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Defenders for Human Rights

Becoming a human rights defender

Teachers

Following is contextual information on Speak Truth to Power Canada, as well as resources to support the teaching of human rights in the classroom, and to enable your students to self-identify as local defenders for human rights.

A Human Rights Defender

The purpose of Speak Truth to Power Canada is to share the personal journeys of some of the many Canadian human rights defenders working today. It is hoped that your students may be inspired to identify themselves as human rights defenders and take positive action to support human rights in their own life and community.

Being a defender for human rights begins with empathy and understanding that rights come with responsibilities. As you work through these lessons, your students will have opportunities to gain an appreciation for how human rights defenders have assumed this responsibility in their own lives and advanced human rights in Canada and the world.

Defending human rights does not require taking on all of the challenges of the world. It is often the small choices we all make in our everyday lives that have the most impact. Anyone can become a human rights defender, whether it happens in one day or throughout the school year.

“Human rights defender” is a term coined by the United Nations to describe a person who acts, individually or with others, to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders are identified by the actions they take in defense of human rights within the contexts in which they work or live. Human rights defenders investigate, gather information about and report human rights violations. They also promote the protection and realization of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Defenders can act to address any human right (or group of rights) they feel is important to them and others. ANYONE CAN BE A DEFENDER.

Speak Truth to Our Power as Teachers and Encourage Students to Speak Truth to Theirs

“Speak truth to power” is an old Quaker saying. It was also the name of a Quaker pamphlet written in the United States in 1955 as a call for global peace in response to the horrors of the Second World War, the use and spread of nuclear weapons, and the military aggression of the times. The Quaker “truth” was that love and peace endure and overcome. The power they spoke to includes those in high office and ordinary citizens, whose values and expectations of ordinary citizens should set the limits for those in power.i

The Quaker ideals of love and peace were used as foundations for peaceful coexistence in a democratic society. These beliefs encourage teachers and students to:

demonstrate consideration for others, near and far • strive to reach agreement and consensus, recognizing that all voices are important • engage in reaching out to the other, in breaking down the barriers of otherness • empowered to make a commitment to human rights and change for a better and more peaceful world for all • to speak truth to power and encourage others to do so as well.

Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights

The RFK project Speak Truth to Power is a multi-faceted global initiative that uses the experiences of courageous defenders from around the world to educate students and others about human rights, and urge them to take positive action. Speak Truth to Power Canada (STTP Canada) is based on this model and features Canadian defenders. You are encouraged to access the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights website to seek out any of the dozens of global defenders in their Speak Truth to Power project. Note that in some of the STTP Canada lesson plans, there are links to access the global defenders identified by RFK, speaking truth to power on the same issues.

Imagineaction

Imagineaction is the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s centralized social justice program that offers classrooms across the country the opportunity to access supports in the pursuit of social justice at the local level through school-community social action projects. As a teacher, you are encouraged to register with Imagineaction at no cost and to create a public showcase page that highlights your students’ efforts towards the development and implementation of their human rights projects. This is a great way for students to feel validated for the work they’re doing and to inspire other students across the country to follow suit.

Canadian Human Rights Toolkit

The Canadian Human Rights Toolkit provides a central access hub of learning resources for K-12 on human rights, including textbooks, primary and secondary sources, videos, teacher manuals, activities, games and more, just a click away. Explore the Toolkit to discover resources and various approaches to the education of human rights in the classroom. This centralized, thematically organized and searchable database of education resources is available in both English and French. You can access the Toolkit from the following links:

Moments in Time

Speak Truth to Power Canada has developed a timeline of 100 significant and relevant developments in the historical growth of rights, mostly from a national perspective. This selection of advancements and setbacks offer a sequence of events that speaks to Canadian rights, responsibilities and values and how they have changed over time. If you were creating your own timeline of advancements and setbacks in human rights in Canada, what would you add or change in this list?

Note that human rights “Moments in Time” have been built into all the lesson plans in Speak Truth to Power Canada. The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights timeline is different and may also be useful in supporting lesson plans from a global perspective.


i Speak truth to power: A Quaker search for an alternative to violence. (p.4)
http://www.afsc.org/sites/afsc.civicactions.net/files/documents/Speak_Truth_to_Power.pdf

Students

A student-friendly handout

A Human Rights Defender

The purpose of Speak Truth to Power Canada is to share the personal journeys of some of the many Canadian human rights defenders working today. It is hoped that you may be inspired to identify yourself as a human rights defender and take positive action to support human rights in your own life and community.

Being a defender for human rights begins with empathy and understanding that rights come with responsibilities. As you work through these lessons, you will have opportunities to gain an appreciation for how human rights defenders have assumed this responsibility in their own lives and advanced human rights in Canada and the world.

Defending human rights does not require taking on all of the challenges of the world. It is often the small choices we make in our everyday lives that have the most impact. Anyone can become a human rights defender, whether it happens in one day or throughout the school year.

“Human rights defender” is a term coined by the United Nations to describe a person who acts, individually or with others, to promote or protect human rights. Human rights defenders are identified by the actions they take in defense of human rights within the contexts in which they work or live. Human rights defenders investigate, gather information about and report human rights violations. They also promote the protection and realization of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Defenders can act to address any human right (or group of rights) they feel is important to them and others. YOU CAN BE A DEFENDER.

Everyday Choices for Human Rights

Your rights, freedoms and responsibilities

Know your rights, your freedoms and your responsibilities, and share the information with your family and friends. To help you get started, Speak Truth to Power Canada includes plain language versions of the:

Value of human rights

Embody human rights values every day. Respect differences. Show courtesy, compassion and civility towards others. Everyone has value and deserves to be treated fairly and with respect.

Value of your knowledge and respect

Choose informed discussion over arguments (including disagreements on the Internet). Do not spread untrue or harmful rumours and choose not to join in when people are insulting or laughing at someone or a group of people. We all have the right to freedom of expression. But everyone also has rights to respect, privacy and personal security.

Value of your actions

Show your support to someone who may be getting bullied or put down. Ask the person who is being left out or harassed to join you in an activity. Eat lunch together, walk home from school or invite that person to spend time talking. Showing empathy is a great first step to becoming a defender.

Value of your voice

Ask those who may be bullying or putting people down to stop, and encourage others to also ask them to stop. Speaking out helps everyone become stronger. You can team up with friends to confront someone who is mistreating others. There is power in numbers. If you see or experience mistreatment, tell someone you trust about what is going on — a teacher, a parent, a counsellor, a coach or a neighbour. Ask others for support. Do what feels right for you.

Value of your awareness

Open your eyes to the human rights issues that surround you every day in your community. If you do not know what those human rights issues are, find out and learn about them. If one of the issues is important to you, get involved.

Value of gratitude

Take a moment to personally thank a human rights defender and learn more about that individual’s work.

Tips for getting involved in human rights

  1. Identify a human rights issue in your community that interests you.
  2. Research the issue or story. Why is there a problem? Who can make the change you want? What solutions have been tried?
  3. Ask yourself, what is the positive change you want to make happen? Define your action and be specific about it.
  4. How can you get others involved?
  5. How do you know the impact you have had?
  6. Create a public showcase page on Imagineaction so others are inspired by your actions.

What if you only have one day to take action?

  1. Learn about the personal journey of one or more human rights defenders in Speak Truth to Power Canada.
  2. Work cooperatively to create a Bill of Human Rights for your class or school and then post it so everyone who enters your class or school understands the culture that you desire.
  3. Do a group human rights activity. You can find great examples of human rights activities for schools on the Internet. Two excellent sources are the Canadian Museum for Human Rights “Learn” section of its website, which offers grade-specific student activities and Imagineaction which showcases school-community social action projects.
  4. View a human rights film on a current human rights issue, reflect on how it made you feel and discuss the film with your classmates. The National Film Board has excellent documentaries tied to human rights and you can stream many of these for free.
  5. Host a day of human rights awareness in your school on a specific human rights issue. Once students understand the issue, ask them to join you in a petition or a letter-writing campaign.
  6. Work with others on a collage of visuals and words that could grace your school’s hallways. Remind everyone about the importance of human rights and how we all play a part in ensuring they’re accessible to everyone.

What if you have one week to take action?

If you have a week to take positive action for human rights, focus on an event or program that builds during the week from awareness to positive action. The idea is to inform and instill a sense of justice towards a particular issue or group.

  1. Organize a week to create change.
  2. Start by identifying an organizing committee – gather your friends and others to help you.
  3. Survey the school community and identify the top five things that need to change.
  4. Align these five things with human rights themes and decide which issue you want to address.
  5. Over the course of the week, find out everything you can on this human rights issue. Look at advancements and setbacks and view the issue from a local, national and global perspective.
  6. Decide on a number of actions to increase the awareness of others and encourage them to support your actions as a committee.

What if you have one semester to take action?

Every day we come across people who make a difference for others by working on their behalf, voicing concerns in solidarity, supporting a cause that needs to be recognized; you could be that person who brings people together to work towards a common issue.

  1. Identify the issue, working with a community organization or a person that is relevant in your community.
  2. Discuss the issue; identify the challenges and how these are tied to human rights.
  3. Brainstorm how you can help by working with the community organization or the community individual.
  4. Be creative and innovative – make certain your voices are heard and your passions come through:
    • Develop a photo exhibit, a video production, or a play on the issue and invite the public and media to understand and take notice that rights are not being recognized.
    • Create a publication of poems, drawings and reflections on the issue and the rights. Your publication could be sold online or through school events. Your voice is strong and needs to be heard!
  5. Take a look at the themes in Speak Truth to Power Canada, and take up one of these themes to support. Research it, find out how you can help this Canadian defender with their ongoing work, find out if the issue is relevant in your own community and address it within that context. The themes in Speak Truth to Power Canada are:
  6. Identify other community defenders and let us know who they are so we can add them to the Speak Truth to Power Canada website.