Scholars urge more action on human rights education in Asia


TAIPEI — Human rights education in many parts of Asia is still lacking and needs substantive change, scholars and human rights defenders from Asia said yesterday in a seminar in Taipei.

Organized by the Taipei Municipal University of Education, the scholars and human rights workers from across Asia were participating in the three-day international conference titled “Propagation and Implementation of the Idea of Human Rights.”

Jefferson Plantilla, a lawyer and human rights educator based in Japan, noted that there were many cases of human rights violations reported throughout Southeast Asia in the 1970s and 1980s, a time when rulers would put economic growth ahead of raising human rights education awareness and training.

Since 2000, human rights education centers have been established across the region, and as of November this year, 90 such centers were in place to help promote human rights education, he said. The lack of coordination among these centers, however, still poses a big problem for citizens, he said.

Li Dan, an AIDS activist and human rights defender from China, said that since he was young, he felt strongly deprived of an education in human rights.

“If you are an optimist, you would say things are gradually changing in China. But the truth is that courses and teaching on human rights education remains very scant, because the last thing the Chinese government wants is to push for the development of human rights,” Lee said.

In China, many human rights workers do not tell others what they do for fear of being labeled dissidents, according to Lee.

He said there are only two universities in China that offer lessons that correspond to the universal values of human rights, while the majority of schools give lessons to brainwash students that Chinese people do not need the kind of human rights education that Western people receive. Yvonne Liu, a member of Hong Kong’s Alliance of Civil Education, said human rights education is not institutionalized in schools at all levels. As a result, human rights education in Hong Kong is very weak. Liu, a teacher, said her students often ask her about the sensational words and pictures carried on the front page of the Apple Daily newspaper, and that she found it difficult to help change the learning environment for the younger generation.

For Taiwan’s part, Professor Tang Mei-ying, who has conducted several surveys on teachers’ attitudes on pushing for human rights education, said most of the teachers in Taiwan are supportive of the teaching and promotion of human rights-related educational classes.

She said the responsibility of creating a positive environment to push for human rights education in Taiwan is not just in the hands of educators and that the government and the media should be more actively involved, while not intervening.

“When it comes to human rights education in Taiwan, we need more action and fewer slogans,” she said, adding that “political influence should also be wiped out.”