Chapter 20: Human rights education
Te mātauranga tika tangata

Human rights education is both a means to achieving the protection of human rights, as well as a right in itself.
(United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 1996)

1.  Introduction — Timatatanga

What is human rights education?

Photo of man taking notes from posters on a wall.

The obligations of States to recognise, respect, protect, promote and fulfil human rights apply across the broad range of international human rights treaties. [1] Human rights education is an essential tool for meeting these obligations. It has been broadly defined as:

Training, dissemination and information efforts aimed at the building of a universal culture of human rights through the imparting of knowledge and skills and the moulding of attitudes, which are directed towards:

  1. The strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms;
  2. The full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity;
  3. The promotion of understanding, tolerance, gender equality and friendship among all nations, indigenous peoples and racial, national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups;
  4. The enabling of all persons to participate effectively in a free society;
  5. The furtherance of the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace' (UNHCHR, 1996).

From this definition, three dimensions have been identified :

Human rights education is much more than providing information about human rights. It is about taking steps toward creating an environment where human rights are respected and people are given a 'fair go'. It occurs in all spheres of life and in many different ways. For example, human rights education in a workplace setting may occur through the development of shared values, policies and practices, disputes resolution mechanisms, training for management and staff and ongoing supervision and support.

2. International context — Ki ngā kaupapa o te ao


The Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that 'every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms'. Article 26 provides that 'education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.'

There are a number of international treaties that contain more specific provisions about human rights education. These include educating children so as to develop respect for human rights, and educating officials who work with people who are arrested, detained or imprisoned about the prohibitions against torture.

Human rights education is one of the main ways of promoting the principles in the Universal Declaration and the rights contained in international treaties (New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade (MFAT), 2003; United Nations General Assembly (1997), as cited in Fiji Human Rights Commission, 2003). As a follow-up to the decade of human rights education (1995-2004), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR, 2003) has recommended a number of actions to strengthen human rights education. These actions fall under ten broad areas:

These ten action areas provide a useful framework for assessing the current status of human rights education in New Zealand.

3. New Zealand context — Ki ngā kaupapa o Aotearoa


Ratification of treaties that include provisions on human rights education

States should ratify international or regional treaties that include human rights education among their provisions.

New Zealand has ratified the six core international human rights treaties that provide that all appropriate steps, including education, should be taken to enable people to realise their rights. These treaties also provide for States to take special measures to ensure that their periodic country reports to the United Nations are widely known. In some cases the process of developing reports is itself an educational tool. For example, there has been widespread involvement of both Government and non-governmental organisations in the development of New Zealand 's periodic reports on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) and the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).



States should progressively incorporate human rights education in education law, policy and practice.

The Education Act 1989 provides for the administration of education rather than the content of the curriculum, and therefore does not contain any explicit reference to human rights education.

Only a limited number of laws make explicit reference to human rights education. The principal functions of the Human Rights Commission under the Human Rights Act 1993 are to:

Specific education functions of the Commission under the Act include advocacy, education and publicity, public statements, guidelines and codes of practice, and education about the human rights dimensions of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Human rights education is also an important part of disputes resolution under the Act. For example, mediation of disputes about discrimination and harassment can result in human rights training, or the review of policies and practices (Human Rights Commission & The Office of Human Rights Proceedings (HRC & OHRP), 2003).

The Office of the Children's Commissioner has a specific statutory requirement relating to education about the human rights of children and young people. Other Crown entities with human rights education responsibilities include the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner and Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

A Ministry of Justice discussion paper on human rights protections in New Zealand considered human rights education in 2000 and noted that, 'despite strenuous efforts to increase their educational and promotional work', human rights institutions in New Zealand are still perceived as complaints-driven (Ministry of Justice, 2000). A key purpose of the reform of human rights institutions in 2001 was to enable the new Human Rights Commission 'to focus appropriately on strategic community leadership and education work' (Ministry of Justice, 2000).

A range of other laws make reference to education on particular rights. These include the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act 1989, the Privacy Act 1993, the Health and Disability Commissioner Act 1994, the State Sector Act 1988, the Employment Relations Act 2000, the Legal Services Act 2001, the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993, and the Maori Language Act.

Government agencies contribute to human rights education by providing training for their staff as well as by responding to legislative imperatives. An assessment of the current funding levels for human rights education across portfolio areas is difficult, because human rights education is not specifically identified as a funded activity.



Government agencies, national human rights institutions and civil society should all be involved in planning and strategising for human rights education, and their staff should participate as facilitators and trainees.

There is a vast range of agencies across civil society that are involved in human rights education. The New Zealand National Commission for UNESCO, Amnesty International New Zealand, the Red Cross, and the Equal Employment Opportunities (EEO) Trust are just a few examples of NGOs involved in human rights education. Collaboration and joint activities are frequent.

Partnership is a strong theme in human rights education programmes in New Zealand and there are many examples of collaborative efforts. For example, the Office of the Children's Commissioner has joined with New Zealand Plunket to form an advocacy group on the rights of children aged 0-5 years. The Office also works in partnership with a reference group of young people, and a former All Black with a particular interest in rural communities (Office of the Commissioner for Children, 2003).

A partnership between the Citizens' Advice Bureaux (CAB) and the Human Rights Commission has resulted in a nationwide distribution of human rights information through CAB offices. The Commission has also joined with a wide range of other public and private-sector agencies to deliver human rights education (HRC & OHRP, 2003).

With support from human rights agencies, schools, local government, non-governmental organisations (such as ethnic councils) and communities throughout the country promote celebrations such as Race Relations Day and Children's Day in order to raise awareness of human rights (HRC & OHRP, 2003; Office of the Commissioner for Children, 2003; United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), 2003). The Human Rights Commission also works in partnership with the Maori Language Commission and Te Puni Kokiri to promote Government, local government, school and community participation in Maori Language Week. Participants in the Action Plan consultations affirmed that partnerships in human rights education are important, particularly to the groups most affected by human rights issues.

Partnerships in the field of human rights education also happen in the international context, both with non-governmental organisations and through avenues such as the Asia Pacific Forum for National Human Rights Institutions.

Creating national committees for human rights education


National committees for human rights education should be established, made up of a broad range of governmental and non-governmental agencies, with responsibility for developing and implementing a national plan of action for human rights education.

Some broad-based activities and coalitions of groups interested in human rights education do exist both within Government and in the community. For example, within Government the New Zealand Disability Strategy incorporates work across government agencies toward the objective of 'Ensuring rights for disabled people' (Minister for Disability Issues, 2001). Non-governmental organisations, such as the Human Rights Network of Aotearoa New Zealand , also offer a coordinated approach.

However, New Zealand does not have a national committee for human rights education and does not have a national plan of action for human rights education.