Imposed ignorance is a human rights violation

By Shulamith Koenig (special to CDHR)

(Shulamith Koenig is the Founding President of PDHRE, People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning, which she founded in 1988 with the goal of creating, in the words of Nelson Mandela, a new political culture based on human rights.)

LogoThe most exciting and absolutely necessary initiative for the 21st century is to start a worldwide movement for all to learn, know and own human rights as a way of life. Integrating an on-going process of learning human rights as relevant to people’s daily lives, at all levels of society, will have women and men take a brave, enlightened journey towards human rights realisation.

Voltaire, when asked, “What should we do about human rights?” answered, “Let the people know them”. There is another, more detailed question that we continue to ask, “If all people in the world, whoever and wherever they are, women and men, youth and children, learned, knew, owned and understood the significance of human rights to their daily lives and the life of their community, would the world be a better place for all?”  As we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (VDPA), and soon the 65th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), allow me to share some  background on the ways and means we have been taking, continuously  asking, and trying to answer this question.

Shulamith Koenig
Shulamith Koenig

Starting 25 years ago in search of the meaning of democracy, not to be understood only as a structure but as an essence that celebrates the way to live with one another, live in equality, in dignity and without discrimination, we pulled together a wise, dedicated group of people from around the world and created the Peoples Decade of Human Rights Education (PDHRE) – now the PDHRE, People’s Movement for Human Rights Learning. To this day we are still  gathering experiences, examining the components and deciphering one by one the threads that will have people weave – in the words of Nelson Mandela – “a political culture based on human rights”; allow me to add, with all humility, human rights as a way of life.

We are developing ways and means and facilitating plans and actions to answer this imperative. From the outset we have been guided, as all of us are, by Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms: Speech, Belief, and Freedom from and Fear and Want. Obviously, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the shining light on the voyage we decided to take. In this process we noted that the prevailing mind-set and on-going perused actions by international NGOs and local civil society organisations centered on political and civil human rights violation. This of course was a result of post-colonial and post-Second World War people’s search for new definitions and actions to be free from fear, but in the process neglecting what must be an inseparable twin: the “want”.

I searched for answers to this lacuna, so relevant and indeed so sad, knowing that poverty and economic inequality were so prevalent and must be attended to forcefully. (It took organisations like Amnesty International several decades to make economic, social and cultural human rights a part of their agenda). In a visit to Chile I was granted a short meeting with the aging Ambassador Santa Cruz, who in 1948 had worked closely with Eleanor Roosevelt towards the adoption of the UDHR. I asked him, “Why is it that the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural (human) Rights was left in the back of the bus?” “I can answer it with one word”, he said vehemently, “GREED!” His answer is still with us in our work as we share the knowledge of economic, social and cultural human rights.

To overcome this lacuna and to introduce civil society groups and organisation to economic, social and cultural human rights, and its importance for their work, we received a grant from the Norwegian Development Agency. The project was to reach out to thirty countries – some in every region – to hold a two to three days workshop in each of these countries, for local representatives of 25 groups working on the issues of labour, women, food, education, housing, health, water, children, indigenous people, religion, culture etc. Five of the largest organisations were identified in each of these countries, whose issues were more relevant to the larger part of the local population, and we asked them to prepare a page that describes the problems and the solutions. These five documents were given to a local human rights expert to analyse within the human rights framework, presenting it on the first day of the workshop. On the second and third days, discussions were held for participants to internalise the relevance of their issues to human rights as they learned about the interconnectedness and interrelatedness of the overarching human rights framework and got acquainted with its guidance that could lead on the road to the change they were seeking.

One such workshop was held outside Nairobi; the organiser had not been able to get a permit to hold the workshop in the city. The organiser was a woman, who distributed – already in 1991 – round framed solar lenses to women in the marketplace for cooking with clean energy rather than burning wood, realizing that indeed these were human rights issues of health and environment. Arriving on the first morning the participants met a policeman, who was sitting at the back of the room, having been sent to observe the meeting. As the human rights analysis of the five documents proceeded during the morning, and without giving prior notice, the policeman rose to his feet and cried out, “Stop it! Stop it! If this is human rights, come and teach it in my village!” The voice of Eleanor Roosevelt was echoing in the room, “Where after all human rights begin […] in small places […]”. Since that morning the spontaneous call of a single policeman, who heard for the first time what human rights IS and ARE, has been the clarion call of our work.

In 1993, at the Vienna Human Rights Conference, we lobbied with sixty countries to bring forth the need for human rights education and a call to develop a Decade for Human Rights Education. We were successful! It became an integral part of the Vienna Programme of Action and in 1994, human rights education was defined as public policy by the UN General Assembly adopting resolution A/RES/49/184 on the UN Decade of Human Rights Education that PDHRE was privileged to co-author.

To answer the 1993 call that until today is guiding our current programmes for learning of human rights as a way of life, allow me to present the two paragraphs from the 1994 resolution:

“Human rights education should involve more than the provision of information and should constitute a comprehensive life-long process by which people at all levels in development work and in all strata of society learn to respect the dignity of others and the means and methods of ensuring that respect in all societies.”

The resolution went on to state:

“[…] human rights education contributes to a concept of development consistent with the dignity of women and men of all ages that takes into account the diverse segments of society such as children, indigenous peoples, minorities and disabled persons”; and, “[…] calls upon international, regional and national non-governmental organizations, in particular those concerned with women, labor, development and the environment, as well as all other social justice groups, human rights advocates, educators, religious organizations and the media, to increase their involvement in formal and non-formal education in human rights and to cooperate with the Centre for Human Rights in implementing the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education […]”.

PDHRE, having been active in the field for the last 25 years, can with some authority – gained through the years and with humility – make several statements in this regard:

Most UN agencies, government institutions and civil society are diligently working to defend and   promote human rights FOR the people, but very little WITH the people.

They see it mostly as a legal paradigm and not as a way of life, a value system that informs people’s lives that allows on-going meaningful change. Pressed by emergencies, they work mostly on symptoms and not often enough on causes. They do not devote the necessary time on the transfer of knowledge to the people to enable full participation in the decisions that determine their lives and bring human rights to the world.

Indeed, most human rights groups and agencies that are recognised for their purpose and integrity do human rights “for them” – the abused, the poor, the women etc. And even though their work is accepted with great respect, most of the people for whose human rights they fight do not know about the relevance of human rights to their lives as a powerful tool and strategy for economic, societal and human development; and/or about its holistic vision and practical mission, which will enable people to become owners and actors of human rights.

As the famous Nigerian song reiterates, “Human rights is my property, no one can take it away from me”. Thus, an on-going process of human rights learning at the community level throughout the world to have people develop a political movement, a political culture, must be the immediate purpose without which the change called for by the overarching human rights framework will never become a sustained reality. We have been taking forth step by step the learning of human rights as a way of life to many communities around the world. It is a never-ending attempt to have the multitude of civil society organisations make it an integral part of their work. All that in the attempt to close the enormous gap of knowledge that human rights education has, unintentionally, created.

Human rights education has mostly been brought to the class room, time-bound and as a subject – not as a process called for originally in the 1994 resolution, and only to less than ten per cent of the world community. Yet in the General Assembly resolution 60/251 creating the Human Rights Council in 2006 it says, “a) Promote human rights education and [human rights] learning as well as advisory services, technical assistance and capacity-building, to be provided in consultation with and with the consent of Member States concerned; b) Serve as a forum for dialogue on thematic issues on all human rights”.

It is important to note that when we attempted to have the Council in its recent declaration make a distinction and call for both, human rights education and human rights learning, our call fell on deaf ears, refusing even to discuss the realities of a meaningful outreach and the original 1993-1994 call for “[…] an on-going, never-ending, process of integrating the learning of human rights [as a way of life], relevant to people’s daily concerns, cutting through all sectors of society”. It is it the generally practiced, time-bound, human rights education that does not end with putting a tool in the hands of women and men at the community level, where these women and men for, with, and by themselves develop a strategy for change; we see such action in and by the community as an imperative for which we have no other option.

At the General Assembly’s Third Committee, for the purpose of creating a viable public policy for human rights learning, together with the Mission of Benin to the UN, the African Group and many other co-sponsors, two resolutions were passed by consensus. These are resolution 62/171 of 2 March 2006 on the “International Year of Human Rights Learning”, and resolution 64/82 of 10 December 2009 on “Follow up to the International Year of Human Rights Learning” that states that the learning of human rights has to be demonstrated practically, not just as the acquisition of knowledge leading to “ownership”, but actually supporting planning that leads to action. The resolutions also confirm the development of “human rights cities” that PDHRE has been facilitating since 1997.

In both the resolutions it reads, “[e]ncourages Member States to expand on efforts undertaken during the International Year of Human Rights Learning and to consider devoting financial and human resources necessary to design and implement international, regional, national, and local long-term human rights learning programmes of action aimed at broad-based and sustained human rights learning at all levels in coordination with civil society, the media, the private sector, academia and parliamentarians and regional organizations, including the appropriate specialized agencies, funds and programmes of the United Nations system, and where possible, in designating human rights cities”.

Thus far there are several such cities in Latin America, the USA and Canada, Africa and Europe with new innovative ideas now being implemented in India and in Eastern Europe.

Moreover, as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is planning a four year programme that leads into the post-2015 initiative with an excellent presentation by the High Commissioner, Ms. Pillay, we suggested that the call for an on-going, never-ending learning process about human rights [as a way of life], as relevant to people’s daily lives should become part of the four year programme and the forthcoming discussions and documents being prepared towards the post-General Assembly meeting in September. This, it is postulated, will close the gap created by the fact that there is actually no real action being undertaken by any group, governmental or civil society organisations, to see to it that, in the long run, all people around the world will engage in learning, knowing and owning human rights [as a way of life] and will use it as a powerful – urgently needed – means for economic and social transformations led by people for the people.

We at PDHRE believe that human rights learning aims, to good part, to resemble what preventive health care is all about. The latter is taking centre stage in the post-2015 negotiations and so are human rights. The Vienna+20 civil society declaration should add this equivalence or parallel, which will have people understand easily that the learning of human rights as a way of life in all communities throughout the world is an imperative that must be implemented towards sustainable development.

We are now working to facilitate the development of human rights cities in slum cities. Since 2007 the world population has become primarily urban. The issues of economic, societal and human development and the realisation of human rights are being played out in the context of rapid urbanisation that needs urgent social attention. Just as globalisation has increased the spread of wealth throughout the world, the same technological advances have broadened, making glaringly evident the disparity between the haves and have-nots.

Given the fact that one of every three city-dwellers lives in an inner-city slum or an informal settlement, there is an urgency to identify ways and means that will challenge slum regeneration and will produce long term sustainable results where slum dwellers re-imagine, re-curve and re-create their own lives. Learning about human rights as relevant to their daily lives stands to equip them with the knowledge that leads to planning and action and the assurance for all to actively claim their human rights, to be free from fear and want, in dignity, in equality and without discrimination. One has only to understand the urgency of the situation to see the need to facilitate conditions that will allow all people to learn, know, own, plan and act guided by the comprehensive human rights framework to improve their conditions.

Although there are abundant examples of slum regeneration programmes, few have led to sustainable results. Most programmes remedy the immediate and visible symptoms without effecting deep social transformation. All the negative aspects of the slums are, in fact, human rights violations.

Urban transformation is the realisation of human rights in people’s daily lives. The human right to adequate housing, health, food a decent environment, security, and work at liveable wages are among the essential conditions that allow people to live productively in dignity within their community. The Human Rights Cities concept – based on community learning human rights as a way of life – offers a model for achieving these goals by bringing together representatives of all issues in the community to facilitate the beginning of a new future with popular human rights learning as relevant to the issues in the community. Such an ongoing community learning process brings forth a clear understanding of the practical implication of human rights that fosters ownership of these human rights as a way of life. Integrating human rights learning in the community leads to critical \thinking and systemic analysis as people empower themselves to identify ingrained inequalities, articulate their needs, and participate as equals in the decision-making process. In this way the process of development at all levels of the community becomes a celebrated participatory endeavour.

It is pertinent to quote here from the CSO Declaration adopted at the Vienna+20 conference on 26 June 2013, which sums up much of what is written above:

XXIII Human Rights Learning

  1. Recalling that already 20 years ago the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action recommended that States ensure wide human rights education programs, the Vienna+20 CSO Conference highlights the imperative of integrating an on-going process of human rights learning throughout the world to which the highest priority must be given. The Post-2015 development framework should be guided by women and men across communities worldwide. This can only be achieved through people learning and getting to know human rights as relevant to their daily lives, discovering how to differentiate symptoms from causes as a way to achieve full equality without discrimination. States are called upon to launch massive efforts that foster people’s self-empowerment so they can forcefully demand full realization and accountability empowered by their human rights learning.
  1. All women, men, youth and children must learn, know, own, and be guided by the human rights framework as a powerful tool and strategy to participate as equals in the decisions that determine the fate of their lives and to demand needed economic and social transformation. People have to move from charity to dignity, and to belonging with respect and trust in their communities. It is imperative that the Post 2015 agenda emphasizes the need for an ongoing Imposed Ignorance is a Human Rights Violation process of learning human rights as a way of life the world over to complement and add the missing link to human rights education articulated in the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, and achieve economic and social justice for all.
  1. The human rights framework has to be centre stage in all future activities. States and civil society should develop regional, national and community plans on human rights including national strategies for on-going human rights learning. Resources must be allocated to increase and integrate such learning within government structures, in schools, in work places, in cultural and religious institutions. In the years to come, there is a need for lifelong human rights learning for both rights holders and duty bearers. The struggle for human rights and its realization for humanity must be the overarching goal. Furthermore, the following was included in the document “Demands of the Vienna+20 Declaration”:2
  1. States launch massive efforts that foster people’s self-empowerment so they can forcefully demand full realization and accountability empowered by their human rights learning.
  1. States and civil society develop regional, national and community plans on human rights including national strategies for on-going human rights learning. Resources are allocated to increase and integrate such learning within government structures, in schools, in work places, in cultural and religious institutions.

In 110 years the world population has grown from one to seven billion people. In this overwhelming growth new definitions of dignity have different meaning. It is within this enormous growth that we are trying to reach people with our message. It is a world where fifty per cent of its population is under 25 years old; sixty million of these youth in Africa choose a life of crime; young men rape little girls in India – protests are growing from Egypt to Brazil; what words can we choose to describe the others? These young people know what they are up against, but very little of what they would want their lives to be. Unfortunately, very few have some inkling of what the holistic and practical vision and mission of human rights has to offer as a guideline, as the banks of the river in which life can flow freely – while we know that when the floods of prejudice and fear threaten our existence, those of us who know and own human rights strengthen the banks of the river to avoid the flood and protect freedom, freedom from fear and want.

The psychologist Alfred Adler taught us that the only drive humanity has is to BELONG in dignity in community with others. Yet such often “racial” and “patriarchal” forms of belonging force women and men alike to exchange their equality for survival, hoping to feel “safe” and “protected”, where often injustice is justice. Can we have a discussion, a dialogue, on the meaning of human rights in the process of change? Can we understand without delay why inequality and its consequences play such an important fear factor in many people’s lives? All too often without even thinking twice that inequality robs the others of their humanity and therefore our own. Can we be “brave” and with the people discover a new language? Again and again, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “develop a new political culture based on human rights”, with respect and trust. We have to move power to human rights as a way of life that will spontaneously be void of derogatory description of the other. Let us start the discussion of how we can get there, step by step. There is no other option; on-going human rights learning in its many forms is the way to go.

To start the process of learning with any audience in any place in the world we first discuss with the group – be it twenty or two hundred people – the meaning of “dignity”. Whatever people say is fully accepted; no right or wrong. (I have learned from Professor Abdul La’hi A’Na’im, originally from Sudan, that dignity is the only universal expression of being). Secondly, the group reads out loud, with one voice, the “Thirty Points of Dignity”, one by one, i.e. the short version of the UDHR prepared by several human rights experts. Third, the group is asked to pair up and tell one another the first time that their human rights were violated, and the first time their human rights were realised.

What happens in the room when these questions go back and forth is electrifying, as people discover what human rights are within the context of their personal experiences. I will never forget the story Maria Suarez, who originally designed this workshop; she wrote about the first workshop she held in Costa Rica with twelve women from Central America, women who wanted to become human rights mentors. In response to the questions one of the participants said, “The first time my human rights were violated was at the age of 13 when I was forced to marry the man who raped me”. Her human rights were first realised at the age of 52, when she was able to go back to school and finish her studies. This woman became the one who championed equality of women as a mentor and a monitor. She knew, body and soul, the meaning of human rights to her life. Indeed, not all people have such dramatic occurrences in their lives, but as people go through the “Thirty Points of Dignity” one by one, recognising that their hopes and expectations are embodied in them, they are ready to take the human rights road.

The Thirty Points of Dignity

Moving from Charity to Dignity – Free from Fear and Free from want

Summary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Article 1:

All human beings are born free and equal.

Article 2: Everyone is entitled to the same human rights without

discrimination of any kind.

Article 3: Everyone has the human right to life, liberty, and security.

Article 4: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude.

Article 5: No one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6: Everyone has the human right to be recognised everywhere as a person before the law.

Article 7: Everyone is equal before the law and has the human right to equal protection of the law.

Article 8: Everyone has the human right to a remedy if their human rights are violated.

Article 9: No one shall be arrested, detained, or exiled arbitrarily.

Article 10: Everyone has the human right to a fair trial.

Article 11: Everyone has the human right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Article 12: Everyone has the human right to privacy and family life.

Article 13: Everyone has the human right to freedom of movement and residence within the State, to leave any country and to return to one’s country.

Article 14: Everyone has the human right to seek asylum from persecution.

Article 15: Everyone has the human right to a nationality.

Article 16: All adults have the human right to marry and found a family. Women and men have equal human rights to marry, within marriage, and at its dissolution.

Article 17: Everyone has the human right to own property.

Article 18: Everyone has the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

Article 19: Everyone has the human right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Article 20: Everyone has the human right to peaceful assembly and association.

Article 21: Everyone has the human right to take part in government of one’s country directly or through free and fair elections and access to the public service.

Article 22: Everyone has the human right to social security and to the realisation of the economic, social and cultural human rights indispensable for dignity.

Article 23: Everyone has the human right to work, to just conditions of work, to protection against unemployment, to equal pay for equal work, to sufficient pay to ensure a dignified existence for one self and one’s family, and the human right to join a trade union.

Article 24: Everyone has the human right to rest and leisure.

Article 25: Everyone has the human right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services.

Article 26: Everyone has the human right to education including free and compulsory elementary education and human rights education.

Article 27: Everyone has the human right to participate freely in the cultural life and to share in scientific progress, as well as to protection of their artistic, literary or scientific creations.

Article 28: Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which these rights can be realised fully.

Article 29: Everyone has duties to the community.

Article 30: None of the human rights in this Declaration can be used to justify violating another human right.

After reciting this summary of the UDHR the following issues are added after the discussion:

  • Human rights are universal, indivisible, interconnected and interrelated;
  • They are based on equality and have zero tolerance for discrimination against women, men, youth and children;
  • Post 2015, democracy and development must be based on human rights;
  • The aim is for all to know and own human rights; to organise, plan and act guided by the holistic human rights framework, adopting it as a way of life;
  • Recognising the humanity of the other as our own, as well as belonging in dignity in community with others is paramount.

Each participant gets a copy of the “Thirty Points of Dignity”. The facilitator calls out and says, “In your hands, a document to learn and integrate into our daily lives. Read it out loud to re-imagine and re-craft a meaningful change for a new future”.

In the introduction of the learning process, I recently launched a discussion about human rights as a “home”. For children a home is where they feel safe, out of the rain, protected from the burning sun and often loved. As we grow older, home can be the memory of a lullaby, the stories you were told or overheard, the clothes you wear, the earth you toil, a book you read, the yearning for dignity, and the good or painful memories that instruct our daily lives; in short, the world we live in and wish to be able to claim as our own. In learning about equal choices of decency and acceptance, which is provided in the human rights framework, we learn how to walk towards a new horizon, to restore or build a new home as we internalise the human rights language as a path of freedom.

The word “home” holds a whole universe of meanings. Basically, it is a space where people can be free from fear and want, and often a refuge from persecution. It is a place, a mindset, an insight to wisdom, paving the road for walking securely with the human rights language for our hopes to become a reality, sometimes even transcendence. Some of us hold on to painful memories of being evicted and violated, and/or evicting our enemies from their homes to secure our path to a false sense of freedom. Human rights are a home where the dignity of all people is being celebrated, the ultimate habitat of and for humanity. We should all imagine human rights as a home – it is often the first “home” we have owned – where the dignity of all people is being celebrated, the ultimate habitat of and for humanity; the vision and mission that must be included in all plans looking forward, away from the MDGs, and to post-2015 is a holistic vision: human rights as a way of life.

In 2008, alongside the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the group known as the Elders, founded and led by Nelson Mandela, sent out a clarion call proclaiming that “every human has rights”. Having facilitated for the last 25 years the learning and integration of human rights as a way of life in more than sixty countries, I sent the Elders a note saying, “But do the humans know them? Most do not!” It is therefore an imperative to add to the Elders’ call, loud and clear, that every human must learn, know them and own them as a way of life.

It is not enough to have human rights, it is essential that everyone owns them and all women and men are guided in their daily lives by the holistic human rights framework, enabling women and men to make their free choices and participate as full equals in the decision-making process towards meaningful, sustainable development. Post-2015 plans and programs must integrate human rights learning in all civil society actions.

Having met face to face with people in hundreds of communities around the world, I have facilitated dialogue about human rights as a universal value system that stands to enrich their religions and cultures. However, I choose not to engage in the discourse about diversity and/or intercultural dialogue, or even peace. I believe that such discussions distract us from holding the essential conversations that need to take place and can lead to the planning of insightful ways and means to facilitate the learning of human rights as a way of life throughout the world. Such efforts, when implemented, will evoke a sense of positive possession of human rights and put in the hands of the learner a powerful tool for positive action, thereby enriching people’s ability to live within diverse cultures in trust and respect of the humanity of the other. This is not mere Utopia. As women and men alike pursue equal participation in the political decision-making process, they join in weaving a new foundation of equality for all and the elimination of all forms of discrimination. Basically, this is what human rights are all about.

The awareness that all human rights concerns and the effective move towards the realisation of human rights — be it political, civil, economic, social or cultural — are indivisible, interconnected and interrelated, with a gender perspective, endows communities with a holistic insight of how we are all different from one another, yet yearn to belong in community in dignity with others. We all have different and diverse cultural affiliations and several personal identities, yet we all belong to the same humanity bound by the same hopes and aspirations. We may all have a different interpretation of belonging and how we relate to subjective historic memories that frame our pride and uniqueness within our families, villages, towns and cities, not to mention religious and national identities, yet, we must all be bound and guided by the fully comprehensive human rights framework. We can all overcome these diversities and break through the vicious cycle of humiliation by learning to recognise the humanity of the other and stop exchanging our equality for survival.

To move from theory to practice, schoolchildren in Thies, Senegal, who had learned that education is a human right, discovered that some of their friends who were not registered at birth had been unable to get an education. They teamed up spontaneously, in a community of 250,000 inhabitants, and in three years registered 4,312 children so that they could attend school and simultaneously lobbied with the authorities to expand the capacity of their schools. Similarly, in the village of Malikunda, Senegal, as a result of on-going conversations about the meaning of human rights, men and women declared an end to female genital cutting, naming the first girl in the village who was not cut Sensen, which means human rights.

Learning about human rights as relevant to one’s life opens a powerful tool to overcome oppression of all kinds. Whatever their genetic makeup, the children and villagers in Thies and Malikunda overcame what some may call “inevitability of nature” and started creating a new future for their community knowing that there is no other option but human rights as a way of life.

This may be seen as Utopia in a world — a home — where large populations need a real home. Sadly we live in a world where social networking undermines value systems, spreads contradictory definitions and leads many people aimlessly in many directions. These often conflicting observations leave me embracing a truth for which we have no other option: all people must join in building a political movement that will carve a new future for humanity, and have the courage despite the hardships to do so. In a Dalit village, after sharing with women in the public square that food, education, health, housing and work at liveable wages are inalienable human rights, they clapped their hands, danced and repeated these five human rights imperatives as a mantra, “Now we know”, they said, “it is ours and we must claim them”.

It is overreaching, or possibly too ambitious, to call on every civil society organisation in the world – whatever their cause is –, and on local authorities and the private sector to integrate an ongoing, never-ending process of learning about human rights as a way of life. The dream is to have a world where women, men, youth and children empower themselves, to move from slavery to freedom, from self-righteousness to justice, and from charity to dignity.

Winston Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all other forms. Democracy became a structure rather than a living organism that allows the participation of all, in equality and without discrimination. As a result of touching the lives of so many people, and with all humility, I came to see the simple truth: a real democracy is a comprehensive delivery system of human rights that can be realised through a never-ending, on-going process of learning and integration, at all levels of society, of learning, planning and acting.

In conclusion, our Working Group at the Vienna+20 conference was titled: “Mainstreaming human rights -a human rights based approach for the post-2015 agenda”. For many years I asked UN agencies and NGOs not to use the word “mainstreaming”. Even Mary Robinson, whom I originally confronted on this word, has finally agreed with me that it does dilute human rights. With many of my friends we agreed to speak of “integrating human rights”. This speaks to the essence of human rights to be integrated into the post-2015 agenda.

There are some more misleading, misused words, such as “human rights based approach” – please! Human rights is NOT an “approach”, one of many. It is a guiding “framework”, a “world view”, a “holistic vision and practical mission”. I am glad to say that many UN agencies have moved to using the word “framework” which faithfully describes the guidance, strength and power human rights holds for humanity. And last but not least, I call on all my colleagues around the world not to use the word “rights” without the “human”. Rights are vertical, human rights are inalienable and horizontal. Human rights are political and moral, and protected by law. Thus, in the process of integrating human rights in the post-2015 agenda let us all speak of human rights – as a way of life.

In the context of choosing words that speak to the meaning and purpose of “human rights learning”, they cannot be exchanged with human rights education. These are two very different categories and activities. Even though I was the person who almost single-handedly created the United Nations Decade of Human Rights Education, PDHRE moved forcefully to bring human rights learning to grassroots communities. We are now planning a five year campaign in the hope that it will evolve into a movement, to have one billion people around the world discussing the relevance of human rights to their daily lives and taking action towards their fulfilment.

It is the absolute truth – a way of life –, an excellent entry point to evoke a significant human rights movement that will lead the world to a new future, a future where human rights are not defined by their absence but by their realisation. This can be achieved through integrating human rights learning.

We all know that we did not ask to be born – neither do we ask to die; but while we are alive we want to be treated as human beings. Maybe we do need to speak of learning as building a home – as strengthening the banks of the river. Maybe you, the reader, will discover ways to cultivate the seeds in a different field. How can the flowers of my garden be added to the food produced in your fields? Creating a buzz, creating a song, finding the creative common denominator that will have all people say: Yes we can change the world! The song is called: Human rights as a way of life, for which we have no other option.

In popular terms Human Rights are like traffic regulations: You cross on the green towards realisation and stop on the red to avoid violation, to move freely on your way with others. For the colour blind who cannot identify the colours of the traffic signs, we need to put a sign on the green light: cross for your human rights; and on the red sign: stop for your human rights. And for the migrants, who do not speak the language yet, or children, or the deaf and blind, let us sing them a song about human rights and hold their hands as they walk along the road to realise their human rights.

Franklin D. Roosevelt in his famous speech, in 1941, spoke of four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of belief, and freedom from want and fear. He also said, “Necessitous men (and women) cannot be free”. And with all humility I add, necessitous people are forced to exchange their equality for survival where violations reign. If necessitous women and men be introduced, in their own language and cultural context, to the short version of the UDHR, to know and own human rights as a way of life, they will straighten their backs and move together in a human rights movement.

Nothing could stand in their way. Eleanor Roosevelt told us what is fair, decent and dignified: equality without discrimination, free from fear and want! Let the people know them.

There is no other option!

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