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17 May, 2006

Combating misinformation about human rights

Human rights are both a core element in the citizenship curriculum and a hot topic right now. However current representation in the media is not always an accurate, nor fair representation of what they are, and how they work in a society.

How can a citizenship teacher challenge prejudices and misinformation represented in the press and equip students with the facts and skills to critically assess both media and hearsay?

Human rights, such as prohibition of torture, the right to a fair trial and freedom of expression, are understood to be inalienable and universal, i.e. everyone has these rights by virtue of being human. Human rights legislation enshrines these rights in law and is designed to protect people from the state and unfair persecution through the rule of law.

Historically they stem from the Internationally agreed Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the European Convention of Human Rights which has covered British citizens since 1953.

Not solely for criminals, human rights are for everyone, including those mistakenly arrested, and those who have suffered from crime. Legislation protecting these rights plays a vital role in a functioning democratic society. Understanding how different rights work together to ensure a fair society, balancing the rights of different individuals and of the individual and society is an important part of citizenship education.

The Young Citizen’s Passport (11) contains a detailed and easy to read section under “law, governance & human rights” which looks at the Human Rights Act, the European Court of Human Rights and the meaning of the separate articles.

It explains how the Human Rights Act was passed in 1998 to improve access to justice and the fairness of laws and procedures. It also looks at how the Act can be used and how it formally protects freedoms to ensure fair treatment of all people.

There is also a section in the Citizenship Foundation’s twinning handbook*, designed to aid legal education in the classroom, with or without the help of trained legal professionals. This provides activities for students to consider different rights, whether they should be limited or absolute, and how they work together.

Understanding the value of human rights and the rule of law, plays a key role in enabling young people to understand democracy and how they can engage effectively in their communities and wider society, and how they can critically assess public information and understand the state and how it works.

Cherie Booth QC, speaking at the Citizenship Foundation’s inaugural Hooper Lecture in November last year stated: “once people realise that rights flow not from fuzzy liberal concepts, but from a serious and deep insight about the value of each human being, then we go a long way to inspiring people to assert their rights and, crucially, to respect the rights of others.”

*Twinning packs are available for purchase from the Citizenship Foundation at Schools, Colleges and Universities £30, Law Firms £60. Please contact Sam Nicholson, Project Manager on 0207 566 4554.


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