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