Buraku Liberation News  November 1999 No.111

Towards the Creation of a HRs Culture in Every Field of Society.
What Should We Do to Promote the "UN Decade (1995-2004)" ?

Kenzo Tomonaga /Director,BLHRRI

In celebration of the 51st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Osaka Liaison Conference for UDHR, of which secretariat is located at the BLHRRI office, held the Osaka Assembly on 10 December 1999. About 1,000 people participated from local governments, private corporations, the Buraku Liberation League, education and religious sectors. The following is the keynote address of the assembly.


In 1998, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we held the International Conference on Human Rights Education in the Asia-Pacific Region and adopted the "Osaka Declaration", calling for efforts to promote human rights education in Japan and the rest of the world.

The first half of the "United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004)," a theme of the Conference, is ending and the latter half is going to start. It is of great significance to review its achievements during the first half of the Decade, and to clarify tasks to be tackled in the latter half. Before that, it is also useful to reaffirm the reasons why the Decade has been proposed and what the purposes of the Decade are, considering the fact that the Decade is not yet well known by the public.

Why was the UN Decade for Human Rights Education proposed ?

In December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution concerning the UN Decade for Human Rights Education. It aimed to create a peaceful 21st Century by overcoming critical human rights situations, symbolized by ethnic conflicts frequently occurring in many parts of the world after the Cold War period. That is clearly explained by the provisions in the World Plan of Action on Education for Human Rights and Democracy, adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the year before the resolution on the Decade was adopted by the General Assembly.

Certainly, the Cold War has come to a close, walls have come down and some dictators have been deposed. Yet the last decade of the twentieth century is experiencing the recurrence of the most serious human rights violations, caused by the rise of nationalism, racism, xenophobia, sexism and religious intolerance. These recurrences have led to the most abhorrent forms of ethnic cleansing, including the systematic rape of women, exploitation, neglect and abuse of children and concerted violence against foreigners, refugees, displaced persons, minorities, indigenous peoples and other vulnerable groups.

(...) The rise of nationalism and intolerance mentioned above calls for special and anticipatory educational strategies aimed at preventing the outbreak of violent conflicts and the related human rights violations. Incremental changes can no longer be considered satisfactory. Education should aim to nurture democratic values, sustain impulses for democratization and promote societal transformation based upon human rights and democracy.

What is human rights education contained in the Decade ?

Human rights education is a very wide-ranging idea. How is it defined in the Decade? The resolution by the UN General Assembly and the Plan of Action, submitted by the Secretary-General to the GA, define human rights education from different points of view. 

The GA resolution states that "human rights education should involve more than the provision of information and should constitute a comprehensive life-long process by which people at all levels in development and in all strata of society learn respect for the dignity of others and the means and methods of ensuring that respect in all societies." Human rights education is defined in the resolution as a life-long process that every person learns the means and methods at every opportunity to realize the dignity of human beings in societies. 

On the other hand, in the Plan of Action, human rights education is defined as "training, dissemination and information efforts aimed at the building of a universal culture of human rights through the imparting of knowledge and skills and the molding of attitudes." This definition indicates that building a "human rights culture" is a key word of the UN Decade. In other words, it aims at establishing human rights in everyday life all over the world.

Seven important points to promote the UN Decade

The Plan of Action submitted by the Secretary-General has ninety-nine provisions. Above all, I am going to note seven important points as below:

  1. Efforts shall be made to disseminate and realize international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; 

  2. Special emphasis shall be given to protect the human rights of vulnerable groups;

  3. Special attention shall be paid to the training of teachers, government officers, police, public prosecutors, judges, lawyers, the armed forces, managers of private enterprises, social welfare personnel, medical treatment personnel, and the mass media;

  4. Human rights education should be promoted through school education, adult education, vocational training, family education and life-long learning;

  5. Teaching methods such as participatory and experiential education, in addition to curricula and teaching materials should be developed. National focal points should be established in order to effectively promote human rights education;

  6. A national plan of action for the Decade should be developed to promote human rights education in every field, and a promotional system as well as a budget for the plan should be established; and

  7. Initiatives of human rights education should be taken at international, regional, national and local levels.

Efforts by the Japanese Government

The UN attaches importance to efforts at the national level to implement the Decade all over the world. In that respect, Japan might be one of the countries, relatively active in promoting the Decade.

The Japanese Government established the Promotion Headquarters for the Decade on 15 December 1995 based on a Cabinet Decision. 

The Headquarters is chaired by the Prime Minister, vice-chaired by the Cabinet Chief Secretary and 4 other ministers, including the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Education, and the Director-General of the Prime Minister's Office. It also designated the vice-ministers of 22 ministries and government agencies as senior staff. Its Secretariat is placed at the Cabinet Councilors' Office on Internal Affairs.

On July 4, 1997, the HQ announced the National Plan of Action after being partly revised in response to public comments from various sectors. The plan contained (a)basic ideas, (b)promotion of human rights education at all levels, (c)priority agenda, (d)development of international cooperation, (e)implementation of the Plan.

Among issues taken up under item (b), special attention is given to the promotion of human rights education not only at schools but also at private corporations and in civil society in general, and to the provision of human rights curricula for persons in specific professions such as public servants, teachers, policemen/women, personnel of the Self Defense Forces, persons in medical services, social care workers and journalists. 

In connection with item (c), the National Plan highlights the rights of women, children, the aged, persons with disabilities, Buraku people, Ainu people, foreigners, persons with HIV/AIDS and persons who finished prison terms. In item (d), the need to contribute to the work of the UN and assistance to human rights education in developing countries is emphasized.

If this Plan of Action is to be implemented properly, it needs to become more familiar among the general public. For this purpose we have to see to it that enough of the budget be allocated, the secretariat staff be reinforced and every support be given to efforts being made at regional and private levels.

What should the government keep in mind in the latter half of the Decade ?

The establishment of the Promotion Headquarters and the drawing up of the National Plan of Action are the positive results of initiatives taken by the Japanese Government during the first half of the Decade. However, the government should keep the following points in mind:

  • The information on the Decade was not well disseminated by the government to the public through televisions, newspapers and magazines;

  • The National Plan of Action does not refer to members of national and local assemblies, judges and lawyers, and religious sectors as target groups of human rights education; 

  • The promotion of human rights education toward people engaged in certain occupations is a noteworthy subject. However, the preparation of textbooks and the organization of curricula indispensable to do it are not made;

  • Although the secretariat of the Promotion Headquarters for the Decade was set up within the Cabinet Councilors' Office on Internal Affairs, staff members in charge are only two who serve concurrently on an other assignment. The number of full-time staff members should be reinforced to twenty;

  • All the Ministries and Agencies should include the ideas of human rights in their policies and measures. For example, the promotion of human rights education should be the basis of school education, social education and life-long learning. As a part of such an orientation, human rights education should be clearly placed in a class in school providing a "Integrated learning program" that is to be introduced from April 2002.

  • Legislation is required to promote the Decade, human rights education and awareness-raising on full scale. In this regard, it is disappointing that the report on human rights education and awareness-raising programs submitted by the Council for the Promotion of Human Rights Protection on 29 July 1999 refers only to the necessity of administrative and financial measures without referring to the necessity of legislative measures.

  • Such points mentioned above should be considered in reviewing the National Plan of Action.

(to be continued)

| Back |