UN Promotes Teaching of "Catechism of the Church of the United Nations" at National Level
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
In its quest to train impressionable school children around the world in what one commentator has described as the “Catechism of the Church of the United Nations,” the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) is ramping up efforts to implement Human Rights Education (HRE) at the national level. In an attempt to fulfill its mandate under the UN World Programme for Human Rights Education (WPHRE), the OHCHR is calling for the creation of a “methodological tool” to assist in the implementation of the UN’s HRE agenda. Additionally, it intends to fill the position of Human Rights Officer to oversee the coordination of all WPHRE efforts.
The WPHRE was created in 2005 to continue the work of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education. Its goal is to “advance the implementation of human rights education programmes in all sectors.” The WPHRE is an ongoing project that will be implemented in several phases, the first of which runs from 2005-2009, and concentrates on primary and secondary school systems. This phase is governed by a Plan of Action that “proposes a concrete strategy and practical ideas for implementing human rights education nationally.”
In 2006, the United Nations Inter-Agency Coordinating Committee on Human Rights Education in the School System (UNIACC) was created in order to oversee the various international activities initiated under the Plan of Action. The UNIACC consists of all “UN system actors” broadly involved in education, including the International Labor Organization; the UN Development Programme; the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the United Nations Population Fund; the UN Development Fund for Women; the UN Children’s Fund; and the World Bank. UN human rights treaty bodies, UN Special Procedures, and other relevant organizations and experts may also attend UNIACC meetings on a case-by-case basis.
The primary objectives of the UNIACC include:
- facilitating a coordinated approach within the United Nations to assist national and local education systems in the implementation of HRE standards;
- encouraging cooperation among international HRE advocates;
- ensuring the incorporation of HRE in all education and human rights-related UN activities; and
- fostering international and national political commitment to HRE.
In order to achieve these objectives, the UNIACC is tasked with:
- supporting the implementation of the HRE agenda in national school systems;
- facilitating HRE-related information sharing;
- liaising with relevant UN efforts and other actors;
- promoting and disseminating best practices;
- developing a monitoring and evaluation framework for the implementation of the Plan of Action; and
- reporting to the UN General Assembly.
The OHCHR plays a key role in the activities of the UNIACC, which houses the UNIACC secretariat. This means that the OHCHR is ultimately responsible for setting the agenda of UNIACC meetings.
Recently, the OHCHR has increased its HRE program activities. One example is the above-mentioned job announcement that was released on April 16. In it, the OHCHR states that it is seeking to fill the position of Human Rights Officer in order to coordinate the implementation of the WPHRE by organizing the work of the UNIACC; assisting in the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of all UN HRE activities; overseeing the development of HRE training materials and assisting in HRE training programs; liaising with other organizations; and providing reports and statements to the UN General Assembly, the Economic and Social Council and the Human Rights Council. Of particular note is the fact that this position will be housed within the Development and Economic and Social Branch of the OHCHR, inferring that future HRE programs will focus primarily on the less-defined “emerging” economic, social and cultural rights, rather than on the more universally accepted political and civil rights.
Additionally, the OHCHR is calling for the development of a “best practices” tool to assist UN Country Teams (UNCTs) in implementing HRE at the national level. Specifically, this “methodological tool” will be used by UNCTs to “better contribute to the development of national capacities on human rights education in primary and secondary schools” in accordance with the first phase of the WPHRE. The OHCHR is currently inviting individuals and organizations to share their experience regarding “UN inter-agency collaboration on Human Rights Education in the School System” at the national level, as well as soliciting UNCT experience on using UN mechanisms to promote HRE.
The scope of most economic, social and cultural rights has yet to be determined and is the subject of heated debate. Yet, UN and HRE advocates are moving forward in a deliberate fashion to short-circuit national debates on this issue by promoting an expansive interpretation of human rights in government-run schools. In so doing, UN officials are building unreasonable, and potentially dangerous, expectations in younger generations regarding the role of government in guaranteeing economic equality and so-called “social transformations.”
Jim Kelly is the President of Solidarity Center for Law and Justice, P.C., a public interest civil and human rights law firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. The opinions expressed herein are his own.