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Release: Oct. 11, 1999

International human rights experts to speak at the UI Nov. 1-2

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For decades, human rights activism has focused largely on the monitoring and documenting of violations to hold governments and other offenders accountable.

Accountability still is the driving force behind many human rights organizations, including Amnesty International. In recent years, however, there has been growing recognition that human rights violations may also be prevented through education.

That is the idea behind the Boston-based Human Rights Education Associates (HREA), according to its executive director and co-founder, Felisa Tibbitts. Tibbitts, a human rights activist, scholar and educator who has worked with the United Nations, the Council of Europe and Amnesty International, is currently offering technical assistance to groups in more than a dozen countries in Central Eastern Europe, as well as directing projects in Croatia, Bulgaria, Estonia and Albania.

She said teaching human rights ethics with the intention of establishing public norms of behavior is a fairly recent phenomenon.

"Working with young people, working in schools, discussing human rights -- that is something that had not received much attention until the 1990s, in an era where you had a lot of movements out of authoritarian regimes into democratic ones," said Tibbitts. "As those traditional democracies came about, education for citizenship in countries would have to be reformed. When we founded HREA, Amnesty was just coming around to working with ministries of education."

Tibbitts will discuss her organization's education efforts as one of four featured speakers Tuesday, Nov. 2 at the third annual International Day. The event, designed for middle school and high school students and teachers, is titled "Teaching Human Rights in the Schools" and is co-

sponsored by the University of Iowa Office of International Education and the UI Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies (CREES). The other scheduled speakers are Ellie Keen, a human rights educator and grassroots activist with HREA who is based in London and works frequently in Bucharest, Hungary; John Patrick, a social studies and human rights educator from Indiana University; and Kristi Rudelius Palmer, director of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Center. The event will be in the Iowa Memorial Union.

The four speakers will also take part a day earlier -- on Monday, Nov. 1 -- in the 1999-2000 Distinguished International Lecture Series "Human Rights Education in Post-Communist States," which is free and open to the public. The series will address human rights education within the larger scope of educational reform currently taking place in the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A panel discussion is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. to noon Nov. 1 in Room 282 of the University of Iowa International Center.

International Day is expected to draw as many as 300 teachers and students from throughout Iowa. Participating schools select a team made up of one teacher and four to five students to represent them at the conference, which is free to attendees. The teams act as facilitators when they return to their schools, helping to add international perspectives to their study of issues. Participants receive T-shirts as a souvenir, and lunch is provided.

Last year, International Day drew some 125 students and about 30 teachers and featured Dith Pran, the celebrated Cambodian journalist whose harrowing escape from his native country was portrayed in the movie "The Killing Fields."

Because human rights is a universal issue, Paul Retish, director of the Office of International Education, encourages schools to select teachers from a variety of specialties -- biology, math, art and English, as well as social studies and counseling -- and students from a variety of backgrounds and abilities.

Tibbitts says human rights violations can mean different things to different people. For people in Third World countries, it may be a matter of life and death at the hands of a totalitarian regime. For women and minorities in the United States, it may mean discrimination and injustice at the hands of sexists, racists or an insensitive judicial system. For that reason, HREA has helped develop human rights curricula and programs that encourage participants to identify human rights issues in their communities and attempt to instill desirable attitudes and skills, such as tolerance, empathy, personal responsibility and communication skills.

While some schools discuss human rights in the classroom, Tibbitts said the issue has proved so popular at other schools it has led to the creation of after-school human rights programs and clubs. Tibbitts said the trend has raised some interesting questions for human rights educators, especially in the United States, where a poll found that only 8 percent of the population had heard of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"Is it human rights education to talk about violence in your community?" Tibbitts asks. "Do you need to use human rights language for that? What about teasing? Is that a human rights issue?

"That's a question for the community," she adds.

For more information on the Nov. 2 International Day, or to register, call the Office of International Education at (319) 335-6289 or (319) 335-6387. For more information about the Nov. 1 Distinguished International Lecture Series panel discussion, contact CREEES Outreach Coordinator Karen Myers at (319) 335-1442.