"Human rights are our common heritage and their realization depends on the contributions
that each and every one of us is willing to make, individually and collectively, now and in the future."

Louise Arbour
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights


HUMAN RIGHTS DAY 2004 - Background

International Human Rights Day is marked every year on 10 December with activities led by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva , New York and at the field-presences.

With 2004 being the concluding year for the Decade on Human Rights Education and 2005 marking the commencement of a new World Programme for Human Rights Education, the High Commissioner in her role as the international coordinator of these programmes, has focused Human Rights Day commemorative activities in 2004 on Human Rights Education.

Fact Sheet

Human Rights Education

"Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace" (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 26.2)

Human Rights Day 2004 is dedicated to human rights education. On 10 December, the United Nations General Assembly is devoting a special plenary session to mark the end of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004). At the meeting, the General Assembly is expected to proclaim a World Programme for Human Rights Education. The first phase of the Programme, to run from 2005 to 2007, is to be devoted to human rights education in the primary and secondary school systems.

Announcing the theme, Mrs. Louise Arbour, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated in Geneva on 16 November 2004: "Every year, Human Rights Day reminds us of persisting human rights problems in our communities and in the world, and of the huge effort still needed, on the part of each and everyone of us, to make human rights a reality for all".

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura stated that "Human rights education is indispensable for every individual to fully enjoy and claim a life of security and dignity. It is indispensable for public officials to give effect to human rights commitments by the State. Finally, it is indispensable for the entire society to develop and nurture a human rights culture as a prerequisite of harmonious and peaceful development ".

The High Commissioner and the Director-General have called on everyone to take the opportunity provided by Human Rights Day to organize educational activities, disseminate good practices and launch future initiatives in this area, "in a spirit of cooperation and mutual respect among all those involved. Human Rights Day should provide us with an opportunity to pay tribute to human rights educators -- indeed, human rights defenders - who, in formal and informal settings, in small or large communities, and often encountering difficulties and hazards, contribute to building a universal culture of human rights".

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is the coordinator of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004). It has been carrying out many activities related to the Decade in cooperation with UNESCO.


The importance of human rights education has long been recognized by the international community. The prominence accorded to it at the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993, and the fact that the United Nations decided to establish the Decade for Human Rights Education, are evidence of this.

In the words of the General Assembly resolution establishing the Decade, human rights education is intended to be "a life-long process by which people at all levels of development and in all strata of society learn respect for the dignity of others and the means of ensuring that respect in all societies". In this sense, human rights education significantly contributes to promoting equality and sustainable development, preventing conflict and human rights violations and enhancing participation and democratic processes, with a view to developing societies in which all human rights of all are valued and respected.

During the Decade, Governments, international organizations, national institutions, non-governmental organizations, professional associations, all sectors of civil society and individuals were asked to establish partnerships and to concentrate their efforts on promoting a universal culture of human rights through human rights education, training and public information. The international Plan of Action for the Decade set out detailed objectives for the international community: the assessment of needs and formulation of effective strategies; the building and strengthening of programmes and capacities for human rights education at the international, regional, national and local levels; the coordinated development of effective materials; the strengthening of the role and capacity of the mass media; and the global dissemination of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In February 2004, the High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, at its request, a report on the achievements and shortcomings of the Decade and on future United Nations activities in this area, based on consultations with Member States (document E/CN.4/2004/93). In that report, most responding Governments reported on their increased human rights education activities, within or outside the Decade's framework. Most Governments mentioned that human rights education will still remain a priority in their countries, since specific groups or issues have not been dealt with and appropriate coordination mechanisms for human rights education are not yet in place.

In April 2004, the Commission on Human Rights adopted resolution 2004/71, in which it took note of the need to continue a global framework for human rights education beyond the Decade. Accordingly, the Commission recommended the proclamation of a world programme for human rights education, to begin on 1 January 2005 , structured in consecutive phases, in order to maintain and develop the implementation of human rights education programmes in all sectors. The Commission also requested the Office of the High Commissioner to prepare, in cooperation with UNESCO and other relevant governmental and non-governmental actors, and submit for consideration and adoption to the General Assembly at its 2004 session, a plan of action for the first phase (2005-2007) of the proposed world programme, focusing on the primary and secondary school systems, which is available as document A/59/525.


Fifty-six years ago, the United Nations General Assembly recognized the equal and inalienable rights accorded to every human being by adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Declaration calls upon every individual and every institution of society to strive, by teaching and education, to promote respect for human rights and to secure their universal and effective recognition and implementation.

The proclamation of the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education represented not the beginning but the maturation of the global effort for human rights education. Consistent with the provisions of Article One of the Charter, United Nations activities in the field of human rights have, for more than fifty years, been devoted to promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms. Specific human rights education obligations have been embodied in the main United Nations human rights instruments, ensuring the sound legal basis of the right to human rights education. Thus, States have undertaken legal obligations, within the framework of international treaties, to provide not only education in general, but education in and for human rights in particular.

Still, more efforts are needed to realize everybody's right to human rights education. The proposed World Programme for Human Rights Education, if adopted by the General Assembly, will ensure a priority focus on human rights education within the international agenda, provide a common collective framework for action for all relevant actors, support existing programmes and provide an incentive for the development of new ones, as well as enhance partnership and cooperation at all levels.

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For more information on human rights education and related United Nations programmes, please visit the following websites:



See the Universal Declaration on Human Rights