Human Rights in the News

Last Updated December 3, 2019

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a historic commitment to universal rights.  Now, more than 70 years later, how widely respected are the rights enshrined in this document? Students may justifiably question the global community’s commitment to human rights when they see headlines about dangerous conditions for migrants, the detention and surveillance of Uighurs in China, the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya, or the degradation of the environment. Yet, there are also positive trends, such as the rise of movements against sexual harassment and systemic racism.

In this Teaching Idea, students use the UDHR as a framework for understanding both the progress that has been made since 1948 and the areas where we continue to fall short in protecting and promoting human rights. This analysis can inspire and motivate students to dedicate themselves to the cause of human rights worldwide by promoting them in the “small places close to home,” which is where, according to Eleanor Roosevelt, they begin.

The following Teaching Idea provides opportunities to explore the following questions:

  • What is a human right?
  • How do different human rights connect to current news stories?
  • Who can best safeguard human rights?
  • How can students commit to uphold human rights?

(For more teaching ideas and background on the UDHR, view the lessons Defining Human Rights and Making Rights Universal.)

  1. What Is a Human Right?

    Set the mood for thinking about human rights by using the Graffiti Board teaching strategy. On a whiteboard or butcher paper, call out Article I of the UDHR: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights,” and provide the following prompt on the big paper:

    I think a human right is. . .

    Encourage students to silently jot down or draw as many responses they feel are appropriate and assure them that repetition is allowed.

    Direct students to examine the graffiti board and consider:

    • What is a right, as opposed to a privilege?
    • What ideas were repeated by more than one class member? Why might students in your community value this?
    • What ideas pertain to basic necessities (food, shelter, health care, clean water)?
    • What ideas relate to the US Constitution (freedom of the press, political participation, nationality, other protections in the Bill of Rights), or to foundational documents in the country where you live?
    • What ideas reflect notions of a good quality of life (access to education and healthcare)?

    Encourage students to privately define what universal human rights means to them in their notebooks.

  2. What Rights Are Included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

    Select an appropriate version for your class’s reading level of the UDHR from the list below and use a modification of the Wraparound teaching strategy to guide students’ analysis. After students review the declaration, ask them to call out a phrase or article they find compelling. Allow students to participate without a set order for dramatic recitation.

    (Note: The UN Human Rights Office is publishing comics of each UDHR article with Spirou Magazine which students may enjoy. It will take a few minutes to download.)

    Ask students how the class’s graffiti board enumeration of human rights compared or contrasted to the UDHR. Clarify any articles of the document students do not understand.

    Encourage students to revisit their notebook definition of a human right and allow them to modify it after reading a version of the UDHR.

  3. Look at Human Rights Today

    After examining the UDHR itself, students can turn their attention to today and observe how the human rights enumerated in the declaration are being promoted, protected, or contested.

    Distribute pages 2–3 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights Facts and Figures. Have students read through the pages together in small groups and, using the 3-2-1 teaching strategy, identify together the following:

    • Three articles that have been successfully protected in the 70 years since its passage and how they’ve been protected
    • Two articles from the UDHR students fear are not being upheld and why
    • One article students would be interested in researching to understand how that universal right is being upheld or violated
  4. Connect the UDHR to Recent Headlines

    Ask your students to explore the connections between different human rights and current news stories. If your students have access to either the internet or print editions of a newspaper, you can ask them to work together in small groups to find an article that connects to at least one of the human rights they learned about. Alternatively, you can print a few different news articles that connect to human rights and give each group a different news story. The topics of the articles you use might include:

    Ask your students to analyze and share their articles using the Jigsaw teaching strategy. Students can meet in initial “expert” groups to discuss a single article and determine which rights in the UDHR are relevant in the story. Then, you can re-organize students into “teaching” groups where each member shares a different article from their previous group. Finish by leading a brief class discussion in which students discuss the patterns that they notice across the articles. In the discussion, you might ask students to name things they learned that are surprising, interesting, and troubling (S-I-T) from the patterns they noticed.

  5. Consider Our Own Responsibilities

    Show the short video Who Has to Uphold Human Rights? featuring Human Rights Watch’s Babatunde Olugboji.

    Ask your students:

    • Who, according to Olugboji, has the responsibility to safeguard human rights?
    • Is it possible for human rights to be protected in the way Olugboji articulated?
    • What obstacles can you identify that might challenge the protection of human rights?
    • What role can organizations or influential individuals play in protecting human rights? Can you think of any examples of how organizations or individuals have worked to promote human rights?

    Finally, ask students to consider what role they play in protecting and promoting human rights for everyone. Share with them the #standup4humanrights pledge. Use the Think, Pair, Share strategy to engage students in a discussion of the following questions:

    • How does the pledge define each individual’s role in promoting human rights?
    • What does the statement “I will use my rights to stand up for your rights” mean? How does it define our obligations to others?

    Give students the opportunity to take the pledge.

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