Why Human Rights Education?

Why does Human Rights Education (HRE) matter? Why is it essential today? Why should HRE be included in schools and other learning institutions?

From Ban Ki-Moon, Former UN Secretary General

Everyone has the right to human rights education in the same way that everyone has the same human rights.

From Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

What good was it to humanity that Josef Mengele had advanced degrees in medicine and anthropology, given that he was capable of committing the most inhuman crimes? Eight of the 15 people who planned the Holocaust at Wannsee in 1942 held PhDs… I am increasingly supportive of the proposition that education of any kind, if it is devoid of a strong universal human rights component, can be next to worthless when it should matter most: in crisis, when our world begins to unravel.”

From Kofi Annan, Former UN Secretary General

“Human rights education is much more than a lesson in schools or a theme for a day; it is a process to equip people with the tools they need to live lives of security and dignity.”

From Sarah Leah Whitson, Former HRW Middle East and North Africa Division Director
“Why Should High School Students Learn About Human Rights?” [1:09]

From the UN Declaration on Human Rights and Education Training

On December 19, 2011, the United Nations reaffirmed the importance of HRE in the Declaration on Human Rights and Education Training. This declaration reasserted that Member States are duty-bound under multiple human rights instruments to ensure “that education is aimed at strengthening respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.” Article 1 affirms that everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about human rights, and that all should have access to human rights education. It states that “human rights education and training is essential for the promotion of universal respect for and observance of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all…” In essence, human rights education matters because it is fundamental to ensuring respect for human rights. Human rights education is a human right in and of itself.

From Human Rights Watch Student Task Force

HRE is deemed important not only by the United Nations and by educators, but by students as well. The student need for and interest in HRE can be seen in HRW Student Task Force’s Human Rights Education Survey in 2011. Evidence from this survey reveals that, while a majority of students claim to have learned about human rights in their classes, “they lack a basic awareness of how our modern international human rights system functions.” The study, of 2,900 high school students in the Los Angeles area, showed that an overwhelmingly large number of high school students cannot define basic terms such as “human right,” and most have never heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Despite a lack of knowledge, students expressed a significant interest in wanting to learn more about human rights.


Adam Stone and Rosemary Blanchard, coordinators of HRE USA Network’s Collaborative Action Policy and Advocacy Committee, justify the importance of human rights education in school curricula, especially within the United States, as an “integral part of any civics-based education.” An education in civics “that does not address universal standards of human rights and humanitarian law is incomplete and does not adequately prepare young citizens of the United States for their responsibilities at home and in the larger world.”

From Todd Jennings

Todd Jennings of California State University San Bernardino’s School of Education, justifies HRE as not another “add on” to school curricula, but rather as content that can be used “to teach computational, literacy, and critical thinking skills as required by education standards.” He argues that HRE helps students relate standards and skills to their lives in meaningful ways, increasing student motivation and the perceived relevance of school curriculum.

From UC Berkeley’s Human Rights Program

Human rights have become the moral language of today, the idiom in which we discuss our common humanity and weigh competing claims for resources, rights and protections.

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