies is human
rights related.  Efforts to mainstream human rights in the UN would not
only help build consensus amongst UN agencies, leading to concerted action
in the field, but also provide a framework to empower national actors. The
training of officials and staff as a precondition for a successful
mainstreaming of human rights in government cannot be overemphasized.
Ministries of Justice, the Police as well as the Military are certainly
top of the list but HRE is also a concern for Ministries of Education, of
Social Affairs, of Health, as the importance of human rights is
increasingly recognized there.


During negotiations the EU and most developed nations insisted that the
World Programme be funded by voluntary contributions only. Unsurprisingly,
this point was added to the resolution - op 5 -, leaving but little
opening for the allocation of additional resources to the UN to help
support NGOs in the developing world or to finance international /
regional monitoring activities. This is an issue for concern. The OHCHR,
in cooperation with Unesco, is expected to draw-up the plan of action and
eventually coordinate work under the World Programme and evaluate the
results of each phase of the initiative - op 5. No regular funding is
envisaged for these activities.

Preparing for the Next Session of the General Assembly

In resolution A/RES/58/181 the General Assembly of the United Nations
decided "to dedicate a plenary meeting on the occasion of Human Rights Day
at its 59th session on 10 December 2004 to review the achievements of the
UN Decade for Human Rights Education and to discuss possible future
activities for the enhancement of HRE ". This event could be an
opportunity to celebrate the end of the current decade and to draw
attention to the new initiative. Should the General Assembly decide to
proclaim the World Programme for HRE, resolution 2004/71 will first have
to be endorsed by ECOSOC. Meanwhile, NGOs can play an important part in
disseminating the CHR resolution worldwide and making sure that all
relevant actors are informed of the initiative at the national level.  It
is essential that the International Community acknowledge the World
Programme as an important step forward and that the potential of the new
initiative be made clear to governments and widely echoed in the media. A
global NGO campaign for HRE alongside an online forum to discuss the
possible implications of the resolution should be carried out in the
coming months to build up momentum before the next session of the General


Excerpts from the Draft report of the Commission can be found at: