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16 Octooer 2001
UNESCO and Human Rights Education
Rudolf Jo
Division of Human Right, Democracy, Peace and Tolerance
Distinguished Chairperson,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, 1 wish to congratulate our hosts for organizing the Second Annual Comparative Human Rights
Conference within the framework of the partnership between University of Connecticut and the African National
Congress. 1 would als o like to express the appreciation of the Director-General of UNESCO for your having
invited the Organization to this important meeting. It is therefore a great pleasure and honour for me to address
you in my capacity as its Director responsible for the promotion of human rights and demoeratic principles. I feel
privileged to participate at this forum and to share with you UNESCO' s experience in the tieid of human rights
education. 1 am convinced that the debate and the subsequent exchanges will make manifest the importance of
providing equitable educational opportunities for alI without exception. Indeed this is the topic which unites us
here today and which is a major concern governing our day-to-day activities in various parts ofthe world.
Mr. Chairperson,
Human rights advocacy is a long-standing engagement for my Organization. To promote and protect human
rights is a core mandate of UNESCO. Already, in 1945 its Constitution had made the universal promotion of
and advocacy for human rights one ofthe fundamental objectives of the Organization.
UNESCO's draft Medium-Term Strategy for 2002-2007 confirms a perfect continuity in terms of vision and
commitment. It detines the main programme areas of the Organization for the next six years and stipulates
among others: "The Organization will undertake advocacy, awareness-raising and knowledge-sharing with
regard to human rights through education and information activities and placing special emphasis on women's
rights, It will also endeavour to facilitate and disseminate research in the field of human rights, particularly with
regard to the obstacles impeding the full implementation of social, economic and cultural rights and taking fulIy
into account human rights based approaches to development".
The last decade of the 20th century saw the end of the Cold War, the communication revolution and the
development of increasingly integrated markets, all of which created an entirely new global context, with new
challenges to the international actors.
One positive aspect of globalization has led individuals and civil society as a whole to become more aware of
their human rights. The importance of human rights as an international issue has been recognized and, as a
general rule, the human rights dimension of world politics has been strengthened. Another noteworthy
development during the last decade is that universal ratification of the basic human rights treaties has been
encouraged and has met with considerable success, In fact, noticeable progress has been made in the codification
of human rights instruments by an increasing number of countries.
Despite these positrve developments and the undeniable results achieved, waming signals have also been
perceived. The 1990s also saw the recurrence of extremely serious human rights violations caused by the rise of
nationalism, racism, xenophobia, sexism and religious intolerance. They have led to the most abhorrent forms of
ethnic cleansing including the systematic rape of women, exploitation, neglect and abuse of children and
concerted violence against foreigners, refugees, displaced persons, minorities, indigenous peoples and other
vulnerable groups.
It must be admitted that wide disparities in the tieid of human rights still exist between principles and actions,
words and deeds, declared ideals and actual situations. Persistent human rights abuses bear witness to the fact
that, despite serious efforts, the international community has not yet succeeded in promoting a solid, efficient
and genuinely universal culture of human rights.

Human rights education - knowledge-spreading and awareness-raising - is the key to forging such a culture.
Education is a powerful tool in stimulating positive attitudes regarding respect for human rights and for the
advancement of peace and se curity. It constitutes an important investment for achieving a just society in which
alI the human rights of everyone are respected.
The activities of UNESCO are based on the indivisibility, interdependence and universality of human rights. The
indivisibility of human rights is understood as the obligation to pay equal attention to alI human rights. The
realization of economic, social and cultural rights, such as the rights to education, health, social security and an
adequate standard of living, contribute to the enjoyment of civil and politicai rights. Furthermore, respect for
civil and politicai rights has proved to be instrumental in the realization of economic, social and cultural rights.
UNESCO's activities in the field of human rights education are therefore based on the premise that alI human
beings should enjoy freedom from fear and freedom from want, these two freedoms being closely interrelated.
We are convinced that economic, social and cultural rights and civil and politicai rights are complementary and
mutualIy reinforcing.
UNESCO attaches equal importance to the universality of human rights, which has been clearly recognized in
international law since the establishment of the United Nations system in 1945. Human rights are the birthright
of every individual; alI States have the legal obligation to promote and protect them as univers al values,
regardless of particular cultunil contexts. Thus specific cultural contexts must not be used as an excuse to justify
the failure to improve individual human rights situations. Human rights cannot be applied selectively or
On the other hand, as the United Nations lead agency in the field of culture, UNESCO is particularly aware that
universal human rights must be promoted and protected in a world of great cultural diversity. Any approach
which ignores the specific context of a country, including its history, culture and tradition, will in no way be
conducive to the improvement of the human rights situation there. Implementation strategies, including policies
to promote human rights, will only be relevant and efficient if, beside placing an emphasis on common standards
and core values, the significance of national and regional particularities are also taken into due consideration
Mr. Chairperson,
It is widely recognized that poverty is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. It is an af front to human
dignity; it is "a denial of human rights". Therefore UNESCO, as a universal organization, will address the issue
of poverty, in particular extreme poverty, through its activities in the fields of education, culture and
Education plays a central role in the struggle to reduce poverty. UNESCO considers the promotion of basic
education as being indispensable in the eff ort to empower people through access to knowledge. A major
challenge is making education accessible to an increasing number of children who are deprived of education and
who live in poor, illiterate families. In a world where over 100 million children still do not attend school and 150
million drop out without learning to read, achieving basic education for alI is of paramount importance.
Therefore a universal, rights-based access to basic education is indeed an extremely significant goal for the
international community.
UNESCO, in collaboration with the intellectual community and professional bodies, wants to contribute to
further elucidation of certain concepts such as 'basic education' and 'qualityeducation'
. It is also necessary to
reflect on how to give a real meaning and a full understanding to Articles 13 and 14 of the International
Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which emphasize that education is a human right and, at the
same time, is an indispensable condition for the realization of other human rights.
Mr. Chairperson,
UNESCO views the principles of equality and non-discrimination as being central to the concept of human
rights. As early as 1951, my Organization adopted a Statement on the Nature ofRace and Race Differences. This
document demonstrated without a doubt the absence of a scientific foundation to theories of racial superiority,
underlining that race is not a biological phenomenon but a social construct. Another milestone in UNESCO's
work in this field was the 1960 Convention against Discrimination in Education, now ratified by 89 Mernber
States. This international instrument aims at the eradication of discrirnination in education and, at the same time,
at the promotion of equality of opportunities and treatment. In 1978, the UNESCO General Conference adopted
the Declaration on Race and Racial Prejudice, an important standard-setting document which rejects alI theories

and ideologies related to racial inequality, and condemns various racist attitudes and discriminatory practices,
including apartheid.
The World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which took
place in Durban, South Africa in August and September of this year, gave an additional impetus to UNESCO's
commitment in this field. Beside the central role of education, the Programme of Action adopted there invites
UNESCO to contribute to the follow-up activities by initiating research projects and stimulating intellectual
debates related to the dialogue among civilizations, the culture of peace and tolerance. The Organization will
work in close co-operation with Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to imp lement the decisions
and recommendations of the Durban Conference.
Mr. Chairperson,
UNESCO has a unique profile among universal agencies. It is at the same time an intellectual forum, a place of
international debate and exchange, and an intergovernmental organization dealing with policy-planning and
implementation. Its dual vocation - intellectual and operational - ensures UNESCO an unparalleled role as the
interface between intellectual communities, government agencies and the general public, which has great
relevance in an areas of its activities, inc1uding in particular the promotion of human rights and of human rights
My Organization considers human rights education as a life-long process. It requires a comprehensive, allencompassing strategy in order to be meaningfui and to reach alI segments of society. Human rights must be
integrated into formaI and non-formal education, and into school curricula at alllevels. Education for human
rights and demoeratic citizenship can be best developed - where the values and principles of human rights are
reflected within the education system itself, where the educational environment do es not contradict these
principles. The inclusion in curricula on education for human rights and citizenship therefore implies a major
educational commitment which, in tum, requires reflection and reform of structures, teacher-training
programmes and classroom management. Such reform can only be developed in the long-term; it must have the
support of alI concerned - parents, students, teachers, ministries, non-governmental organizations.
Mr. Chairperson,
My Organization has an important network of partners worldwide: national commrssions for UNESCO,
UNESCO clubs and centers, and UNESCO associated schools. They are particularly weIl placed to represent
diverse communities and groups within the civil societies of their respective countries. Their role is instrumental
in promoting human rights education and demoeratic citizenship.
Let me say a few words more about the UNESCO chairs. Currently there are 53 U1\TESCO Chairs in human
rights, democracy, peace and tolerance in various regions of the world. They play an important role in
disseminating various aspects of human rights law to advanced students of different disciplines, legal
practitioners, and public servants. The Chairs work to build and strengthen academic expertise on human rights,
as weIl as to assist in training educators in order to ensure a multiplier effect. These academic teaching and
research centres play an outstanding role in increasing an understanding of human rights law, in promoting it as
an integral element of international peace and security, and in strengthening human rights based approaches to
international cooperation.
Mr. Chairperson,
Although the criteria on which their selection is based are strictly qua litative, the number of UNESCO Chairs for
Human Rights is increasing constantly. It is for this very reason that 1 am proud to be able to conclude this
presentation by announcing that the University of Connecticut Chair of Comparative Human Rights has become
a member of the UNESCO Chairs' Network. Let me therefore seize this occasion to convey to the senior officials
and acadernic staff of your University the congratulations and good wishes of Mr. Koichiro Matsura, Director
General of UNESCO, for the future work of this Chair, which is the first in the USA to take part in the Network.
Personally, 1 need hardly tell you that 1 and my colleagues in UNESCO look forward with immense pleasure to
working with your distinguished and motivated team. We also look forward to your representative taking part in
the next Chairholders' meeting which will be held next year in Stadtschlaining, Austria. Your contribution there
will be of the greatest value to the Network in the years to come.