Human rights can be a difficult topic to discuss. Talking about rights violations and suffering can be very hard on students, especially if they feel like they have no agency to make change. As educators, is it our responsibility to talk about human rights in a way that is informative, safe, and empowering which can be an incredibly difficult balance to strike. However, it is essential that students understand their own rights and the rights of others and understand the mechanisms they have at their disposal to influence change in their communities and the world.
There are many resources available, published by organizations working to expand human rights education around the world. Here is a collection of a few that are a great step towards integrating more human rights topics into your curricula.
- Lesson Plans-Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Resources compiled by Human Rights Educators USA (HRE-USA). This site has links to lessons from a number of sites including Facing History and Ourselves, the BBC, PBS, and Amnesty International.
- Human Rights Here and Now: The Human Rights Library at the University of Minnesota has a vast collection of lesson plans that help introduce students to the history of human rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and taking action to fight for human rights. Some lessons include adaptations for different grade levels and activities can be modified to fit time and age needs.
- Human Rights Lesson Plan Library: From the NEA. This list of lesson plans is organized by grade level. Lesson topics range from addressing issues like diversity and immigration to comparing international HR standards to the situation in the US.
- Free Lesson to Connect Human Rights and Sustainable Development: Also from Amnesty International and aimed at teachers around the world who want to talk about the connection between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Rights and Responsibilities: From Living Democracy. This lesson teaches students that rights cannot exist without people taking the responsibility to protect the rights of others, both on a governmental and personal level. There is also an option to explore the concept of positive and negative rights.
- Facing History and Ourselves: Browse their extensive library of educator resources to find tools for teaching about human rights abuses and violations past and present. This organization is most known for its work teaching about the holocaust, but they have resources pertaining to a number of issues.
- Human Rights page of UN News site: Here you will find new articles all the time that address different human rights issues happening around the world, as well as the UN response to global crises.
- Teaching and Learning on Human Rights values: Article from the Global Partnership for Education in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the UDHR in 2018. This article talks about the importance of incorporating human rights education into curricula.
- Human Rights Education Blogs: From Amnesty International, blog posts from educators around the world on successes and challenges in human rights education.
- Human Rights Watch: Human Rights Watch is a global organization fighting for Human Rights. On their site you can search by topic or country and find videos and reports on various human rights issues including the environment, refugees, and women’s rights. These are great to supplement other lessons, provide case studies of certain issues and countries, and give yourself and students solid background information on a given topic or case.
- Core International Human Rights Treaties: This page contains a list of all the major human rights treaties drafted by the UN over the years. You can click through to learn about the details of each one or ask students to conduct further research to find out which ones their country has ratified and which they have not. Also, here is a list of the UN organizations specifically tasked with protecting human rights. If you want to dive deeper into the mechanisms of the UN, these treaties would be a great transition to discussing the enforcement powers, and lack thereof, that the UN has to hold governments accountable for human rights violations. Here’s a student-written article on why non-binding resolutions are important even though they’re not enforceable.
In order to encourage students to become active and engaged citizens they must understand their rights. It is critical for students to understand that there are standards and norms that are bigger than any one country government and that there are systems in place that are meant to hold rights violators accountable. However, it is also important to point out to students that although international and national laws are in place that are meant to protect human rights, not all people enjoy the rights guaranteed in these documents. We are still striving to achieve the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights over 70 years after it was written and it is the responsibility of every person to fight for and protect the rights of themselves and others.
- A video on the Magna Carta, a document whose language influenced numerous rights laws and declarations that came after it.
- Universal Human Rights: Here is a great, short video explaining the history and universality of human rights as well as the main critiques of the UDHR. A great activity is to ask students to propose additions to the UDHR for the modern age. When it was written in 1948, issues such as cyber security, climate change, and LGBTQ rights were not prominent issues or even relevant.