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Introducing Human Rights

How do you approach the subject of Human Rights with children and adolescents? What aspects should we cover as Human Rights educators? These and other questions are addressed in our resources specially written for our trainers and educators.

Human Rights background

Picture this: You are walking home from a meeting with friends on a Friday evening. Police stop and arrest you, saying that your hair and clothes identify you as a member of an illegal group. You are put into prison without trial and not allowed to communicate with anybody. You also don’t know the exact reason why you are being held.

Here we have asked you to imagine for a moment that your human right to liberty has been taken away; that your Human Right to due process had been taken away; and that, possibly, your Human Right not to be discriminated against due to your appearance had been violated. The majority of us are lucky enough to never see our human rights threatened in these ways. However, the reality today remains that, despite all efforts, many people are denied the most fundamental goods, protections and freedoms. Human Rights are about avoiding the terrible rather than achieving the best. The focus of human rights is on protecting minimally good lives for all people.
On what foundations do Human Rights stand?
Where do human rights come from? On what ideas are they based? Trying to answer these questions means engaging with philosophical ideas, and there is not one single ‘true’ answer. One can argue that a person has Human Rights simply because they are a human being. Another starting point is that human rights are based on human needs, meaning that what humans should have a right to is what they really need. Another viewpoint is that the source of Human Rights lies in our vision of the nature of the human person and the conditions necessary for a life of dignity (Donnelly, 2003).
What are Human Rights?
We started off by imagining a situation of injustice to exemplify human rights violations and we suggested that human rights are about protecting minimally good lives for all people. In A First Glance at Human Rights Adelaida Barrera takes us through the key values that Human Rights aim to protect, such as security of person, equality, basic needs, and liberty. She explores the meaning of Human Rights on a personal level, and why it is equally important to understand them also as rights in a legal sense.

Diana Camacho has compiled a Timeline inviting us to look deep into the past and think about Human Rights in a very broad context, ranging from the first ever written codes of conduct to more recent laws guaranteeing freedoms to people around the world. The timeline provides myriad of starting points to explore rights and freedoms across the globe and from ancient times to our days.
How can we protect Human Rights?
Jonas Lillemoen Skalerud’s The Protection of Human Rights outlines the legal institutions supporting Human Rights. He traces how today’s global structures in support of Human Rights developed after World War II and explains how treaties, conventions and covenants make specific the very general demands set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
This is just the beginning!
These background documents were prepared by members of Con Lupa - a group of CISVers helping us to learn about Human Rights in 2013. We are constantly adding to our resources, so do come back and browse around. Expect the journey of thinking about and protecting human rights to be a long one and full of challenges for both your heart and mind.


Reference and further reading

Donnelly, Jack (2003) Universal human rights in theory and practice, Second edition. Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

Sen, Amartya (2004) Elements of a theory of Human Rights. Philosophy and Public Affairs 32. Available here [last accessed November 18th 2012].

This introduction was written by Rupert Friederichsen (Education Officer, CISV International) and Ying Qiu (Intern with CISV International).

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