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Briefing Notes on Human Rights Education

This ‘Briefing Notes’ have been prepared to serve as an introductory orientation and awareness raising material targeting members of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission as well as sections of the general public. It is intended to introduce the conception and recognition of human rights education in the international and national human rights systems and the activities of the Commission in this important area forming part of its core mandate. Alas, it was never used (the fault being totally and wholly mine). Hopefully, someone could make some use of it.

Human Rights Education under the International Human Rights System

Human rights education has been recognized as an essential component of the international human rights system. The first such recognition in what has come to be called the modern international human rights system in the post WWII era is to be found in the Charter of the United Nations [1945] which called for cooperation "in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms." This provision of the Charter is widely recognized as creating state responsibilities for educating and teaching human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly in 1948, which proclaimed human rights as "a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations," also directed states as well as "every individual and every organ of society...."to "strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms....". The UDHR further stressed "strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms...." as one of the goals of education (Article 26, Section 2).

The dual aspects of human rights education were formalized into the international human rights framework through the provisions of the international covenants developed by the U.N. and coming into effect in 1976 to formalize the basis in international law of the rights declared in 1948. The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights placed the educational objective of strengthening respect for human rights in a cluster of related learning objectives. For example, Article 13 of the Covenant says that "education shall be directed to the "full development of the human personality" and to the person's own "sense of dignity...."(Section 1). The Covenant also says the State Parties:

further agree that education shall enable all persons to participate effectively in a free society, promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations and all racial, ethnic or religious groups, and further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace." (Article 13, Section 1)

These positive formulations of the objectives of education are complemented by the negative proscriptions of the Civil and Political Rights Covenant through recognition of "the right to hold opinions without interference," [Article 19, Section 1] and the right to freedom of expression (Article 19, Section 2).

The recognition of human rights education in the International Bill of Rights is reiterated in other international and regional human rights instruments to the extent that the right to education and the right of the people to know their rights are implanted in international standards around the world. Examples of such treaties include the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), as well as the American (1948), European (1953), and African (1986) regional agreements on human rights standards and institutions. In recognition of and encouragement of these constructive developments, the UN General Assembly (Resolution 49/184) announced 1995-2005 as the "United Nations Decade of Human Rights Education."

The most explicit directive on human rights education is in The African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. It presents not only the most straightforward statement in international norm-making regarding governmental responsibility for education, but as well, a significant and unique call for effective human rights education. That is, the Banjul Charter says that signatory African states:

shall have the duty to promote and ensure through teaching, education and publication, the respect for the rights and freedoms contained in the present Charter and to see to it that these freedoms and rights as well as corresponding obligations and duties are understood. (Article 25)

Human Rights Education under the National Human Rights System

Ethiopia is a signatory to the UDHR and has ratified the two international human rights covenants as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Moreover, the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has given a special status to these international and regional instruments as part of the law of the land as well as standards of interpretation for its human rights provisions. As such the right to education and the right of the people to know their rights are incorporated into the constitutional and legal system in Ethiopia.

Moreover, such recognition has found more specific expression in the text of the National Education Policy (1994) which states that one of the general objectives of education and training is to: “Bring up citizens who respect human rights, stand for the well-being of people, as well as for equality, justice and peace, endowed with democratic culture and discipline” [Section 2.1.3]. The policy document also identifies the following relevant specific objectives [Section 2.2]:

  • To satisfy the country's need for skilled manpower by providing training in various skills and at different levels
  • To provide education that promotes democratic culture, tolerance and peaceful resolutions of differences and that raises the sense of discharging societal responsibi1ity.
  • To provide education that can produce citizens who stand for democratic unity, liberty, equality, dignity and justice, and who are endowed with moral values.

Having established the link between human rights and education, the National Education Policy (1994) identifies “Change of curriculum and preparation of education materials accordingly” and “Focus on teacher training and overall professional development of teachers and other personnel” as priority areas in realizing these and other objectives.

Within the framework of the 1994 Education and Training Policy the Government of Ethiopia has developed a twenty-year education sector indicative plan to improve educational quality, relevance, efficiency, equity and expand access to education with special emphasis on primary education in rural and underserved areas, as well as the promotion of education for girls as a first step to achieve universal primary education by 2015. Since then, the plan has been translated into three successive a series of national ESDPs starting with the first five year Education Sector Development Program (ESDP-I) launched in 1997. Currently, the ESDP III, which spans five years (2005/06 to 2009/10), is under implementation. Moreover, a Higher Education Proclamation has been issued and a five-year gender strategic plan has been prepared to implement the Education and Training Policy.

In addition to recognizing the critical importance of human rights education, the ESDP III underlines the link between democratization and development in the Ethiopian context. At the outset, the vision of the education sector is stated in terms of “the creation of trained and skilled human power at all levels who will be driving forces in the promotion of democracy and development in the country”. Moreover, one aspect of the mission of the education sector is to: “Ensure that educational establishments are production centers for all-rounded, competent, disciplined and educated human power at all levels through the inclusion of civic and ethical education with trained, competent and committed teachers.” This aspect of the programme, i.e. Civic and Ethical Education, is expressly stated in the following terms:

The education system has a societal responsibility to produce good and responsible citizens, who understand, respect and defend the constitution, democratic values and human rights; develop attitudes for research and work and solve problems; develop a sense of citizenship to participate in and contribute to the development of the community and the country. (Section 2.9.1)

Brief Overview of Human Rights Education Activities of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

In relation to the implementation of the framework, one among the overall strategies identified by the Education and Training Policy is to “Create a mechanism by which teachers, professionals from major organizations of development, and beneficiaries participate in the preparation implementation and evaluation of the curriculum” [Section 3.1.2]. For the purpose of human rights education on such organization is the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission established under proclamation no. 210/2000 to work towards increasing the human rights awareness of the public, protecting human rights and taking appropriate measures when violations occur. In execution of its mandate to “ensure that human rights provisions of the Constitution are respected” and “educate the public on human rights”, the Commission has identified the review and development of human rights education curriculum as one of the program areas in its five-year strategic plan issued in April 2006.

Accordingly, the Commission has completed a study on incorporation of human rights education in primary education curriculum and submitted the report to the Ministry of Education. As a follow up on these activities, the Commission has commissioned a review of the human rights and civic education curriculum at the tertiary and teachers’ training college level institutions in Ethiopia. This study aimed at evaluating the extent to which human rights have been integrated in the curricula, delivery and assessment processes within the targeted institutions and come up with vital comments and recommendations for the improvement of human rights education curriculum in tertiary/university level education in Ethiopia. Accordingly, the study report has been discussed in a stakeholders’ consultation workshop and relevant feedback is being incorporated. A similar study targeting secondary education institutions is also anticipated within the current year.

Another area of human rights education in which the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is actively involved is organizing human rights awareness raising, sensitization and capacity building sessions for selected actors and stakeholders. To date, these activities of the Commission have benefited a number of targets including: federal and regional legislators; federal, regional and local policy decision-makers; members of the press; judicial and law enforcement officials; and, leaders of women’s and youth structures.


The Commission has also conducted a series of public awareness and sensitization activities using print, broadcast and electronic media as well as the distribution of IEC materials. Notable among these are question & answer competitions and the various educational dramas sponsored and disseminated by the Commission through the national broadcast media. Moreover, the EHRC has developed a series of spots and messages that are still being transmitted through the national television service in a number of local languages.

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Sunday, 16 June 2024