Human Rights Education

May 2017

Education is a powerful and important tool for promoting tolerance and strengthening respect for human rights and diversity, through understanding and awareness (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, UDHR). Education is a right but also an integral part of ensuring the protection and respect of all human rights and fundamental freedoms, including those set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is reflected in the Preamble of the UDHR, as well as in the mandates of Canada’s human rights institutions.

The importance of human rights education has been emphasised by the United Nations (UN) for over twenty years. In 1995, the Decade for Human Rights Education (the Decade), from 1995-2004, was declared. This recognition gave a spotlight to the right to education (Article 26 of the UDHR), as well as the utility of education in fostering “mutual understanding, tolerance and peace” (see para 33).

According to the Preamble and Article 26 of the UDHR, human rights education is the process of teaching and educating with the objective to promote respect for human rights and freedoms.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) coordinated the implementation of an international Plan of Action towards the objective for the Decade. It focused on eradicating illiteracy and incorporating human rights subjects into the curricula of formal and non-formal learning institutions as a means by which to achieve greater understanding of human rights with the dissemination of the UDHR.

This was monitored by the OHCHR through reviews of government reports, submitted to the various treaty bodies. Some of the international human rights instruments, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child have reporting requirements that include human rights education criteria. These instruments are available at the International Human Rights and Canada Database. For more information about Canada’s reports to treaty bodies, visit the Department of Heritage Canada.

Following the end of the Decade, the General Assembly of the UN launched the World Programme for Human Rights Education (WPHRE), which continues today. The WPHRE provides “ a structure to advance the implementation of human rights education”. Today, the WPHRE is in the third, and final, phase of implementation.

The first phase (2005-2009), focused on incorporating human rights into primary and secondary education systems. That followed by the second phase (2010-2014), which was planned in consultation with UNESCO focused on incorporating human rights into higher education and developing human rights training to teachers, civil society, law enforcement and the military. In the third phase (2015-onging), the focus continues to be on strengthening the implementation of the first two phases, with the addition of training to media and journalists.

Implementation for the WPHRE is set out in Action Plans and are reported through national reports. In Canada, the Council of Ministers of Education, Canada (CMEC), with the Commission for UNESCO submitted a report on phase one.  The Canadian Teachers Federation (CTF) also conducted a survey in 2013, towards the end of phase tow it was developed in collaboration with the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR). It assessed the perspective of teachers on human rights education in Canadian schools. The CMHR is also mandated to be a focal point of human rights education in Canada (Museum Act). See below for available resources from the CMHR and CTF.

In 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training (the UNDHRET). It recognizes that “everyone has the right to know, seek and receive information about all human rights and fundamental freedoms and should have access to human rights education and training” (Article 1). The UNDHRET is based on the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards (Article 4). The UNDHRET should also be accessible to everyone, without discrimination (Article 5).

Governments are primarily responsible for promoting and ensuring human rights education and training, creating a safe and enabling environment (Article 7) and the inclusive development of policies, programmes, strategies and other materials (Article 8). In addition, States should promote the establishment of independent national human rights institutions that have a mandate for human rights education (Article 9).

In Canada, many human rights institutions have mandates which include public education about human rights. For example, the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which is the recognized national human rights institution for Canada, is mandated under the Canadian Human Rights Act to, among other functions,  conduct research and raise awareness.

Most of the provincial and territorial human rights commissions* are also mandated to provide educational and informational resources and programs:

*British Columbia and Nunavut do not have human rights commissions with mandates to provide public education and information programs.

In our next installment of our Blog Series: Navigating the Canadian Human Rights Landscape, we will look more broadly at the functions of human rights commissions and tribunals.

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The following list of resources are not produced by HRI and are offered for reference purposes only. Do you have an interesting resource to share? Contact us at


Human Rights Education Resources

Canadian Museum for Human Rights – A toolkit of resources and approaches to human rights education for students from kindergarten to grade 12.

Canadian Teacher’s Federation (CTF) – A national alliance of provincial and territorial teacher organizations. CTF has several resources, including survey results on human rights education in Canada.

Amnesty International – Online human rights education courses for the general public on various human rights topics.

Equitas – A human rights education toolkit for children.

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada – A bibliography of international human rights education and training resources.

United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner – “A Pathway to Dignity: The power of human rights education” (video).

OHCHR Training and Education Materials – Human rights education series.