© Illustration by Coline Robin

© Illustration by Coline Robin

Amnesty International, Global perspective on HRE

by Barbara Weber

What are, in your opinion, the biggest challenges to HRE from a global perspective?

A big challenge around the world is that the space for civil society to claim and enjoy their rights is shrinking. Human rights are perceived as an obstacle rather than the foundation of our societies. Narratives such as national security over civic freedoms, economic growth over access to economic, social and cultural rights (corporate abuses, land rights, human rights defenders, etc.), national security and economic growth over equality and rights for all (refugees, migrants, internally displaced people, etc.), discrimination, homophobia, Islamophobia and religious extremism are dominating the discourse in many places. This leads to a lack of legitimacy for the work of human rights defenders on the ground.

Marginalised and discriminated groups – including women, refugees, migrants, indigenous peoples, LGBTI, etc. – face difficult to life-threatening conditions when they speak out for their rights and rights of others. They are subject to various forms of discrimination and smear campaigns.

The foundation for a society to promote and protect human rights is an adequate educational experience – formal and non-formal. People need to know their rights in order to claim them; students need to grow up in an environment where human rights are respected.

Where are we with HRE in the world nowadays? Is there anything urgent to be done?

There is great urgency to reach out with human rights education in a coherent, systematic and sustainable way. Last year Amnesty has reached about 800 000 people in more than 190 countries with HRE. Our experience shows that learning and teaching human rights is in many countries still focused on knowledge and not on building skills and challenging attitudes. There is also a big gap between policies and practice. Even in countries where HRE is integrated in policies, the actual effect on people’s lives is very limited. In many parts of the world quality teacher training is missing as well as resources and an adequate learning environment. Even in well-resourced countries like in Europe a closer look reveals that text books are full of stereotypes and prejudices. There is a need to look more closely into the way HRE is actually implemented.

HRE should aim at addressing issues that are relevant for people in their everyday life, online as well as offline. We have to influence in a comprehensive way our educational systems – to fundamentally shift the discourse and the narratives that can address the backlash we are facing in human rights protection.

There is a need for a solid monitoring and impact assessment of HRE initiatives. We need more information about long-term effects of HRE efforts. What does work/what does not? Where do we achieve impact and bring about positive change?

We need a variety of approaches with high-quality HRE to reach and connect people on all levels from local to global.


© Illustration by Coline Robin

Are there any differences in how EDC/HRE is done in Europe and in the world? Can you give some examples of successful HRE we all can learn from?

It is different even within Europe – there is no “one fits all” approach to HRE. It depends on the context, target group and learning outcomes one wants to achieve.

The different political climates, the socio-economic situation of people have to be taken into account, as well as the access people have in a region to quality education online and offline and, of course, the human rights record a country has and the understanding of the human rights concept. What remains the same around the world are core values underpinning human rights such as equality and dignity.

Ideally human rights education is part of a wider theory of change that helps tailoring the programmes to specific contexts. Amnesty is working in remote areas in Africa with communities on women’s rights/female genital mutilation; in Chile, Argentina, Peru with young human rights defenders on sexual and reproductive rights using a combination of activism, campaigning, advocacy and human rights education. In the Middle East and North African countries we are using online-offline approaches to address root causes of conflicts and strengthen young human rights defenders through our Amnesty Human Rights Academy.

Also in Europe, Amnesty is working with a variety of target groups and diverse approaches. Most of our national entities are engaged in HRE. They work in the formal and non-formal sector, colleagues in the Czech Republic are using “human libraries” for their HRE work, Amnesty Austria is training people to counter prejudices and stereotypes in pub-discussions, Slovenia works with Roma communities to know and claim their rights effectively.


Human Book, Leonardo Teca telling his story of forced migration from Angola to the Czech Republic. Gymnázium Vítězná pláň School, Prague, Czech Republic, November 2014, Amnesty International

On the global level one of our approaches is MOOCs – massive open online courses connecting people around the world through quality HRE. More than 100 000 people have registered for our first two MOOCs on Freedom of Expression and Refugee Rights.

Human Rights Friendly Schools, another project developed globally, provides a whole-school approach to HRE.

Amnesty is constantly seeking to innovate HRE and in addition to well-developed programmes test micro-learning and HRE on social media.

How do people advocate for EDC/HRE in different places in the world? What is the role of AI in that? How do you see the role of the Council of Europe Charter for EDC/HRE?

Access to the right to HRE is a priority in Amnesty’s current strategic plan. Amnesty can provide action-oriented HRE but in the end it is government responsibility to ensure HRE is reflected in national and local policies, action plans and actual implementation on the ground.

Amnesty can provide expertise on how to integrate HRE in policies, provide recommendations through UPR processes and other human rights instruments and mechanisms.

The Council of Europe Charter is important as it provides a basis and guidance for countries in Europe and – with a systematic monitoring – can help to track progress. However, documents are only as good as the countries who are supposed to implement them. Too often documents remain on a theoretical level. This is when youth organisations and other NGOs working on HRE come in and play an important role in holding governments accountable.

Any advice for youth organisations and EDC/HRE professionals working with/for young people?

The climate for human rights work is getting more difficult. Nevertheless, there is a lot of great work out there. In challenging times like this it’s even more important that we build a strong network, learn from and question each other to become more strategic as HR educators to find effective ways online and offline that achieve positive impact. Every single one of us can be a human rights defender. Our job as HR educators is to inspire and support people in their learning journey to protect and defend human rights.


© Illustration by Coline Robin

  Amnesty Human Rights Academy: https://academy.amnesty.org

  Human Rights Defender bite sized session: https://humanrightseducation.org

   Amnesty MOOCs: https://www.edx.org/school/amnesty-internationalx

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