CONTACT: STEPHEN PRADARELLI
100 Old Public Library
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 384-0007; fax (319) 384-0024
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
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
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.