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New Curriculum Uses Personal Stories to Teach Immigration

IHRC lessons

Spurred by the current public rhetoric around immigration, teachers have been reaching out to The Advocates for Human Rights for resources that help their students understand how and why people immigrate to the United States and what they experience once they arrive. The Immigration History Research Center (IHRC) collects personal narratives by contemporary immigrants and refugees that can answer those questions. Working together, The Advocates and the IHRC have created a series of lessons, Teaching Immigration with the Immigrant Stories Project. This free curriculum for grades 8 to adult learners helps students learn about U.S. immigration through immigrants’ personal stories.

Storytelling is at the center of Teaching Immigration. Each unit features several digital stories from the IHRC’s Immigrant Stories Project. Immigrant Stories trains participants to create 3-5 minute original videos about a personal or family immigration experience. Students study these stories within the contexts of the U.S. immigration system, U.S. immigration history, and global migration conditions. For example, while learning about the refugee resettlement system, students watch videos by several refugees explaining their experiences navigating this bureaucracy from refugee camps to new schools in the U.S.

The curriculum includes three units. Each unit contains several lessons, and Units One and Two include optional activities. Teachers may choose any combination of lessons.

“Unit One: Understanding Immigration” introduces students to the many reasons and ways that individuals and families migrate. Students study the global conditions that affect migration and examine individuals’ stories to understand how people make decisions in response to these conditions.

“Unit Two: Refugees and Asylum Seekers” introduces students to the U.S. refugee and

asylum systems. Students study these systems through a human rights perspective and compare the experiences of individual refugees and asylum seekers who have come to the U.S. since World War II.

“Unit Three: Youth, Identity, and Immigration” focuses on the experiences of immigrant youth and immigrants’ children. The unit’s themes include identity, culture, belonging, discrimination, and heritage.

Teaching Immigration builds on the third edition of The Advocates’ Energy of a Nation curriculum. It includes lesson plans, classroom activities, worksheets, background summaries, and up-to-date fact sheets. Teachers may also download PowerPoints explaining complex aspects of the U.S. immigration system. The curriculum is applicable to a variety of subjects, including social studies, history, geography, English, media studies, and literature.

The Advocates and the IHRC believe that personal stories are a powerful tool for developing empathy and understanding how national and global conditions affect individuals and families. Teaching Immigration helps teachers meet academic standards while enriching their lessons with personal immigration narratives. By teaching students to connect these stories to a deeper understanding of contemporary immigration, The Advocates and IHRC hope to provide students with the perspectives to combat xenophobia and transform future immigration debates.  Download the free curriculum at http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/teachingimmigration.html

By Elizabeth Venditto, Immigrant Stories Project Manager, Immigration History Research Center

 The Teaching Immigration curriculum is supported by the University of Minnesota College of Liberal Arts’ Joan Aldous Innovation Fund.  

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India’s failure to protect religious minorities

India is the world’s largest democracy and a pluralistic melting pot of different religions, cultures, and languages. Yet there has been an alarming rise in discrimination and violence against religious minorities in India. The Advocates for Human Rights, along with our partner organizations, went to the United Nations Human Rights Council to raise our concerns in advance of India’s Universal Periodic Review on May 4, 2017.

Indian human rights defender Teesta Setalvad presented this oral statement on religious minorities in India at the United Nations Human Rights Council on behalf of The Advocates for Human Rights, Citizens for Justice and Peace, Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, and the Quill Foundation.  The oral statement was made on March 15, 2017 at the Human Rights Council’s Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues. 

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with its partner organizations Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the Quill Foundation, commend the Special Rapporteur for her report. We thank her for her work over her six-year tenure.

We recall the Special Rapporteur’s 2013 General Assembly report, and the first pillar of minority rights protection: protection of a minority’s survival by combatting violence against its members. We note the following developments in India since the 2013 report:

First, communal violence has increased. In 2013, for example, in Muzaffarnagar, Muslims were overwhelmingly targeted, resulting in over 60 deaths. Speeches by political leaders and Members of Parliament encouraged attacks on Muslims and exacerbated the violence.

Second, state governments are slow to intervene against the targeting of religious minorities accused of “improper” conversions from Hinduism.

Third, since 2015, in the wake of state laws banning the sale of beef, mobs have attacked people alleged to have beef in their possession.

Fourth, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions reported that extrajudicial encounter killings “have become virtually a part of unofficial State policy” in India.

Fifth, the above acts often are committed with impunity, stemming in part from close alignment between the government and non-state actors.

Sixth, law enforcement agencies fabricate terrorism cases, where Muslims are often targets.

For these reasons, we agree with the Special Rapporteur that progress in minority rights protection is under threat, including by increasing hate speech, xenophobic rhetoric, and incitement to hatred against minorities. We add that such threats come, in part, from elected officials and Members of Parliament.

The Advocates for Human Rights and its partner organizations call on India to accept a visit by the Special Rapporteur. We also join the Special Rapporteur in calling on UN Member States and the Human Rights Council to recognize that States bear the primary duty to protect the security of religious minorities with positive and preventive actions, through active engagement with religious minorities.

The United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of India will take place on Thursday, May 4, from 14:30-18:00 in Geneva, Switzerland.  The UPR session will be webcast live at this link: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/30th-regular-session-of-the-human-rights-council/4473498400001.  )Later that day it will be posted in the archives of UN WebTV: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/) The Advocates will be livetweeting the recommendations made to India on Twitter @The_Advocates.

The Advocates for Human Rights, along with partners the Indian American Muslim Council, Jamia Teachers Solidarity Association, Citizens for Justice and Peace, and the Quill Foundation, submitted a UPR stakeholder report to the UN Human Rights Council in 2016 that addresses India’s failure to comply with its international human rights obligations to protect members of minority groups. In particular, the report calls attention to serious problems with the treatment of Muslims in India. Significant human rights challenges include: extrajudicial executions committed by police and security personnel, as well as non-State actors; arbitrary and unlawful detentions; torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of terrorism suspects in police custody; discriminatory laws and practices; harassment of human rights defenders; as well as the targeting of NGOs through prohibitive legislation. Additionally, this report highlights the Indian government’s failure to adequately investigate and effectively prosecute perpetrators of these human rights violations against members of minority groups. You can read the full report here.

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President Trump’s Executive Order Harms the U.S. & Refugees

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I have worked with refugees and asylum seekers since 1991. I cannot even tell you how many I have had the privilege to represent, and I believe that I have only encountered two cases of fraud in more than 20 years. I have never encountered even a single client with any links to terrorism. The refugees and asylum seekers who I have met have been fleeing for their lives – sometimes from terrorists.

The Executive Order “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” signed on January 27, 2017 overreaches executive branch powers (under the plenary power doctrine, immigration policy is shared between the legislative and executive). Moreover, aspects of the order are both unconstitutional and violate United States’ international legal obligations under the Refugee Convention (which we ratified in 1980). This comes at a time when there are more forcibly displaced people (65+ million) than ever before in human history.

The Executive Order violates the United States Constitution and the nation’s international obligations under the Refugee Convention to ensure that:
  1. Refugees not returned to a place where they will be persecuted (non-refoulement);
  2. There is an individualized determination of persecution on account of one of five grounds (race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion), NOT just religion; and
  3. Refugees are not discriminated against.

Here are some specific reasons why the Executive Order is bad policy and should not be enforced:

1. Suspends U.S. Refugee Admissions Programs (USRAP).

  • The order suspends all refugee admissions for 120 days.  Refugees are perhaps the most thoroughly vetted individuals who enter the United States. Refugee processing often takes up to 36 months and includes background checks, biometrics, and interviews with several federal agencies. I have met many people stuck in limbo in refugee camps, waiting to be cleared to join immediate family members in the United States.  Even following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, refugee admissions were suspended for less than three months.
  • It does not appear that clear instructions regarding implementation were conveyed to the Border & Customs Protection — those who had to enforce the order this weekend — leading to chaos and lawsuits. Under the order, exceptions can be made on a case-by-case basis for national interest, if the person does not pose a risk and is a religious minority facing religious persecution OR diplomats OR if the person is already in transit and denying admission would cause a hardship.
  • The order reduces the number of refugee admissions by more than half, to 50,000. The President, in consultation with Congress, sets each year the refugee admission number. In fact, during President Obama’s administration, the United States had dropped historically low in the numbers of refugees resettled. The goal this fiscal year was to admit 110,000 refugees. The government’s fiscal year began October 1, and we have already admitted 29,895 as of January 20, 2017. Under this new Executive Order, we will admit only about 20,000 additional refugees before the end of the fiscal year on September 30. That means that 60,000 refugees who have already been vetted will remain in life and death situations.
  • Once resumed, the United States will prioritize the religious persecution claims of minority religious groups.  Purportedly, this is to prioritize the claims of persecution of Christian minorities, but Muslims are also a persecuted minority in some countries. What does this mean for them?
  • The order suspending the United States Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days directs Department of Homeland Security to determine how state and local jurisdictions can have greater involvement in determining placement resettlement in their district. This will allow states and cities unprecedented authority to determine whether they will resettle any Muslim refugees. Bills have already been introduced in states such as North Dakota and South Dakota to ban all resettlement unless approved by the state legislatures.

2. Bans Syrian Refugees
The order halts the processing and admission of all Syrian refugees. Indefinitely. One of the worst human rights crises on the planet is happening in Syria. Over the past few years, millions of people have fled from both the forces of President Bashar Al-Assad (supported by Russian airstrikes) and ISIS. The United States finally stepped up last year and accepted 10,000 refugees —  far, far less than most Western countries. To date, the majority of refugees resettled from Syria to the United States have been women and children. 

3. Bans Entry of Nationals of Muslim Majority Countries
Both non-immigrant (tourist, student, etc.) and immigrant (including legal permanent residents, at least for the initial roll-out of the order) from seven countries (some friends, some foe) — Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen — are banned from entry for at least 90 days. (The order also notes that other countries and immigration benefits may be added to the banned list.) Courts have already temporarily blocked the implementation of part of this order based on the First Amendment Establishment clause (which prohibits the government from preferring or disfavoring a religion) and the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection clause. But part of the order also calls for the exclusion of individuals who “would place violent ideologies over American law” or “who engage in acts of bigotry or hatred, including persecution of those who practice religions different for their own.” That is incredibly vague and potentially discriminatory.  Moreover, there has been enhanced screening for everyone coming from countries with high levels of terrorism since 9/11.

4. Requires In-Person Interviews for All
The order suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program (VIWP), primarily used for people who had been vetted, were considered a low-security risk, and were on renewable employment-based visas. The requirement for in-person interviews for non-immigrant visa applications will create huge backlogs at embassies and consulates and slow down the process for anyone applying for a visa (including family members of legal immigrants, asylees, and refugees). Many of The Advocates for Human Rights’ asylum clients come to the United States on visitor or student visas; this processing backlog will prevent these people the ability to escape persecution in their countries, leaving them vulnerable and unsafe.

5. Screens ALL for Immigration Benefits
This is policy by fiat, going beyond congressional authority. While screening standards are already in place for identifying fraud, etc., the Executive Order directs agencies to create a process to evaluate the person’s “likelihood of becoming a positively contributing member of society” and “ability to make contributions to the national interest.” These are entirely new and subjective standards, and it is not clear how anyone could implement them. They are NOT statutory requirements for any immigration benefit (except a national interest visa).

This Executive Order is public policy based on myth. It is not what is best for our country. Every Department of Homeland Security professional that I have ever met has said that the problem is lack of resources rather than the need for new laws or regulations. Every refugee I know is a true American patriot, one who tears up when saluting the flag because they know the true price of freedom.
Educate yourself. Call your congressional, state, and local representatives. Volunteer to help refugees and asylum seekers in your hometown. Provide a safe haven for those who are forced to flee persecution is a core American value.
This Executive Order will not make us safe. Instead, it will erode the United States’ moral standing as leader of the free world.
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By Jennifer Prestholdt, Deputy Director, The Advocates for Human Rights.

Stand Up, Speak Out When It Comes to Hate Speech

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It has been a week since the Star Tribune published my colleague Deepinder Mayell’s op-ed about his experience with hate speech at a Vikings game. The article prompted many people to come forward in support of Deepinder, in support of refugees, and in support of human rights. They told their stories and discussed how unsettling the current political climate is.

The violent attacks in Paris and San Bernardino have increased fear, and political campaigns have escalated the use of negative rhetoric. As a result, what happened to Deepinder is not unique. Many people are seeing similar situations of hate speech and confrontation play out in their everyday lives.

While many have expressed a commitment not to stand by when another person is targeted with hate speech, we are left to ask what that really means. Most of us learned about bullies when we were in school. (For more information, take a look at The Advocates for Human Rights newsletter on bullying and human rights.) However, we don’t expect to encounter bullies as adults.

In the book, The Green dot etc. Violence Prevention Strategy, Dr. Dorothy J. Edwards presents approaches bystanders can use when they find themselves in situations of conflict involving a power imbalance:

Distract. Create a distraction to de-escalate the situation. This response can be as simple as calling out the person’s name and asking a question or creating a more dramatic distraction like singing or dancing to get attention.

Direct. Engage the perpetrator directly by calling out his/her bad behavior, or remove the person being targeted from the situation.

Delegate. Call in another party, the police, security, or other authority.

This isn’t as easy as it may sound. It’s uncomfortable to put oneself on the firing line of hate, and it’s certainly tempting- at least for those of us with privilege to do so ― to keep walking, keep quiet, or look away. Being a human rights defender takes courage and commitment, even in the small doses called for in these situations.

There are other ways to be pro-active and engage in creating a healthier community:

1. Get to know your neighbors and diverse members of the broader community.

2. Learn about the diverse cultures and experiences of refugees and immigrants.

3. Speak up! Nervous laughter in the face of racist jokes is as emboldening as genuine laughter.

4. Be careful with your own speech. Humor doesn’t always translate well. It can be hurtful.

5. Check in with the person who is targeted. A friendly comment can make a big difference.

6. Communicate with your elected officials about important human rights issues.

There is no need to stand by and feel helpless. We can all be part of the solution. In big and small ways, we all need to advocate for human rights.

By: Robin Phillips, executive director of The Advocates for Human Rights

Activities for Human Rights Day 2015

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Each year on December 10, people all around the world celebrate Human Rights Day.  

The date was chosen to honor the United Nations General Assembly‘s adoption on 10 December 1948 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the first global statement of international human rights principles.

This year’s Human Rights Day is devoted to the launch of a year-long campaign for the 50th anniversary of the two International Covenants on Human Rights: the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which were adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 16 December 1966.

The “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” 50th anniversary campaign will highlight the theme of rights and freedoms — freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear — which underpin the International Bill of Human Rights are as relevant today as they were when the Covenants were adopted 50 years ago.

Below are some ideas for simple yet meaningful ways that families can celebrate Human Rights Day by learning about the rights and responsibilities that we all share as human beings.

For more ideas, check out my past Human Rights Day posts:

10 Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2011)

10 More Things to Do With Your Kids on Human Rights Day (2012)

Human Rights Activities To Do With Your Kids (2013)

Human Rights Activities For You & Your Kids (2014).

The UDHR in a word cloud. From Article 26 website.
The UDHR in a word cloud. From Article 26 website.

1. Learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Download an illustrated version of the UDHR on the UN website here. You can also find a simplified version of the UDHR here.

2. Join the UNICEF Kid Power Team and work together to help end global malnutrition.Globally, one in four children is malnourished, about 159 million children worldwide. 50 million children suffer from acute malnutrition resulting in about one million children dying each year. And 16 million children suffer from the most life-threatening form of malnutrition, severe acute malnutrition (SAM), which can require specialized feeding care such as treatment with Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) packets.


Families can join the UNICEF Kid Power Team by purchasing a UNICEF Kid Power Band—available at Target—and downloading the free companion UNICEF Kid Power App. Kids go on missions to learn about new cultures and earn points by getting active. Points unlock funding from partners, parents and fans, and funds are used by UNICEF to deliver lifesaving packets of therapeutic food to real, severely malnourished children around the world. In the pilot project earlier this year, more than 11,300 kids in Boston, Dallas and New York joined the UNICEF Kid Power Team and took enough steps to walk around the world more than 23 times. These kids earned enough Kid Power Points to unlock 188,850 therapeutic food packets, enough to save the lives of 1,259 children. 

3. Stand up for the rights of girls everywhere. Girl UP, the United Nations Foundation’s adolescent girl campaign, engages girls to take action. Girl UP’s current advocacy priority is improving access to quality education for girls worldwide, especially those in vulnerable settings. Worldwide, 140 million children are not in school – more than half are girls. Learn more about the impact of education of girls on society here.  Learn about ways you can advocate (no matter your age) here.

4. Sing your own song! Amandla! is a song that was a sung by Black South Africans during apartheid to give them strength. Amandla is a Zulu and Xhosa word meaning “power”. It was also the name of a documentary about the role of music in apartheid South Africa that won multiple awards at Sundance in 2003.  The chorus is:

We will fight for the right to be free
We will build our own society
And we will sing, we will sing
We will sing our own song

The band UB40, which strongly advocated against apartheid in the 1980s, did a popular cover of the song Amandla!

Amnesty International created a full lesson plan around the song.  Check out the full lesson, which encourages kids to sing along with the song.  Take out specific words and have your kids fill in the blanks.  Kids have such a great sense of justice that their words may surprise you! Then have your kids draw the images that the song evokes and present their art projects to others.

(Fun fact: Amandla Stenberg, who played Rue in The Hunger Games, was named for the word and its meaning.) 

5. Play Rights of the Child Pictionary. Based on the game Pictionary, each child sketches his or her interpretation of one article of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. When all are done, you can take turns examining the sketch and guessing the article it represents. For this and other ideas for teaching children’s rights through art, click here.

6. Play Human Rights Musical Chairs.  This lesson, developed by The Advocates for Human Rights, is a game similar to musical chairs, but with a writing twist. Select magazine and newspaper images that you feel effectively demonstrate a particular article of one of the 30 articles of the UDHR. For example, if the picture shows a scene where a group of children, boys and girls, are happy and walking with backpacks on their way to school, you could discuss Article 26 the “Right to Education” and Article 2 “Freedom from Discrimination” as both girls and boys are attending school.

Tape one image onto each chair along with one sheet of paper. Select music to indicate the starting and stopping of the writing. Tell the kids that they can write about whatever the image makes them think of. When the music starts, have the kids write the beginning of the story based on the image.  After a few minutes, stop the music and have them move to the next image. Start the music and have them write the middle of the story based on that image.  Encourage them to follow the storyline already in progress but allow them to get creative. Stop the music and have them move to the third image and write the ending. For more ideas, check out The Advocates for Human Rights’ resources for educators.

7. Learn more about famous and not-so-famous human rights heroes. There are many great biographies of famous activists (I Am Malala is one you may enjoy) but there are also many other inspiring peace and social justice activists to learn about.

Better World Heroes is an informational website which includes the biographies of 1000 heroes who have fought to build a better world.

The Giraffe Heroes project tells the stories of “Giraffe Heroes” – people who stick their necks out for the common good.

For more resources, download The Advocates for Human Rights’ Rights Sites newsletter: Human Rights Heroes edition.

8. Read Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches as part of an anti-racism, anti-bullying activity. Teaching Tolerance has developed a great simulation activity.  The simulation exercise can help children understand the emotional impact of unfair practices. The follow-up activity on discrimination helps ensure that students understand that the goal is to change those practices, not the characteristics that make us different from one another. Check out all of Teaching Tolerance’s resources here.

9. Take a test together.  The Representation Project has developed two quizzes to examine how mainstream media shapes our beliefs and practices about women and girls, as well as what it means to be a man.  For families with preteens and teens who are interested starting a conversation about this issue, the Representation Project’s family resources can be found here.

#TheRepTest is a media literacy tool, sparking conversation about overall representation in film, television, and video games and encouraging more diversity in the entertainment industry.

The #BeyondTheMask quiz lets you grade male characters as role models.

10. Have a conversation with your family about what it means to be “free and equal”.  Watch this video with your kids and discuss their reactions.

What else does it mean to be “free and equal”? the United Nations recently launched a new campaign called “Free & Equal” for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality.  There are fact sheets, information about a film series, and much more on the Free & Equal website.  You can even check out the very first Bollywood video for gay rights.  The UN is asking that you share if you believe everyone should be welcomed into their family’s hearts, regardless of their sexual orientation.

The 2015 “Faces” video from the Free & Equal campaign celebrates the contributions that millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people make to families and local communities around the world. The cast features “real people” (not actors), filmed in their workplaces and homes — among them, a firefighter, a police officer, a teacher, an electrician, a doctor and a volunteer, as well as prominent straight ally and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Can you see past the label?

If you are not sure how to talk to your kids about LGBT issues, check out these Human Rights Campaign resources that provide the language and information needed to discuss lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and issues in an age appropriate way with children and youth.

I hope you and your families have a great Human Rights Day 2015!  If you have other ideas for human rights activities, please share them with us!

Jennifer Prestholdt is Deputy Director and International Justice Program Director at The Advocates for Human Rights. This post was originally published on World Moms Blog. 

“I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings”

The quilt created by Gail Irish, and inspired by resilience and strength of others.
Created by Gail Irish, the quilt’s inspiration was the resilience and strength of others.

Each year, the quilt club I belong to sets a theme for the quilts we create for our annual exhibit at Glad Creations, Inc., a Minneapolis quilt shop. “Stripes” was the subject for our Winter 2014 projects.

At about that time, Cece McDonald, a transgender African-American woman who used deadly force to protect herself during a brutal transphobic and racist assault in Minneapolis, was released from prison after serving 19 months of a 41-month sentence. When she took a plea to avoid potential murder convictions and possibly 80 years in prison, she was freed. Through her story, I learned about the disproportionate numbers of transgender people of color in prison, not to mention the prison population’s disproportionate numbers in general of people of color.

Then, when the world lost Maya Angelou, I was reminded once again how her poem “I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings” uses the image of a caged bird as a metaphor to tell the story of Angelou’s struggle to escape oppression of racism and sexism.

In my volunteer work at The Advocates for Human Rights, I meet refugees seeking asylum in the United States because they fear persecution and death if they return to their home countries. Many of them spent time in prisons under deplorable conditions in their countries of origin.

In my work teaching English to adult immigrants and refugees, students have told me stories about unlawful detention, torture, isolation, long separation from loved ones, and many other hardships.

What stands out for me through all of this is the resilience and strength that allow these individuals to fight for survival and dignity.

With my students, the refugees with whom I work, McDonald, and Angelou as inspirations, I imagined bars on windows for the quilt theme of “stripes.” I chose a traditional pattern called Attic Windows, and used a striped fabric for the windows. While all of the windows have bars, the sun is shining brightly.

Some of us are in cages of our own making. Others are in cages that result from the many inequities in our society. My hope is for greater compassion and a greater understanding of the issues and realities that put people behind bars, and more humane treatment of those who remain there.

By: Gail Irish, a volunteer with The Advocates for Human Rights

The Answer to Preventing Atrocities: Human Rights Education

Zeod Ra'ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

If you ever wonder what you can do about human rights violations taking place in your community or around the world, I challenge you – on this World Day of Social Justice – to read the powerful message of Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, spoken recently at Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust Memorial Museum:

“…I wake up every morning and, along with brilliant staff – some of the world’s best human rights lawyers and activists – I scan the news and am revolted by what I read. I am sure you all feel the same. Everyday, we are outraged by one piece of news after another! In fact, we must fast be reaching a state of permanent disgust.

“…[Y]ears of tyranny, inequalities, fear and bad governance are what contribute to the expansion of extremist ideas and violence. Few of these crises have erupted without warning. They have built up over years – and sometimes decades – of human rights grievances: deficient or corrupt governance and judicial institutions; discrimination and exclusion; drastic inequalities; exploitation and the denial of economic and social rights; and repression of civil society and public freedoms. Specific kinds of human rights violations, including sexual violence, speech that incites violence, and patterns of discrimination against minorities, can provide early warning of the escalation of crisis into atrocity.

“With so much movement across our screens and newspapers, we believe we are now somehow cart-wheeling into a future more uncertain and unpredictable than ever before. We are also bombarded by so many individual pieces of news, and commentary, our thoughts become equally scattered and devoid of any clear understanding of what it all means…

“And so it would be easy for us to give way to a sense of complete hopelessness. But we cannot succumb to that way of thinking. Surely we now know, from bitter experience, that human rights are the only meaningful rampart against barbarity.

“…Since we cannot afford sinking into a state of paralysing shock, our task becomes the need to strengthen our ethics, our clarity and openness of thought, and our moral courage.

“To do this I can only suggest that we must turn to a new and deeper form of education. Education that goes beyond reading, writing and arithmetic to include skills and values that can equip people to act with responsibility and care. (Emphasis added.)

“…Before every child on this planet turns 9, I believe he or she should acquire a foundational understanding of human rights, and that these concepts should grow in depth and scope as he or she develops. The underlying values of the curriculum would be virtually identical in every school, deriving from the Universal – and universally accepted – Declaration of Human Rights. In this way, from Catholic parochial schools to the most secular public institutions, and indeed Islamic madrassahs, children could learn – even in kindergarten – and experience the fundamental human rights values of equality, justice and respect.

“My children, and yours, and children everywhere, need to learn what bigotry and chauvinism are, and the terrible wrongs they can produce. They need to learn that blind obedience can be exploited by authority figures for wicked ends. They should also learn that they are not exceptional because of where they were born, how they look, what passport they carry, or the social class, caste or creed of their parents; they should learn that no-one is intrinsically superior to her or his fellow human beings.

“Every child should be able to grasp that the wonderful diversity of individuals and cultures is a source of tremendous enrichment. They should learn to recognise their own biases, and correct them. Children can learn to redirect their own aggressive impulses and use non-violent means to resolve disputes. They can learn to be inspired by the courage of the pacifiers and by those who assist, not those who destroy. They can be guided by human rights education to make informed choices in life, to approach situations with critical and independent thought, and to empathise with other points of view.

“Children are fully able to grasp the implications of human rights. And they are able, too, to understand the power that human rights principles bestow on them. Every child can help to shape her or his universe: this is the lesson of that physically tiny and yet symbolically immensely powerful young woman, Malala, who has enriched the moral heritage of humanity.

“We do not have to accept the world as it is; indeed, we must not. We do not have to give in to the dark allure of hatred and violence: indeed, it is vital that we find the energy to resist it. These lessons are surely as fundamental to life on Earth as advanced calculus.”[1]

Parents, teachers, administrators, students, curriculum specialists, policymakers, and anyone reading this who appreciates the power of education as a means of preventing human rights violations, you can make a difference. The root causes of abuses ranging from discrimination to interpersonal violence to mass atrocities can and must be addressed through human rights education.

Here is what you can do:

  • Learn more about human rights education by going to org/uploads/hre_edition.pdf.
  • Contact your community school and ask how they are giving students at every grade level the knowledge, skills, and values of human rights. Offer free curricular resources available at org/for_educators.
  • Read the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training and share it with your local school, through social media, and in conversation.
  • Become part of a national movement by joining Human Rights Educators USA by going to net. (If outside in the U.S., look for a similar group in your area.)

What we teach our children today has radical implications for the future of our communities and world. Human rights education is the obligation of governments and the moral imperative of individuals. We either equip children with the knowledge, skills, and values to uphold human rights – or we don’t. And we live with the repercussions either way.

By: Sarah Herder, The Advocates for Human Rights’ director of Education.

[1] Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Feb. 5, 2015. “Can Atrocities Be Prevented? Living in the Shadow of the Holocaust, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the Holocaust Memorial Museum.” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=15548&LangID=E#sthash.QRxCwKej.dpuf.