Compasito - Manual on Human Rights Education for Children
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2. Human rights education in an international context

...democracy is not fixed and immutable, but rather that it must be built and rebuilt every day in every society.

The Dakar Framework for Action

Human rights education has emerged as one of the most important means for developing a human rights culture. Although since 1948 human rights legislation has been increasingly elaborated on at both the international and European levels, and most human rights documents endorse human rights education, the potential of human rights education has so far remained unrealised. Insufficient political will, lack of resources and inadequate teaching materials have limited the effectiveness of human rights education. However, the development of human rights-related non-governmental organisations in the last decades and the democratic transition in dozen s of countries in Central and Eastern Europe have given the human rights education movement a vital impetus. International organisations have played an essential role in developing more effective and consistent human rights education strategies at the national level.

United Nations

United Nations World Programme for Human Rights Education

In December 1994 the UN General Assembly proclaimed 1995-2004 the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. The official recommendation recognizes human rights education as key for the promotion and achievement of stable and harmonious relations among communities and for the fostering of mutual understanding, tolerance and peace. It calls on all states and institutions to include human rights, humanitarian law, democracy and the rule of law as subjects in the curricula of all learning institutions in formal and non-formal settings.1

As a follow-up to the Decade in December 2004 the UN General Assembly proclaimed a World Programme for Human Rights Education (2005-ongoing). Building on the achievements of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education, this worldwide programme seeks to help make human rights a reality in every community. The Action Plan of the World Programme for 2005-2007 focuses on the primary and secondary education systems and proposes concrete strategies and practical ideas for implementing human rights education on national level.2

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development

The UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014) links environmental development and human rights education, emphasizing that education is essential for people to have the skills and capacities they need to address environment and development issues.3

CyberSchoolbus: A special UN project for children

CyberSchoolBus is a global web-based teaching and learning project of the United Nations that aims to engage children in human rights issues. The CyberSchoolBus collects inspiring stories of classes or schools defending and promoting human rights in their own communities, neighbourhoods and cities. These stories become part of a global atlas of student actions compiled and published on the Internet by the UN CyberSchoolBus.


UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, had a key role in the development, implementation and evaluation of the projects foreseen during the UN Decade for Human Rights Education. Bearing in mind that learning should focus on the acquisition of values, attitudes and skills required to meet the emerging challenges of contemporary societies, UNESCO contributes to the development of national strategies in human rights education, develops learning materials and works on advocacy and networking. UNESCO continues to have a key role in the implementation of the World Programme for Human Rights Education (2005-ongoing).

UNESCO’s work on human rights education was confirmed in the Dakar Framework for Action (2000-2015), a new global priority programme developed at the World Education Forum in 2000. The Framework affirms the need to implement ‘quality education’ internationally, which is defined as going beyond the traditional school curriculum to include a human rights approach and to address new areas such as cultural diversity, multilingualism in education, peace, non-violence, sustainable development and life skills.4


For sixty years UNICEF has been a global force for children, and today it is present in 191 countries of the world. It works in partnership with a broad coalition of UN agencies, governments, NGOs, and local grassroots organizations to help build a world where the rights of every child are realised. UNICEF’s work is guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In May 2002 a special session of the UN General Assembly produced A World Fit for Children, which sets a new agenda for the world’s children for the next decade. It recognizes that governments, NGOs and children and adolescents themselves all have a key role to play to ensure that all children enjoy the rights guaranteed them in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). To this end educational programmes, materials and the learning environment itself should “reflect fully the protection and promotion of human rights and the values of peace, tolerance and gender equity.”5

UNICEF has many programmes that contribute to furthering human rights education internationally, regionally and in individual countries. Voices of Youth is a child-friendly website of UNICEF providing information about questions related to children’s life on global level and interactive games to promote children’s rights.6 The UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre develops and produces research on children’s situation internationally in the belief that awareness and understanding of children’s rights improves children’s situation everywhere in the world.7

Council of Europe

For the Member States of the Council of Europe human rights are more than just a part of their legal framework; they should be an integral part of education of children, young people and adults. Recommendation No. R (85) 7 of the Committee of Ministers on Teaching and Learning about Human Rights in Schools emphasises that all young people should learn about human rights as part of their preparation for life in a pluralistic democracy; and this approach is slowly being incorporated into different European countries and institutions.8

Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1346 (1997) on human rights education proposes a whole range of actions for strengthening human rights education in Europe.

The Assembly further recommends that the Committee of Ministers consider human rights education as a priority for the intergovernmental work of the Council of Europe in the years to come...” 9

The Council of Europe works closely with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UNESCO, the European Commission and other international organizations in the field of human rights education and education for democratic citizenship. For example the Council of Europe has a special role in monitoring the implementation of the World Programme for Human Rights Education (2005-2007) at the European level. This work includes the development of a concrete framework for action and the strengthening of partnerships and cooperation between the international and grass-roots levels.

In 2007 the Council of Europe initiated a project to design a framework policy document on education for democratic citizenship and human rights education. The acceptance of such a comprehensive document will establish commitment from the member states and will make their efforts measurable. Such a progressive instrument will be a strong recognition of non-formal organizations working in the field and provide standards for a wider international environment.

Human Rights Education Youth Programme

The Human Rights Education Youth Programme was initiated in 2000 as a priority of the Youth Sector of the Council of Europe. Its main aim has been to bring human rights education into the mainstream of youth work. The first three years served the crucial function of developing educational tools and training possibilities for young people and building a network of partners in national and local level. In the second three-year period, the programme emphasized empowering young people, in particular vulnerable groups, and developing strategies to address racism, xenophobia, discrimination and gender-based violence. Since 2000 several new educational tools have been developed, various long term and advanced training courses implemented, and hundreds of pilot projects funded all over in Europe. ‘Compass – a manual on human rights education with young people’, an important educational resource of the Programme, has been translated into some twenty different languages since its publication in 2001. Through a cascading effect the Programme has reached hundreds of NGOs all around Europe that were supported by pilot projects offered by the European Youth Foundation. Human rights education has become key in youth work in Europe and has had fruitful effects on formal education as well. Since 2006 the Programme has also developed a special focus on intercultural dialogue as well.

Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC)

Human rights education is a key component in education for democratic citizenship, another approach to give children, youth and adults the knowledge, skills and attitudes that will help them to play an effective role in their communities. Since 1997 the Council of Europe’s Programme on Education for Democratic Citizenship has developed concepts, definitions and political strategies and instituted networks to further this work. The Year of Citizenship through Education in 2005 strengthened the commitment of member states to introduce education for democratic citizenship into their educational policies. The Programme now aims to ensure sustainability by supporting these policy developments, research and good practises in teacher training and democratic governance. ‘Exploring Children’s Rights: lesson sequences for primary schools’, a new publication of the Programme, provides concrete ideas on how to elaborate children’s rights in the classroom.10

Building a Europe for and with Children

Building a Europe for and with Children (2006-2008) is a programme of the Council that aims to help decision makers and stakeholders establish national strategies and policies to guarantee an integrated approach to promoting children’s rights and protecting children from various forms of violence. Under the auspices of the Programme, the Council is revising its existing legal frameworks and instruments and is setting up new standards to better ensure children’s rights in Europe. It is also initiating communication campaigns and education and training programmes to help governments and NGOs develop more effective child policies.

Non-governmental organisations

Non-governmental organisations have an irreplaceable role in the development of a worldwide culture of human rights, particularly at the national and local level, as governments often do not live up to expectations when it comes to the integration of human rights education into the curriculum. As highly committed groups with special expertise, they have contributed to the development of the human rights legislation and are careful watchdogs of the realisation of human rights at the national level. Some global human rights organisations like Amnesty International work systematically on awareness raising on human rights education and produces educational programmes worldwide. People’s Decade of Human Rights Education (PDHRE-International) develops programmes and provides a website on human rights education relevant to people’s daily lives in the context of their struggles for social and economic justice and democracy.

Some organisations such as the Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), Democracy and Human Rights Education in Europe (DARE) and many youth organisations concentrate on human rights education: they support human rights learning and the training of activists and professionals, develop educational materials and seek to raise the profile of education for democratic citizenship and human rights.

Other organisations concentrate on educating about children’s rights. For some such as Save the Children or Fondation Terre des homes (Tdh) this is key to their worldwide mission; others like the Children’s Rights Information Network serve hundreds of child-related NGOs by collecting and disseminating information. At the local and national level, many non-governmental organisations in Europe and worldwide organise human rights education programmes and projects involving children and young people.

Clearly there are many kinds of human rights education and a wide spectrum of institutions and individuals seeking to promote rights learning. However, these diverse efforts have a great deal in common. All are grounded in the international human rights framework of law and seek to empower people to realise human rights in their daily lives in concrete and practical ways. They also share the values and principles of human rights, which are summed up in the preamble to the UDHR: “the inherent dignity and...equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family.”

Useful resources

Useful websites


1 United Nations World Conference on Human Rights, 1993, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, para. 33 of Section 1.

2 See

3 See .

4 The Dakar Framework for Action – Education for All: meeting with our commitments, World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal, 26-28 April, 2000:

5 See documents/A-S27-19-Rev1E-annex.pdf

6 See

7 See

8 Recommendation No R (85) 7 of the Committee of Ministers: Command=com.instranet.CmdBlobGet&DocId=686452&SecMode=1&Admin=0&Usage=4&InstranetImage=45239

9 Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1346 (1997) on human rights education, point 12.

10 Gollob, Rolf and Kraft, Peter, Exploring Children’s Rights: lesson sequences for primary schools: Strasbourg, Education for Democratic Citizenship, 2006.