Mainstreaming Human Rights

Published on HREA Human Rights Education Associates.

Course 1T08: Mainstreaming Human Rights, from 31 March to 15 June 2008; Instructor: Gerd Oberleitner.

On-line application, in word. (Your application should be received by HREA no later than 1 March 2008 yet applications are accepted on a first-come-first-serve basis. Completed applications can be mailed to: HREA, Attn: Distance Learning Programme, PO Box 382396, Cambridge, MA 02238-2396, USA).

In 1997, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan (in his report “Renewing the United Nations: A Programme for Reform”) designated human rights as a “cross-cutting issue” for the whole United Nations (UN) system and asked for human rights to be “mainstreamed” into the programmes, policies and activities of all UN specialised agencies, programmes and funds. This proved to be a system-wide and ongoing challenge for the UN system, the results of which are both potentially far-reaching and little understood. A decade after the Secretary-General’s call it is time to take stock of the achievements, failures and challenges of mainstreaming human rights in the UN.


This course will critically trace and evaluate the results of the Secretary-General’s proposal, compare the different approaches taken by members of the “UN family” and note their experiences. After all, their response to mainstreaming is uneven, with some embracing the idea, some struggling with it and others eschewing it altogether. Despite numerous pledges to mainstream human rights, the very term still lacks conceptual clarity, and misunderstandings and disagreements as to both the process and its desired outcome remain. The obstacles to successfully mainstream human rights are plentiful and its practical requirements demanding. What do we learn, ten years on, from the experiences made by UN specialized agencies, programmes and funds? Is mainstreaming a beneficial process worth pursing? What are the prerequisites for successfully mainstreaming human rights? How does mainstreaming change institutions; and does it also change our perception of human rights? These are some of the questions the course seeks to answer … (full long text).

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