Blog: Human Rights Education, a must have knowledge for peace builders - FELLOWSHIP OF CHRISTIAN COUNCILS AND CHURCHES IN THE GREAT LAKES AND HORN OF AFRICA (FECCLAHA)

Blog: Human Rights Education, a must have knowledge for peace builders

Over a year ago I was tasked with inviting a delegate to help us draw the interconnection between Human Rights, Peace and Social Cohesion at a youth forum we were to convene. I however struggled especially with how I was to coin and convey the invitation message; but I had one clear thing in mind-peace is a state of tranquility and harmonious coexistence between individuals and among groups of people especially when there is mutual respect. Peace actors would rightly argue that peace is not entirely the absence of conflict but how it is managed which could result in or is a result of respect to Human rights or otherwise, its violation.  Considering “Human rights” has been such a hot topic even in the ages more often associated with “activism” against government wrongdoings or undoing, this is a subject I am fielding more and more lately and it’s a great one to have knowledge on through human rights education if we are to build peaceful communities.

    Human rights education commonly understood as the introduction to new ideas and concepts and the study of documents on human rights entails not only the understanding of the fundamental values of human rights but also learning for human rights. Additionally, people are able to make human rights a reality wherever they are and in whatever situation they find themselves in. As such there is a change in their values, attitudes and behavior that enables them a human right community to recognize violations for appropriate and effective response towards peace and human fraternity.

    Sadly, it’s not until the year 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDR) as an international instrument on human rights, against a backdrop of crimes and atrocities committed against humanity during World Wars I and II. However, the declaration casted a sign of consciousness and hope to both peace builders and human right communities in many aspects. United States Secretary of State George Marshall’s speech during the declaration, as recorded in books of history, underscores systematic and deliberate denial of basic human rights a root cause to most of the world’s troubles.

    Marshall observed that a government which systemically disregards the rights of its own citizens is likely not to respect the rights of other nations and likely to seek their objectives by coercion and force in the international field, which is a challenge peace builders are grappling with. It is also recorded that he is the brains behind the famous Marshall Plan which aimed at rebuilding Europe for the unity of the continent and to stem the tide of communism in the post World War II period. Unknown to him or perhaps by design, the ideology of capitalism would later perpetuate existing inequality/class distinction by encouraging wealth accumulation that would widen the disparities between the rich and the poor which is a recipe for human rights violations and conflict.

    To spare you the long historical recount, a major highlight of the declaration is on the first article states that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity, are endowed with reason and conscience thus expected to act in a spirit of brotherhood towards one another. It summarizes the whole idea of Human Rights as “Respect and Dignity”. It’s interesting how human rights education brings to light environmental, economic, social and political factors as contributors to human rights violations while clearly painting how they are all interconnected.

    Political factors and processes, for example, which largely border participation and distribution of resources by those in political and leadership positions, their actions and inactions hugely impact on the citizenry with level of existing inequalities further escalating the already worse situation. Economic factors and circumstances also have influence on the level of enjoyment of rights such as those relating to education, due processes such as government budgeting and resource allocation and adequate standard of living. Private entities such as those licensed by the government to undertake economic activities such as manufacturing and mining etc, acts of economies of scale, tax evasion/ profit shifting and lack of compliance when it comes to wages of workers, their working conditions and company’s compliance to set environmental laws directly lead to human rights violation in one way or another.

    Environmental factors such as climate change piqued my interest in the whole topic of human rights versus peace and conflict. As alluded to earlier, all these factors lead to or are a result of another. To mitigate or prevent the effects climate change such as droughts or flush floods, governments divert funds originally earmarked for development, security, equipping hospitals and schools etc to contain prevailing disasters. As such, the privilege to access quality government services is compromised if not withdrawn. Droughts and floods could cause forced migration among communities leading to population pressures which impact on available resources with a high probability of conflict eruption.

    Human rights education therefore is a must have knowledge to any peace builder out there. It reawakens you to the realization that climate change for example is not just about nature but a serious human rights crisis. Economic literacy on issues around inflation, taxation, government budgeting and borrowing as well as political economies is not just a preserve of those in the field of economics.

    Thanks to the Africa Unite human rights annual exchange programme through which I had an extensive, eye opening training and became a human rights peer educator, I now have a clear idea on what should have gone into the invitation. I now appreciate efforts towards the protection of civilians especially those in situations of armed and violent conflicts and commend those working hard to complement various humanitarian interventions toward dignity, respect and peaceful coexistence.