Human rights education: Everyone can be a protagonist


“Evrim Gul learned about her rights. She understood that she had the right to be respected as an individual. She discovered that she could change her life for the better.” The story of Gul, a young victim of domestic violence from Turkey, whose story is introduced on the Human Rights Education Open Web Resource, shows how humanity has advanced in the recognition of the ideal of human rights.

Seventy years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations, people today have the resources to explain, claim and defend their rights, which was unthinkable in the darkest moments of World War II. Other major international human rights treaties originated from the UDHR, and many countries adopted the language of the declaration into their constitutions.

Across the globe, this is being made possible thanks to determined individuals, as well as governmental and nongovernmental organizations promoting the universal values of dignity, respect and justice deserved by each member of the human family.

The power to transform lives and societies

In the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the UDHR drafting committee: “Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places, close to home — so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.”

Individuals continue to take small steps in their immediate environment as they develop their own understanding of the importance of respecting, promoting and protecting human rights.

It all begins with human rights education.

Human rights education has the power to transform lives and societies. It can make people aware of the rights they have under international and national laws and encourage each person to act as a protagonist and role model in creating a culture of human rights.

With this conviction, Human Rights Education: Open Web Resource ( was recently launched to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It also aims to contribute to the goals of the World Programme for Human Rights Education, established by the United Nations to promote a common understanding of the basic principles of human rights and to strengthen partnerships from the international level down to the grassroots.

Human Rights Education: Open Web Resource was made possible through the collaboration of Soka Gakkai International (SGI), the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning, HRE 2020 and the Platform of Member States for Human Rights Education and Training, as well as with the support of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

This initiative aims to help youth, in particular, to know, understand and stand up for their rights. The website gives suggestions for action and offers educational tools, including the exhibit “Transforming Lives” and the film “A Path to Dignity.”

It also shares personal stories illustrating how people’s lives have changed through human rights education. These stories may not have made newspaper headlines, but they truly made a difference in society, from domestic violence sufferer Evrim Gul becoming a human rights defender in Turkey, to a teacher transforming a school in Portugal through human rights approaches.

Youth shaping a culture of peace

The Human Rights Council decided recently to focus on youth in the fourth phase of the World Programme for Human Rights Education, to begin in 2020. “If members of the younger generation can shape the movement for human rights promotion, we can surely shift the global current from one of division and conflict to one of coexistence,” wrote SGI President Daisaku Ikeda in his 2018 Peace Proposal.

As the success stories featured in the Human Rights Education: Open Web Resource show, through human rights education, each one of us can become an agent of change and start to fill the gap between our shared ideals and the harsh realities of our world. Education plays a vital role toward long-lasting transformation of our societies. Starting with a small step, exactly where we are, each of us can become a protagonist in the creation of a culture of human rights.

Soka Gakkai International (SGI) is a community-based Buddhist organization that promotes peace, culture and education centered on respect for the dignity of life. SGI members uphold the humanistic philosophy of Buddhism in 192 countries and territories. SGI collaborates with other society organizations and intergovernmental agencies in the fields of human rights education, nuclear disarmament, gender equality, sustainable development and humanitarian relief.