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2009: International Year of Human Rights Learning

The United Nations General Assembly has declared 2009 as the International Year of Human Rights Learning. The time is right to organize activities that allow for expanding and exploring in greater depth our knowledge and applications of these rights as a way of life, based on the principles of universality, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, as well as on constructive dialogue and cooperation (resolution 62/171 of 18th December 2007).

The aim is to consolidate the promotion and protection of all human rights and basic freedoms, including the right to development.

In this way, a year devoted to Human Rights learning will serve to reinforce all the initiatives that strive to make real efforts to change habits and practices that threaten basic rights and so develop citizenship building.

During the 60 years since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, humanity has watched them unfold and develop. This is how we are able to come to understand that the dignity of the human being, wherever s/he may be, and the mere fact of being human prevails, not just on the moral plane but also in the legal plane, over the power of the State, regardless of the origin of its power or the type of government. This is the historic achievement of our times.

During this period, the evolution of Human Rights has undergone significant progress - but there is still a long way to go. Major efforts have been made to move on from the declarative nature of these Rights, towards making spaces for positively demanding them and for respecting human dignity on a day-to-day basis.

Over the last few decades we have taken part in countless intellectual and legal efforts to promote the practice of Human Rights on an ethical level and to guarantee them on a political level. However, much of this effort has been little more than a series of spaces for reflection, with limited influence on the behaviour of people linked to the issue, as these Rights have not been adopted or internalised by society as a whole, including the authorities themselves.

A commitment on the part of the State does not just mean making changes to the law: it also implies clear policies, which combined with society’s efforts will lead to changes in behaviour and practice Article 28 of the Declaration of Human Rights establishes a more ambitious long-term objective: “Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realised”. The Declaration is an ethical and political stimulus for humanity: it was so in the past and will go on being so in the future.

Beyond national State frontiers, legal standards that have led to effectively claiming ethical demands to do with Human Rights have taken shape. Not just in terms of their theoretical acceptance, but also the clarity that their proclamation has given to historical progress. Thanks to these rights, social movements have succeeded in demanding and irreversibly securing the rights of workers, women, immigrants, indigenous peoples, children and adolescents as well as of other groups whose rights have historically been undermined.

At national level it is common knowledge that ideas and oral proposals (debate) have developed at a faster pace than changes in behaviour. This is evident in the increasingly frequent use of Human Rights as a basis for political rhetoric that seeks to captivate or seduce the electorate.

The failure to fulfil the demands that arise from Human Rights in our age has a lot to do with the massive and unstoppable scale of poverty. This is the main complaint when it comes to human rights violations. In this context, economic, social and cultural rights become virtually unattainable, and civil and political rights in these conditions are seriously threatened or simply unknown to those in power.

The great challenge for 2009 is citizen education about Human Rights, taking into account the developments that have taken place in this field, such as the production of the National Human Rights Education Plan in 2003 as a social product with the support of international organisations. This provides us with an excellent opportunity to incorporate this knowledge into the education system at a time when a common code is urgently needed, consisting of civil values that identify us and are essential in order to co-exist.

However, in the broadest sense, Human Rights education ought to transcend formal educational processes and needs to be adopted by all social organisations as systematically as possible. Moreover, citizens themselves have the right and the duty to demand that State institutions implement these rights, because this exercise is part of the process of acquiring citizen power and strengthens the rule of law and democracy.

by: Dr. Dorina López Matías
Specialist in Human, Children’s and Adolescent Rights




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