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UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Apr 2010)

Last Updated (Tuesday, 30 November 1999 12:00)

Human rights learning often occurs best when specific issues arise either in the school community or beyond that attract attention and can be explored using a human rights lens. The controversy surrounding the Government’s announcement on 20 April that New Zealand now supports the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is one such opportunity.

Since its adoption by overwhelming vote of the UN General Assembly in 2007 the Declaration has been of particular significance for Aotearoa given the place of tangata whenua in our society, and the way the Declaration echoes and reinforces articles 2 and 3 of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Possible inquiry questions for students:
•    Why was it thought necessary to develop a ‘declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples’? Which human rights (from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights) have frequently been unrecognised and violated when it comes to indigenous peoples? Why might this be so?
•    What is the relationship between the Declaration and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? What is generally the difference between UN declarations and UN treaties?
•    Why was New Zealand one of four countries that voted against the adoption of the Declaration in September 2007? Which articles of the Declaration caused concern? Why did the Government decide to support the Declaration in 2010? How have interpretations of the significance of the Declaration varied?

The following teaching points may be useful:
•    Rights declarations – while often not binding in law – have played a huge role in the development of human rights, ranging from the 1688 English Declaration of Right, the 1776 US Declaration of Independence, the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, the 1924 League of Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Child, to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights which is the cornerstone of the international human rights framework. They have inspired generations of people, and have developed moral force, often acquiring, through use, the force of law. UN declarations often represent a significant milestone in a process that results in human rights treaties – which are binding in international law for those countries that sign and then ratify them.
•    Of course indigenous people had human rights before the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, but the Declaration spells out what human rights mean in practice given the particular situation of indigenous peoples. In many countries indigenous populations are vulnerable because of a failure to understand and respect key elements of their culture; for example, their customary occupation and use of land may not be recognised by later settler administrations and law, or use of their language may be suppressed.
•    Like other UN declarations, the Declaration was not ‘signed’. It was adopted by the UN General Assembly by an overwhelming vote on 13 September 2007. New Zealand was one of only four countries voting against, mainly because of fears of what ‘self-determination’ may mean.
•    The New Zealand Government has now signalled its support for the Declaration. Representing New Zealand in New York, Dr Pita Sharples said the decision  ‘restores [New Zealand’s] mana and our moral authority to speak in international fora on issues of justice, rights and peace’.
•    As the 21 April NZ Herald editorial argued, New Zealand ‘comes closer than most to meeting the aspirations espoused in the UN declaration’.

Teachers wishing to explore some of the reasons for the development of a specific declaration on the human rights of indigenous peoples may find the following links useful:
Wikipedia: Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Survival International, including ‘Avatar is real’, say tribal people
University of Minnesota Study Guide on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Making the Declaration Work – an insiders’ account of the development and significance of the Declaration

From the February Newsletter of Freyberg High School... (Apr 2010)

Last Updated (Monday, 31 May 2010 10:41)

“Freyberg is a Human Rights School. This means that we not only have a culture that acknowledges the Universal Declaration of Human Rights but we are pro-active in making the Rights and Responsibilities outlined in this document clear to all our students.
Everyone has the right to education (Article 26) but inherent in this right is the responsibility to allow others to learn. You have the right to be treated with dignity but the responsibility to treat all others with dignity, whatever their race, background or abilities.
All Year 9 students spent time on Thursday working with their core teachers to develop a code for their classroom by considering what rights they had and what responsibilities this includes.”

Human rights-based education: a professional focus (Apr 2010)

Last Updated (Tuesday, 30 November 1999 12:00)

The defining essence of professional practice is that the work of the ‘professional’ involves a high degree of self-regulation based on
•    an organised body of expert and specialised knowledge
•    a high standard of ethics, altruism and commitment to the common good.

This involves an obligation for – as Robin Alexander, leader of the Cambridge Primary Review puts it – ‘teaching to be grounded in repertoire, evidence and principle rather than recipe.’

The professional teacher must have an extensive repertoire of skills and practices based on the available evidence on what best realises the right to education, and fundamental ethical principles. ‘The aims and principles proposed by the Review,’ said Alexander, ‘ unashamedly reflect values and moral purposes, for that is what education is about.’

The cross-culturally negotiated, internationally-agreed human rights framework is an indispensable part of the professional toolkit in the 21st century, because human rights-based education goes to the heart of the educator’s role:

•    Our schools and early childhood education services exist to help our young people realise human rights by giving them an education through which they develop their potential as human beings, and are able to participate and contribute in their communities.
•    The community expects centres and schools to equip young people to realise their rights to work, an adequate standard of living, health, participation in public life..., while respecting their rights to dignity, identity, safety, expression & participation, and fair treatment, etc.
•    The community expects centres and schools to help ensure that young people learn to respect, protect and fulfil the rights of others.
•    International law and New Zealand education policy requires development of ‘respect for human rights’ to be one of the core aims of education;  the New Zealand Curriculum expects respect for human rights to be evident in schools’ ‘philosophy, structures, curriculum, classrooms and relationships’ (p10)

Partners in Human Rights in Education recognise human rights as a global taonga to which New Zealand has made a significant contribution, and 'a common standard' for citizenship and our work in education.
Accepting their human rights responsibilities, they are guided by:
•    the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and other human rights standards
•    human rights principles – including a commitment to the universality and indivisibility of rights, equity and non-discrimination, respect for diversity, participation and empowerment, responsibility and accountability, and those reflected in Te Tiriti o Waitangi
•    professional best practice in realising the right to education – including a commitment to integrity, excellence, inquiry and innovation.
They use the human rights framework explicitly and consistently to
•    focus on the right to education of every young person
•    develop respect for self, others and learning,
•    enable young people to be effective citizens of their school/centre and their local, national and  global communities, knowing and living their human rights and responsibilities.

The Teachers’ Code of Ethics closely reflects the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.


How to meet school responsibility re bullying (Apr 2010)

Last Updated (Tuesday, 30 November 1999 12:00)

Responsive Schools is an indispensable evidence-based guide to how schools can fulfil their students’ right to personal security in school settings. Published on 1 April by the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, it is a follow-up to its School Safety report.

Human rights and responsibilities – part of the classroom fabric (Mar 2010)

Last Updated (Tuesday, 30 November 1999 12:00)

Lessons dedicated to human rights are important, but the educational power of a human rights approach lies in the use of the human rights framework as a constant reference point:

•    A negotiated rights and responsibilities agreement, mapped to relevant human rights and clearly posted and frequently used, to guide the behaviour of all in the learning setting;
•    A summary of human rights (based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and/or the Convention on the Rights of the Child), on the wall as a ready reminder of rights and responsibilities as students explore issues as part of the formal curriculum;
•    A standard check in learning inquiry templates: ‘Are there any human rights implications here?’, ‘Whose rights?’, ‘Which rights?’

At Bluestone School (Timaru), one of the more recent schools joining the Human Rights in Education initiative, principal Ian Poulter reports that ‘each class is setting up great wall displays, posters are being set up round the school, we are seeing student comment starting to appear in class blogs.’

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