Re: Target sector of new phase of the WPHRE

(Concerns: the ongoing online-discussion on the WPHRE = World Programme for Human Rights Education, see links at the end)

Linked with World Program for Human Rights Education WPHRE (on Berhane Tewolde’s Development Blog), June 29th, 2009, and with URGENT – your support for statement to … , February 16th, 2009.

Received by mail:
From: Kazunari Fujii
Date: 13/07/2009

Dear all, For the second phase of the WPHRE, “Human rights education in higher education and academic institutions (as well as other research institutions related to human rights)” seems appropriate to me.

We have learnt several lessons from the first phase. There could always be both positive and negative attributions of difficult situations of human rights to the WPHRE.

In examining the WPHRE, two important aspects or its inherent limitations appear that we need to accept but in turn utilise to a maximum extent which is the reason I think this sector may be a good choice.


  • First, the WPHRE is a programme intended for the whole world. However, every country has a human rights situation and reality different from other countries. In effect, the WPHRE intended for the whole world can provide at its best a set of guidelines or common standards and general principles with minimal actions to be taken for the implementation of human rights education that all Member States agree upon.
  • Second, because of the nature mentioned above, it is indispensable and expected that a national plan of action is prepared at the national level in the country where the political will appears and initiatives of civil society actors are feasible.
  • These two aspects or limitations were well projected when the WPHRE was first proposed at the former UN Commission on Human Rights in 2004 that have become obvious in today’s reality.
  • Nevertheless, as explained below, these limitations per se should be possible to overcome by taking appropriate approaches and maximising the significant potentials of the WPHRE.


  • For the reason of the proposed sector, I would like to point to the fact that it is only the very first phase of the WPHRE which is now concluding. During the first phase, the level of public awareness of the WPHRE was still a very challenging issue. It would make sense that the second phase immediately following the challenging first phase should somehow relate to the first phase rather than moving into a completely separate domain from the first phase. Thus, it is an idea to set up the second phase in order to position human rights education elements throughout the entire cycle of formal education systems as it is essential for the effective implementation of human rights education in various sectors or themes of the subsequent phases. It should be emphasised at the same time that higher education also encompasses non-formal and informal education as was the case with the first phase and this must be strongly incorporated in the plan of action for the second phase.
  • A manifest difficulty learnt from the first phase was the responsibility burdened on school teachers or their ignorance of and unfamiliarity with human rights education. This is one reason that the first phase had to be extended form the original period of 3 years to 5 years.
  • Taking into account that in order to become a teacher, people are expected to have been educated in the higher education system, mostly at a university or teachers’ training college, the second phase focusing on human rights education in higher education and academic institutions would contribute to enable them to acquire the basics on human rights education before becoming a teacher – knowledge, skills, attitudes and ideas of initiatives to take toward building respect for human rights. At least, cognitive learning as a basis or empirical factual knowledge of human rights is important in the qualification process for the teaching profession.


  • Furthermore, higher education and academic or research institutions could contribute to development of innovative methodologies and tools for human rights education as well as capacity building of teachers and other professionals. This could further facilitate feasible and effective potentials of the WPHRE in the following phases after the second phase. The process, especially directly involving academic and research institutions, is also expected to contribute to development of a monitoring or evaluation machinery for the implementation of the WPHRE in consideration of the State accountability for human rights education. Undoubtedly, there is a wide range of possibilities that NGOs in the field are highly able to contribute to the process.


  • While proposing higher education and academic institutions for the second phase, the plan of action of the second phase should indicate also the importance of special attention to the need for protection and participation of vulnerable groups in human rights education. The fact that the main title of the second phase may not refer to a specific human rights issue or a vulnerable/marginalised group or population should not mean that they are neglected. Elaboration of a plan of action for the second phase is critical in this sense.


  • From my experiences over years in attempting and making efforts for the promotion of human rights education as a common and imperative agenda for all nations through the policy-making process on human rights around the UN from the NGO side, I strongly feel several challenges that we must live with which seem not impossible to overcome thanks to HREA online forums connecting so many concerned people globally as well as any other wide-range networking of civil society actors.
  • The question is how to maximise the potentials of the WPHRE in the coming second phase and the phases to follow.
  • One challenge is that the WPHRE is not a substitute for an international human rights treaty – a legal instrument on human rights under the principles of international law, but a complementary policy framework at the global level equally important as the international human rights treaties. If the State hasn’t even ratified an applicable international legal instrument / treaty on specific human rights, it wouldn’t really make sense to expect the State to take actions through a platform of the WPHRE regarding that specific human rights situation. Needless to say, the already existing internationally agreed human rights norms and standards are the ground of the WPHRE. Then, for a specific issue and situation, ratification of the State to an applicable human rights treaty, or employment of those norms and standards, is probably more urgent to promote and resort to. At the same time, even in the midst of such a resort, the WPHRE could yet be a contributory tool, because of its nature as a global policy framework for human right education, in order to open up a possibility, even a little, to raise a political will of the State if not enough to ratify the legally binding treaty. Nonetheless, confusing the WPHRE with international treaty provisions as if they are identical in effect may be counter-effective leading to discouragement and unreasonable disappointment with the WPHRE.
  • I have no intention to sound sceptic or pessimistic, but rather wish to be wise to maximise the potentials of the WPHRE which I understand is a very important cornerstone in human society for human rights education toward the full realisation of human rights by establishing a universal culture of human rights even if it may take a very long time over generations. It has been 60 years since the UN took up human rights as one of the main fields of its activities with the former Commission on Human Rights, the present Human Rights Council, a number of special procedures on human rights, and international legal human rights instruments. Yet, it seems quite far from the point that we can proudly say that human rights violations have ceased and human dignity is respected well in all countries. I wonder how much difference we can specify in comparison of human rights situations of 60 years ago with those of today, although certain progresses made in various domains are well recognisable. Thus, of course, all available means of human rights protection mechanisms were and are necessary and need to be further developed.
  • Based on the needs for adopting all available approaches besides the WPHRE to human rights violations and human rights promotion as mentioned above, taking the WPHRE as a sustainable fundamental approach in a long term toward the full realisation of human rights is neither sceptic nor optimistic, but is a realistic and firm choice of solution with all consecutive phases.


  • The duration of each consecutive phase is not specifically prescribed in either the Plan of Action for the first phase or Commission on Human Rights resolution 2004/71 on the WPHRE. However, in the intensive negotiation process and discussions which took place at the former UN Commission on Human Rights when the resolution was adopted, the duration of each phase was projected and planned to last for approximately 3 years.
  • This reason for 3 years being selected was that if the duration was set to a longer period, it was felt this might affect the motivation for plans or ongoing programmes of human rights education in other sectors at the national level. At the same time, a shorter period than that would be insufficient time.
  • While a 3-year period is proposed, if the process of determining the second phase parameters become unreasonably tardy and the announcement is made in the final part of the year 2009, the proposed duration can be 4 years in consideration of a necessary time to prepare for the implementation of the second phase by relevant actors in all countries as well as drafting a plan of action for the second phase. During the course of implementation of the second phase, the Human Rights Council can decide an extension of the duration as necessary as was the case with the first phase.


Many thanks to all subscribers and HREA for allowing me to learn from you all very precious lessons constantly.

Kazunari Fujii, Soka Gakkai International (SGI) / Chair, NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning, Geneva.

======== Global Human Rights Education listserv =======


Re: Assessment of current phase of the WPHRE, 2009-06-17;

European meeting on World Programme for Human Rights Education, 02-11-2007;

Regional European Meeting on the World Programme for Human Rights Education
(WPHRE), Strassbourg, 30 October 2007.

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