A popular culture of Human
One of the milestone achievements of the United Nations in its 60 years of existence is the creation of a comprehensive body of human rights law, which, for the first time in history, provides us with a universal and internationally protected code of human rights. All nations can subscribe to it; all people can aspire to it. Not only has the organisation defined a broad range of internationally accepted rights — economic, social and cultural, as well as political and civil rights — it has also established mechanisms with which to promote and protect these rights and assist governments in carrying out their responsibilities.
The foundations of this body of law are the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly in 1948. Since then, the UN has gradually expanded human rights law to encompass specific standards for women, children, disabled persons, minorities, migrant workers and other vulnerable groups. Rights have been extended through ground-breaking General Assembly decisions that have gradually established their universality, indivisibility and inter-relatedness with development and democracy.
The culture of human rights derives its greatest strength from the informed expectations of each individual. While the responsibility for the protection of human rights lies with states, the understanding, respect and expectation of rights by each individual is what gives them their daily resilience.
The culture of human rights must be a popular culture if it is to withstand the blows that will inevitably come and if it is to be truly owned at the national and sub-national levels. Education is the word we use to describe this process, and it deserves more attention. Everyone — international organisations, national institutions, courts, civil society organisations, media agencies and every individual member of society — must work harder at communicating the human rights story through all available means.
The significance of teaching human rights cannot be stressed enough. Human rights education is essential to the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Carefully designed training, dissemination and information programmes can have a catalytic effect on national, regional and international initiatives to promote and protect human rights and prevent human rights violations. But human rights education should involve more than the provision of information. It should constitute a comprehensive, life-long process by which people at all levels of development and in all societies learn respect for the dignity of others.
Human rights education is key to changing attitudes and behaviour based on racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance and to promoting tolerance and respect for diversity. One cannot overemphasise these values which are enshrined in the UN Charter and in the international organisation’s cherished objectives.
Every society needs shared values: for our global society, respect for equal human rights is that value. We may have different religions, different languages and skin colours — but we all belong to one human race. We are part of the same human family — and when one part of that family does well, we all do better.
India has been a close partner of the UN in supporting human rights and its related systems. Even in 1948, India took an active part in the drafting of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and it is a signatory to the six core human rights covenants. India has advocated an integrated approach that gives equal emphasis to all human rights, based on their indivisibility and universality, which reinforces the relationship between democracy, development, human rights and international cooperation for development.
India is also one of the world’s biggest laboratories for human rights education. The study of human rights is being integrated in the formal school system from the secondary level. From none nearly a decade or so ago, today the national University Grants Commission of India supports human rights courses in as many as 50 colleges in 26 universities. The courts, educated and aware of international obligations to human rights jurisprudence, are increasingly adjudicating cases with a pro-human rights vision. The media and a wide array of NGOs are alert to human rights violations. As a result of all this, human rights awareness is growing in India.
The next challenge is the frontier of human rights jobs. Human rights graduates, empowered with new degrees and with new knowledge and skills, will seek new opportunities and demand integration in the workplace. Just like psychological counsellors or human resource specialists are today mainstreamed in an array of professions — jobs for human rights specialists will be the next frontier.