Skip to main content
Defenders for Human Rights

Protecting Rights

GRADE LEVELS = 5 to 12 / SUGGESTED TIME = Two 40 minute class periods

Learning Outcomes

During this lesson students will have the opportunity to:

  • expand their awareness of the nature and breadth of human rights and the scope of human rights instruments.
  • demonstrate how human rights impact society as a whole, certain segments of society, and on themselves as individuals.

Student Skills

After this lesson students will have improved the following::

  • Gaining meaningful insight from a group activity
  • Adding meaningful argument to group discussions
  • Making inferences and drawing conclusions
  • Cooperating to accomplish group goals and reach consensus

Guiding Questions

  1. Why are there so many different human rights instruments?
  2. Why does it take so long for an international agreement to be endorsed by Canada?
  3. How do these human rights instruments affect people in Canada?
  4. How do governments try to ensure that human rights are enforced?
  5. What work is there left to do to make human rights a reality in our homes, schools, communities, countries and the world?

Preparatory Set

A Canadian from New Brunswick, John Humphrey, wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) as part of his work on an international committee given this task. Many nations and non-governmental groups contributed ideas, which Humphrey distilled in the initial version. Humphrey was also the founding director of the United Nations’ Human Rights Division.

The draft was taken by UN Human Rights Commission Chair, Eleanor Roosevelt of the USA, to the United Nations where it was adopted in 1948. As a first world-wide attempt at reaching consensus on the universality of human rights, the declaration emerged from a growing awareness of the importance of rights in the wake of the horrors of the Second World War. The UDHR is one of the world’s most important documents about global human rights. It spells out the rights of all human beings, regardless of ethnicity, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Since 1945 hundreds of international human rights instruments have been adopted to give legal form and international protection to human rights. However, the UN recognizes nine (9) core instruments as the basis of international human rights protection. Countries have also adopted constitutions and other laws which formally protect human rights at the domestic or national level. While hard law instruments form the backbone of international human rights law other soft-law instruments, such as declarations, guidelines and principles adopted at the international level contribute to its understanding, implementation and development.

For the purposes of this lesson plan, two (2) international human rights instruments are featured along with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects rights and freedoms on a national level in Canada. There are also other laws that protect human rights at the federal level, some written and some unwritten. Provinces and territories can have their own human rights laws protecting rights within their borders. Indigenous rights predate the arrival of Europeans and are protected by a series of written and unwritten laws and conventions. Aboriginal rights are also recognized in the Canadian Constitution.

  1. Ask students to read the simplified versions of the three legal instruments outlined above.

Activity 1

Using the Moments in Time timeline in this resource, have students link entries in the timeline to one or more articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or articles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Some rights may link to several articles. Others may not be in the UDHR at all.

Activity 2

Display the four questions below for students. Divide the class into pairs and allow two (2) minutes for discussion of the questions. Do a full class debrief, bringing out the general information as provided.

  1. To which countries do these three human rights instruments apply?
  2. How do these human rights instruments interact with one another?
  3. What do the different terms mean: treaty, declaration and charter?
  4. Do we need different terminology/names? Why or why not?


  1. To which countries do these three human rights instruments apply?

    ANSWER: All of the international documents included here apply to Canada and to other countries, however the Charter applies only in Canada.

  2. How do these human rights instruments interact with one another?

    ANSWER: These documents complement one another. Some are general and apply to everyone. Others are specific to protect the rights and freedoms of vulnerable and targeted groups of people.

  3. What do the different terms mean: treaty, declaration and charter?

    Treaty: an international agreement concluded between States in written form and governed by international law. A treaty may also be known as an agreement, protocol, covenant, convention, pact, or exchange of letters, among other terms.

    Declaration: The term "declaration" is used for various international instruments. However, declarations are not always legally binding. The term is often deliberately chosen to indicate that the parties do not intend to create binding obligations but merely want to declare certain aspirations

    Charter: The term "charter" is used for particularly formal and solemn instruments, such as the constituent treaty of an international organization or a State. The term itself has an emotive content that goes back to the Magna Carta of 1215.

  4. Do we need different terminology/names? Why or why not?

    ANSWER: The different terms can be confusing, with some instruments being strictly aspirational in nature and others being legally binding, however the important thing to remember is not the labels but rather the intent behind all of these instruments to safeguard the human rights of people. Indeed the vast number of different human rights instruments is an indication that acceptance of human rights is not universal. There are many perspectives and interpretations on human rights and these instruments attempt to bring clarity and consensus to the dialogue.

Culminating Activity

  1. Read this scenario:

    A small new planet has been discovered that has everything needed to sustain human life. No one has ever lived there before. There are no laws, no rules, and no history. You will all be settlers here, and in preparation your group has been appointed to draw up the bill of rights for this all-new planet. You do not know what position you will have in this country.

    1. Have students work in small groups to give this new planet a name and decide on ten rights that the whole group can agree upon.
    2. Ask each group to present its list. As they do so, create a "master list" that includes all the rights the groups mention, combining similar rights. Alternatively have "ambassadors" from each group derive a master list.
    3. Discuss the master list (e.g., what would happen if some rights were excluded?). Are any important rights left out?
    4. Ask each small group to match the rights listed with articles of the UDHR and to write the number of the article next to each right. Some rights may link to several articles. Others may not be in the UDHR at all.
    5. Ask groups to report their findings. As participants identify a right with a particular UDHR article, ask that they read the simplified version of the article aloud.
    6. Discuss: Were some of the rights on the list not included in the UDHR? Were some rights in the UDHR not included on the list? Why?

  2. Divide the class into groups of five. Allow 7-10 minutes discussion time after which each group will have 1 minute to report back. In the discussion each group should identify:
    1. Is there any need for greater protections for certain people in society?
    2. Which words or phrases in these human rights instruments stand out for you?
    3. After looking at these human rights instruments what do human rights mean to you?