Draft declaration on human rights education fails to fully acknowledge defenders' role
Tuesday, 15 March 2011 12:44


The Open-ended Intergovernmental Working Group (the Working Group) on the draft UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (the draft declaration) held its five-day meeting from 10 to 14 January 2011. It adopted the draft declaration after 5 days of deliberations, which will be considered by the Human Rights Council (the Council) during its upcoming 16th session on 15 March 2011. It is expected to adopt a resolution forwarding the Draft Declaration to the General Assembly for adoption.


In its Resolution 13/15 adopted during its 13th session in March 2010, the Council established the Working Group with a mandate to negotiate, finalise and submit to the Council the draft declaration based on the text submitted by the Human Rights Council Advisory Committee (the Advisory Committee) in January 2010. The cross-regional group of States forming the ‘Platform for Human Rights Education and Training’ (the Platform), composed of Costa Rica, Italy, Morocco, the Philippines, Senegal, Slovenia and Switzerland further held three open-ended informal consultations (24 June, 3 September and 14 December 2010) on the text submitted by the Advisory Committee which was subsequently revised by the Platform.


During its last day of meeting, the Working Group finalised and adopted the draft declaration. The Chairperson-Rapporteur reiterated the importance of this draft declaration as ‘a renewed commitment to human rights education and training’ and the significant role of particularly National Human Rights Institutes and civil society actors in this regard.


Most of the meetings took place in public, including several readings of the draft both on the whole text and different section facilitated by different members of the Platform. However, two sessions were held in private and excluded NGOs. Following each private session, a revised text was circulated and discussed in the next public session. Although the sessions held in private were declared as ‘informal consultations’, the de-facto exclusion of civil society sends a negative signal for other standard setting exercises in the framework of the Human Rights Council. Comparing the drafts before and after the private sessions shows that the main concerns raised in public where pushed through in private by the unusual coalitions of States observed in the public meetings.


Throughout the public sessions, State delegations and NGOs participated actively in the discussions. There was a somewhat ‘unusual alliance’ among delegations including the United States, the UK, Russia and Egypt who particularly raised concerns about the passage of the text dealing with the recognition of the right to human rights education and training (article 1) and corresponding State obligations (article 7). All the abovementioned delegations along with several others continued to question the aim of the draft declaration to create a ‘new’ right and thus ‘new’ State obligations. In this respect, they sought to define human rights education and training not as a right per se, rather as a tool for the realisation of the right to education. Furthermore, they strove to change the language of the text on States’ obligations arguing that the federal system would not permit such broad obligations (the US, Russian Federation), the independence of the education system from government intervention (the UK), and lack of appropriate structures (Egypt). In response to these statements, the NGOs present at the meeting, the members of the platform and the Advisory Committee member in charge of the first draft of the declaration (Mr Emmanuel Decaux) referred to different international instruments attempting to show that both the right and associated State obligations already exist.


As a compromise, the final language of article 1 changed from ‘everyone has the right to human rights education and training’ to ‘everyone has the right to know, seek, and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms, and should have access to human rights education and training’. 


Another recurring topic was with regards to the existing ‘listings’ in the text, particularly in terms of the rights associated with human rights education and training (article 1(3)) and the list of non-State actors (article 9). The former initially included specific human rights i.e. ‘freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association’ because these rights were seen as particularly relevant for the exercise of the right to human rights education. Arguing for further streamlining of the draft, several delegations requested its removal. This was criticisesd by NGOs who considered those specific rights to be essential for the realisation of the right to human rights education and training.


The latter involved a list of various civil society actors including human rights defenders who play an important role in promoting human rights education and training. Several delegations (including the US, the UK, the Russian Federation) requested its removal on the basis of the principle of non-discrimination. They argued that this list could not be exhaustive and would if retained give more attention to particular actors while neglecting others. In response, NGO representatives, Mr Decaux, and several members of the Platform pointed out the special attention that needs to be paid particularly to human rights defenders and made specific reference to the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. Unfortunately, while the final draft still refers to human rights defenders as having an important role to play in providing human rights education, it omits earlier reference to the specific protection human rights defenders need in their role as human rights educators.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 March 2011 12:44
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