During this lesson, students will:
- Develop a deeper understanding of the development of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
- Explore how various cultural values have been blended into the UDHR.
- Consider how contemporary states respond to violations of human rights and how closely they respect the articles in the UDHR.
- Consider how their school and community deal with human rights.
This lesson encourages students to explore the historical basis for the modern human rights movement born in the aftermath of the Holocaust and deepens understanding of the Charter for the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Readings include selections from various ancient legal codes, the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Holocaust and Human Behavior.
In order to appreciate the concept of the UDHR, it is important to read the introductions to Chapters 11 of Holocaust and Human Behavior, as well as selections from the Charter to the United Nations and the Preamble to the UDHR. Additionally, students should read selected readings in Chapter 9 of Holocaust and Human Behavior in order to recognize how the Holocaust stripped individuals of their dignity as human beings.
1. Introduce the theme of human rights by examining codes of ancient societies from the East and the West in our Human Rights Documents page.
2. Organize students into six groups. Within each group, have students focus on one of the codes. Allow for time for them to review the codes.
Note: depending on your students, you may want to excerpt the text for main ideas and themes.
3. Introduce the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (full text) to students. It's advisable to provide students with time to carefully examine the Preamble, and then the 30 articles included in the UDHR.
3. Once students have had time to review the codes, form new groups in which each of the six ancient codes are represented. Within these new groups, have students consider the following questions:
- Do you recognize any of the rights in the ancient codes in the UDHR?
- How does the UDHR differ from earlier codes?
- What values from these earlier Eastern and Western societies do you see reflected in the UDHR?
Provide students with some time to discuss these questions, and then transition them back to a full class discussion.
4. As a whole class, discuss what rights in the UDHR seem most controversial. Consider the discussions around the original Commission of Human Rights (1947-8) that drafted the UDHR. For part of the discussion, refer to the excerpt from Mary Ann Glendon's A World Made New.
5. As a concluding activity, have students reflect on the following quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, made at the United Nations Commission on Human Rights,
March 27, 1958:
Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places close to home-so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.
Either as a journal entry, or in small groups, have students respond to the following questions:
- How do you recognize respect for human rights near your home or community?
- What challenges exist in your own community for recognizing and acting on fundamental human rights?
- What opportunities also exist?