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Conference on teaching human rights (a participant’s notes)

Vladimir Kaplun, Kharkov
The conference ‘Teaching human rights: Bielorussian and Ukrainian experience’ was held in Kyiv on 13 – 14 November by Ukrainian and Bielorussian branches of the International Society for human rights. The conference was held in the building of Kyivan region administration and was sponsored by the international fund ‘Vidrodzhennia’.

In the beginning of the conference the participants were greeted by representatives of such solid establishments as the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the Committee of the Supreme Rada of Ukraine on Science and Education, the administration of the President of Ukraine, the Ministry of Education of Ukraine, the Embassy of Bielorus in Ukraine, the Ukrainian Center of information and documentation of the Council of Europe. All these speakers promised cooperation and support to teaching human rights.

The agenda of the conference was very broad (perhaps, too broad for one conference). It included, except conceptual questions, teaching human rights in pre-school establishments, elementary, secondary and high schools; popularization of ideas of human rights protection in mass media; a special course on rights of the children.

The organization of the conference was immaculate. Everyone could get acquainted with the preprints. Nonetheless, I was partly disappointed with the results, and here I want to explain my reaction.

Certainly, when applied to junior schoolchildren, the term ‘legal education’ can be used at a stretch, since here we deal with ethical upbringing, on which foundation the legal education in the proper sense will be carried out much later. On the other hand, teaching human rights in higher lawyer schools will substantially differ from that in the secondary schools.

I believe that for the future of our country and our civil society two problems are the most fundamental:
•  Efficient civil upbringing and legal education in the high school;
•  Efficient enlightenment programmes on human rights in mass media.

I have come to the conference hoping to learn how to make every lesson on human rights protection at school an event in the life of schoolchildren, how to make them understand the dignity and freedom of a human person, how to heal them from slavish passivity, how to seed the moral resistance to every injustice. But all these important problems were mentioned in passing, with the stress on academic questions. With awe I saw the contours of a new indoctrination discipline which will make children yawn.

A pleasant exception was made in bright reports by N.Kusaykina from Kharkov and V.Dubrovskiy from Sebastopol. If the number of such participants were larger, a fruitful discussion would start, but there was no discussion.

The majority of reports from Bielorus expressed the complete satisfaction with what had been done in their country. They complimented each other and praised the state system of teaching human rights to children, which is supported by President Lukashenko himself.

For myself, I have drawn the following conclusions:
•  The situation with teaching human rights in Bielorus and Ukraine is rather unsatisfactory, especially if to compare it with the similar situation, say, in Poland;
•  Any concrete achievement in this field must be marked and supported; in Ukraine an undoubtful achievement is, for example, competitions of children essays on human rights held every year;
•  We need not pseudoscientific conferences, but practical seminars of teachers, journalists and human rights protection activists, similar to those that were held in Kharkov and Donetsk.

I am sure that there are many gifted teachers who can make a great contribution to the civil upbringing of our children. They must be put in contact with each other and with their colleagues from other countries. The Kharkov Group for human rights protection intends to publish a new bulletin ‘Prava ludyny: Navchannia I vyhovannia’ (‘Human rights: education and upbringing’). I hope that this bulletin will improve the situation.

We invite all interested sides to cooperate.
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