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Examining Human Rights in a Global Context

Examining Human Rights in a Global Context

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Comprehensive Unit
130 pages
Grade Level: High School – Community College
Published 2001
Includes curriculum unit + CD-ROM of images

Examining Human Rights in a Global Context introduces students to the notion of human rights, and then adds "layers" of issues to the concept to heighten student awareness of the complexities of protecting human rights. Students are encouraged to consider multiple perspectives when reading and discussing case studies from around the world without simply acting on their assumptions or commonly held stereotypes of the involved people or parties. Thus, while it is expected that students will be able to empathize with victims of human rights violations, another objective of this module is for students to understand the mentality behind the perpetrators' actions. Without justifying or condoning acts of human rights violations, students are expected to be able to understand why humans might violate each other's rights, as well as how such episodes occur.

This curriculum unit includes sensitive and often controversial topics that challenge students to reflect on and try to make sense of some of the most inhumane events in recent history. In this unit, students discover that greed, hatred, and oppression often intertwine with human rights violations. Yet at the same time, they learn about courageous, heroic individuals and organizations that advocate human rights issues. Students are also introduced to innovative and empowering ways of healing wounds resulting from breaches of human rights.

Examining Human Rights in a Global Context is designed to introduce high school students to many of the key issues that have arisen in debates about human rights. As it is impossible to address every issue related to human rights in only four lessons, it is strongly recommended that you supplement the curriculum with further research and extension activities. While the unit includes a lesson that introduces students to human rights broadly and three lessons on minority, civil/political, and women's rights, you may also choose to include other topics in extension activities, such as the rights of children, refugees, and prisoners.

The appendices contain a comprehensive list of additional resources to aid further study. You will note that some of the resources listed are about or from advocacy-based organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. We encourage students to consider how the mass media and advocacy organizations present issues related to human rights. Students should gather evidence from multiple perspectives and think critically about these issues. The resources mentioned are by no means meant to be an exhaustive listing; rather, they are meant to be starting points for more in-depth student research and discovery.

Lesson One, What Are Human Rights?, prompts students to consider an appropriate definition of "human rights." Subsequently, students begin to categorize events and issues into various groups of human rights, noting that some may overlap or conflict with others. The second part encourages students to consider "both sides of the story" while reading fictional accounts that may involve human rights violations. Students are invited to consider the complex, interpersonal dynamics of human rights violations and to recognize that it is not always easy to decide which side is "right" and which is "wrong." In Part Three, the origins and evolution of human rights and international human rights documents are considered within the context of possible Western biases in the contemporary conceptualization of human rights. Finally, students carry out individual research projects based on a recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace, recognized for individual or group work in support of human rights.

Lesson Two, Minorities, Minority Rights, and Genocide, consists of two parts. In the first part, students consider their personal experiences with discrimination and then develop a working definition of minorities and minority rights. Students examine photographs and discuss the consequences of minority rights abuse. This part concludes with students exploring case studies about minority rights violations existing in the world today. Students research one case study in depth and prepare various simulations that teach their classmates about the issues and the multiple perspectives involved. The second part focuses on genocide. Students become familiar with three cases of genocide and consider the similarities and differences among them. The lesson then leads students to debate the question, "Is democracy necessary to prevent genocide?" Students look at the photographs from the first part of the lesson again and write a reflective essay noting any changes in their perceptions of minority rights issues.

Lesson Three, Civil/Political Rights, begins by asking students to identify civil/political rights violations from a list of situations. Students then create their own definition of civil/political rights. After this theoretical introduction, students use six real-life case studies to delve deeper into civil/political rights issues. In the first activity, groups of students create advocacy posters that express two sides in their assigned case study. In conveying the viewpoints of two sides, students learn about the arguments these parties use to justify their positions. For the second activity, groups of students prepare and perform a trial of the alleged civil/political rights violator in their case study. Another group will act as the jury and will decide on whether or not to punish the defendant. The lesson concludes with a discussion of whether justice is possible in the case studies and whether certain forms of government show more respect for civil/political rights.

Lesson Four, Women and Human Rights, begins with an activity that prompts students to reflect on gender stereotypes they may hold and to think about the origins of such assumptions about males and females. The lesson focuses on biological and socially constructed differences between males and females that may explain why women may be impacted by certain human rights violations more so than males. The first part of the lesson familiarizes students with the notion of the "feminization of poverty" through case studies from Brazil, Nicaragua, and Honduras. The second part encourages students to discuss the relationship between the low status of women and their increased risk of contracting AIDS. Students read an article from The New York Times and study the impact of the epidemic on women in South Africa and India.

The unit concludes with a Unit Debriefing, intended to highlight contemporary controversies surrounding the protection of human rights. The activities and discussion topics encourage students to summarize and think critically about the main ideas discussed in the unit.

Unit Goals

Each of the four lessons in this curriculum lists specific learning objectives. These objectives are divided into knowledge, attitude, and skill objectives. The following are larger goals for the curriculum unit as a whole: 

  • To learn the definition of 'human rights' as defined by the international community
  • To analyze case studies of human rights incidents and to gain an understanding of multiple perspectives
  • To recognize the complexity of protecting and advocating human rights
  • To think critically about some of the causes and contributing factors of human rights violations
  • To examine different types of reconciliation or healing procedures following human rights violations
  • To draw parallels between different case studies from around the world and to recognize the universality of some of these issues