There is an activity in COMPASS – Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People called Just a minute, in which participants prepare a “speech” on the relationship between sports and human rights. There is only one rule: the speech cannot be longer than one minute. Is it possible to explain the nature of EDC/HRE in a minute? Fortunately, the participants have five minutes to prepare for the speech, which should be exactly the time you should spend reading this article. Hopefully!
The first minute: The institutional definition(s) of EDC/HRE
@ UN Photo, 01 December 1950, United Nations (Lake Success), New York, Photo # 123898
@ Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Universal Declaration of Human Rights poster in Spanish. UN Photo, November 1949, United Nations (Lake Success), New York, Photo # 117539
People like definitions, don't they? On the one hand, it is important to know them to be able to explain what we do/mean; on the other hand, agreeing on one definition that satisfies all is often a very challenging experience.
The Council of Europe Charter on EDC/HRE provides both definitions. They may not be very appealing, but let’s treat them as a starting point for discussing the relationship between EDC and HRE. Let me present them in a table so you can easily grasp what they have in common and what is different.
Education for democratic citizenship
Education, training, awareness raising, information, practices and activities which aim, by equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviour, to empower them to exercise and defend their democratic rights and responsibilities in society, to value diversity and to play an active part in democratic life, with a view to the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law.
Human rights education
Education, training, awareness raising, information, practices and activities which aim, by equipping learners with knowledge, skills and understanding and developing their attitudes and behaviour, to empower learners to contribute to the building and defence of a universal culture of human rights in society, with a view to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
I guess the first same parts of both definitions are very clear. They mention different forms of delivery – trainings, awareness raising, activities – that should develop learners’ competences (knowledge, skills, attitudes). As educators, we are very much used to this and there is nothing new in here: each educational activity, whether planned (formal and non-formal education) or not planned (informal education), provides people with at least some knowledge and, in the case of formal and non-formal education, develops skills and attitudes. The lists of such potential competences can be found in COMPASS or other educational materials. The challenge starts with the second part of both definitions as they come with several concepts that may be quite difficult to define: so, we end up with more definitions within one definition. And it is not getting any easier. When I read them, the following questions come to my head: what are democratic rights and responsibilities? Are they the same as human rights? Why does valuing diversity appear only in the definition of EDC and not of HRE? Shouldn’t HRE encourage people to defend their human rights and the rights of others and therefore encourage people to play an active part in democratic life? What is a universal culture of human rights, and how to develop and defend it?
The ultimate goals of both concepts (which are long-term goals) look clear – the promotion and protection of democracy and the rule of law (in EDC) and human rights and fundamental freedoms (in HRE). It is normal that we end up here with “big words” that will probably need to be explored in order to understand the definitions of EDC/HRE.
All in all, both EDC and HRE develop certain learners’ competences (as all education does) and empower them to take action. As the explanatory memorandum to the Charter says, both EDC and HRE do not differ much in goal and practices but rather in scope and focus.
The second minute: Democratic citizenship and human rights
Democratic citizenship can be defined as membership or participation in political democracy, which is not reduced to the nation state. It can be your village, city, community, continent or the globe (global citizenship). It is about the ability to make or influence decisions that affect us on any level. This of course includes all members of such communities: citizens of a nation state, refugees and migrants. Democratic citizenship is not only reserved for the citizens of a state, it applies to all people who feel a part of a community – it is therefore more the question of a sense of belonging or identity rather than formal recognition.
The notion of citizenship is very dynamic and it has changed in the past years as new forms of citizenship emerged mainly due to the possibilities the internet offers to young people. Therefore, the tools like the ones proposed by the Tactical Technology Collective that explore the political and social roles of technology in people’s lives become very popular. It is difficult to stay silent when you see that the things around you have a negative impact on your life or the lives of your friends, but as these issues are most of the time very urgent to be dealt with, there is often no time to learn in a classical way; therefore, such tools provide ideas for actions and can be used straightaway. Another tool that gets popularity among young people is called Beautiful Trouble – it provides not only the ideas on how to organise an action in response to the problem, but also lets you stop for a minute and reflect on its meaning and even read about different theories and tactics that can be used when promoting and protecting democracy and human rights.
When reading the history of human rights, it is evident that the idea of human rights has more moral than legal nature; they actually reflect human aspirations to live free, live in dignity, to limit the power of the state, to be treated fairly. But this is history… Nowadays, the concept of universal human rights stresses the fact that they are rather minimal standards for people to live in dignity, not something we should treat as ideals we aspire to. Human rights belong to all people due simply to the fact that they are humans; and this is the only requirement to have such rights.
Although they reflect values, such as freedom, justice or non-discrimination, human rights are also codified and made into laws that protect them. And it is their dual nature – values and laws at the same time – that make human rights strong.
The theory of human rights tells us that the concept of human rights is about the relationship between the state (power) and an individual based on the principle that the power of the state is not unlimited and that there should be mechanisms and procedures that limit that power and at the same time protect people’s rights and freedoms. However, when you look at COMPASS again, or many other HRE resources, you will find many activities that address the issues between individuals, like domestic violence, bullying at school or hate speech among young people. This is often called a horizontal approach to human rights. However, the European Convention on Human Rights does not provide any protection mechanisms in cases of human rights violations between private persons, it also does not prohibit such an approach. It is clear, I believe, that human rights must be protected in all situations regardless of who/what commits human rights violation. It is also clear that in such situations, the criminal, labour or civil code should provide mechanisms for protection. But is it not a mistake that human rights education resources focus on the horizontal approach to human rights: human rights constitute a framework, in which values can be clarified and negotiated; they are regulatory character-setting standards of behaviour of one person towards the other; they make people aware of their own biases and teach them respect and tolerance. All this contributes to building a culture of human rights which is the ultimate goal of human rights education.
The concept of human rights, like democratic citizenship, is also dynamic. Human rights can be found in different documents, such as conventions or covenants, but as the world evolves we are confronted with new human rights issues, like cybercrime or the effects of global warming that constitute serious human rights violations.
@ Illustration by Siiri Taimla
The third minute: Action-centred education
Education is again a complex issue, but as educator and trainer I very often think about how I understand it and what my role is as “a provider” or “a facilitator” of education. I quite like the explanation of Chris Rose in his book on campaigning,1 where he tries to explain how education differs from campaigns. He says that education expands awareness of options and complexity. The learners are faced with the problem, they are getting aware of it, they learn to understand its nature as only then comes the reflection (e.g. on knowledge application, needed skills or desired attitudes). At the end of this process one usually realises that the problem was not as simple as one thought at the beginning. Rose places this concept in opposition to campaigning: people are getting aware of the problem that raises their concern and creates a sense of urgency to act, which often results in anger that motivates people to act. Rose’s concept of education reaches the level of understanding but stops short of action. I believe EDC and HRE are the combination of the above-mentioned models, which may look like this:
Both in EDC and HRE learners explore the problem (e.g. human rights violations in the community, bullying at school, hate speech on the internet or low participation of young people in local elections). In order to understand it they need to be aware of it and learn about its reasons and consequences, or the ways the problem shows, and reflect on how it affects both individual and community lives. From reflection comes concern about the issue and sense of (self-)agency. This is the moment for skills development needed to tackle the problem that leads to developing certain attitudes (or realising what attitudes are needed to tackle the issue) which ends up with concrete action.
At this point, one may ask if EDC/HRE aims at creating masses of activists. The answer is NO – in this respect agency is more related to being aware that I am able to change things starting from simple actions, like realising that the comments someone posts on your Facebook may be hate speech and seeking support or talking to own parents about problems related to immigration. Such a talk may result in attitude change or simple confrontation with different ideas and understandings that people are sometimes not confronted with in everyday life. We should not, however, exclude the possibility of bigger action, if learners decide to do it. What I am trying to say is that EDC/HRE in its nature is very powerful, as while being learner-centred it is also (or maybe primarily) action-centred.
1 Rose C. (2010), How to win campaigns: communications for change, Earthscan, London/Washington, DC.
The fourth minute: EDC/HRE practice
It is difficult to talk nowadays about democratic citizenship when young people do not believe in democracy, when the elected leaders themselves act against its values. It seems painful to discuss human rights when the authorities who are there to represent us limit people’s freedoms and human rights in the name of the fight against terrorism or prevention of violent radicalism or any other reason.
There are many commonalities about EDC and HRE and it will always be like that – it is difficult to practise democratic citizenship when you are not aware of your human rights; it is difficult to promote and protect human rights when you are passive. Educational approaches used in EDC/HRE will therefore be very similar or sometimes the same. COMPASS, and later the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, mention learning about (knowledge, understanding), through (attitudes and values) and for human rights (skills). The same concept could be applied to democratic citizenship education: education about, through and for democracy.
It is not only knowledge and skills development that count in EDC/HRE but also the way the activities are run: if they respect everyone’s right to freely express opinions, even if they are very controversial, if every participant has the right to participate, if the trainer’s attitudes are in line with the values of human rights, if the activities are inclusive and take into account everyone’s needs and abilities, if they start with what young people know and take into account their experiences, are there then any differences between EDC and HRE? Naturally, there are. The topics covered by EDC will include the elements that are not necessarily dealt with in human rights education curricula, such as the decision-making processes in the parliament or government in your country. National citizenship education curricula probably provide many examples of such differences.
EDC/HRE does not have to be done in a “classical” way (in the classroom or conference room doing the activities from COMPASS). One could think about going out and painting graffiti by asking young people to decide on how they want to picture a human rights/democracy message to their peers. I have recently used the method of writing a book on young people’s reactions to hate speech online. Some 350 students from eight schools worked in groups and collectively wrote chapters for the publication that presents young people’s understanding of hate speech and their ways to react or deal with it. As controversial as it may sound, the activity put people in dialogue and let them discuss and agree on what is important for them when it comes to acting against hate speech. It also involved those who do not necessarily think positively about human rights and maybe for the first time they had a chance to freely express what they think and be confronted with other opinions. Negotiating the final text was challenging, but it was young people who decided on it making sure all opinions were taken into account.
@ Illustration by Siiri Taimla
The last minute: Conclusions
During EDC/HRE activities I very often have the participants who insist on focusing more on responsibilities than rights. In such situations I have to remind them that, according to the European Convention on Human Rights, the only obligation we have is to protect and promote human rights. People will only be able to actively participate in political democracy and recognise human rights violations if they know what human rights they have and feel they have power to change the situation that affects them.
The Polish Ombudsman has recently published the results of the research on different issues related to human rights and democracy that was undertaken in Polish upper secondary schools. While some of the results are not surprising, others made my eyebrows raise. Polish students clearly express homophobic and xenophobic attitudes, especially related to refugees and immigrants. Some of them see the European Union as the “factory of lies” underlying moral deficits in the EU leadership. They present a very passive attitude towards participation in politics or associative life: even if they sometimes participate in demonstrations or other social events they are very reluctant to organise them. They don’t believe politicians and journalists. It is difficult to say to what extent these results are representative for the population of Polish young people but they definitely should be taken into account when designing EDC/HRE programmes and activities. Together with my colleagues who are active in EDC/HRE we often discuss that our activities reach young people who are already active or present tolerant attitudes, and the issue of reaching young people who are uninterested or negative about human rights and democracy has often been the topic of many training courses I have participated in.
I strongly believe that EDC/HRE can have a transformative effect on people’s lives and I have seen many examples of it. However, we have to always make it relevant to the lives of young people. Talking about values may not seem easy; developing attitudes based on human rights may be even more difficult, but the final result may be life-altering.
All in all, it is crucial to always remember that EDC/HRE is everyone’s human right.
Partnership between the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth
c/o Council of Europe / Directorate of Democratic Citizenship and Participation Youth Department / F-67075 Strasbourg Cedex, France
c/o Council of Europe / Brussels office / Avenue des Nerviens 85 / B-1040 Brussels / Belgium