56 UNESCO chairs for the defenceof human rightsParis - High-ranking Greek military officers invited to conferences on the culture of peace in Athens organized, by the School of National Defence in Athens or the School of Advanced War Studies in Salonika;
schools in Mexico which have incorporated human rights not only into their curriculum but also into their daily life; police officers in Benin attending a seminar on the theme "Keeping law and order and the rights of the individual"; workshops on the links between written law and customary law for the traditional authorities of Namibia; the opening in 2001 in Bogota, Colombia, of the Democracy School for Young People with 200 participants aged from 15 to 25 who follow eight months oflessons with the aim of re-awakening young Colombians to political activity and to promote new social initiatives...
All of these activities have been organised by the UNESCO Chairs on Human Rights, Democracy, Peace and Tolerance. They are however only the most visible part of their work whose priority is to encourage education and research at university level. There are currently 56 such Chairs*, covering all the continents (three are in the process of being created in Egypt, Ecuador and Malta) and the Chair-holders have just held their bi-annual meeting in Stadtschlaining, Austria, from April 24 to April 27.
The activities of these Chairs vary widely from one country to another. Some have created either degree programmes on human rights, democracy, peace and tolerance (for example the Master's Degree on international protection of human rights in Lithuania, MA in civic education in Bulgaria, Master's in human rights, democracy, peace and tolerance in Romania). Others have developed specific modules for students of other subjects (political science, history, sociology, medicine, economy). Finally, many conduct training to introduce the consideration of human rights into the work of professionals, such as doctors, lawyers, educationalists and journalists.
Several Chairs have written courses for the teaching of human rights in schools. And many organise or take part in regular events on a national or international level - conferences, radio programmes, festivals and summer universities - to promote and defend basic rights.
The most dynamic Chairs have taken the lead in several fields. For example, at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the Chair has been the driving force behind the Network of Professors and Researchers in Human
Rights in Latin America as well as in distance learning on the Internet to obtain a specialized diploma. It was also a key participant, in Autumn 2001, in the Regional Conference on the Education of Human Rights in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In Italy, a UNESCO Chair was created at the University of Padua which offers, with 26 other European universities and with the support of the European Union, a European Master's Degree in human rights and democratisation. Last September 86 students from 27 countries became the fifth set of students to take the Master's, which is on the way to becoming the first truly European diploma.
It is often the case that lessons first given by the Chairs in the form of options end up being integrated into the compulsory courses, as in Slovakia, where the teaching of human rights by the UNESCO Chair is now part of the political science course. Many Chairs also undertake editorial work, publishing the results of their research or translating international texts on human rights, which has happened in Iran.
However the work of the most active Chairs should not overshadow the problems encountered by others, which arise because of a political situation - such as in Algeria or the Palestinian Territories - or economic problems. UNESCO gives an initial grant for the creation of a research Chair in universities, however it is then up to the country concerned to follow the project through. In developing countries or countries in a state of transition, the lack of resources in terms of personnel or finance that many universities suffer from, often affects the work of the UNESCO Chair.
UNESCO is currently redefining its strategy in the area of human rights, explains Pierre Sané, the Assistant Director-General for Social and Human Sciences. This strategy is designed to integrate human rights into all of UNESCO's programmes and to develop research and mobilisation on three main themes: economic, social and cultural rights, women's rights and the fight against racism and discrimination (especially within the framework of the follow-up to the 2001 Durban Conference).
In Stadtschlaining, Mr Sané called on the chairs to play their part: "Research could cover subjects such as the efficiency of the mechanisms and the procedures for the protection of economic, social and cultural rights, the obstacles to their application, best practices etc. They could also […] identify the forces and the processes which influence these rights - such as globalisation, the growing gap between rich and poor, the increased level of cultural exchange, the impact of September 11 on human rights - and, last but not least, promote the concept of development on a human scale.
"The Chairs are a very important resource for UNESCO," says the Assistant Director-General, "because each of them is at the heart of a network, and through them we can achieve very wide targets. That's why the diversity of their work is an asset. They must meet national needs and it is essential for them to define these needswith their partners in each country, such as the NGOs."
In Stadtschlaining, the UNESCO Chair-holders on Human Rights, Democracy, Peace and Tolerance also prepared their participation in the World Forum of UNESCO Chairs, which will be held on November13-15 in Paris.
* South Africa, Algeria, Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus (2), Benin, Brazil, Bulgaria (2), Burundi, Colombia, Korea, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Spain, United States (2), Ethiopia, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, India (2), Iran, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Lithuania, Madagascar, Mali, Malta, Mexico, Morocco (3), Namibia, Uzbekistan, The Netherlands, Poland, Palestinian Territories, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominican Republic, Romania, Russia (4), Slovakia, Switzerland, Ukraine, Uruguay, Zimbabwe.
There are currently 400 UNESCO Chairs worldwide in the Organization's fields of competence, which were created in the framework of the UNITWIN project launched in 1991.