From New York to Darfur, from Botswana to Bangkok, from Paris to Zambia, the United Nations family today marked International Human Rights Day with calls for education and action, exhibitions and panel discussions, and the co-opting of soccer – “the truly universal sport” – in the battle against the universal scourge.Noting “the enormous efforts still required to make human rights a reality for all,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan cast the spotlight on the vital role of education in the battle. “These rights include rights to health, to education, to food, to housing, to marry and found a family, to participate in public life, to be free from torture, arbitrary arrest and detention — in short, the rights needed to be free from want and fear,” he said in a message for the Day, which this year focuses on human rights education. The General Assembly dedicated its morning plenary session to reviewing the achievements of the UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004) and has before it a draft resolution on a World Programme for Human Rights Education, the first three years of which would focus on primary and secondary education by integrating human rights issues into curricula. “Indeed, it is important to educate and sensitize people on issues relating to human rights as well as to promote respect, equality, cooperation and understanding between individuals and among nations,” the Assembly president, Jean Ping of Gabon, told the plenary. “This is a long process which, like all education, occurs all life long.” An exhibition was set to open in the Assembly Visitors’ Lobby on the cultural, political, economic and social practices that enslaved Africans developed while enduring the dehumanizing conditions of slavery. Entitled “Lest We Forget: The Triumph Over Slavery,” the exhibition focuses less on enslaved Africans as victims and more on the ways in which they reshaped their destinies. In the world of sport, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) teamed up with FIFA, the international association football federation, to address the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS with a cartoon booklet called “HIV/AIDS – Stand Up for Human Rights,” being distributed in Botswana, Ghana, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia. Events were organized to promote awareness among young people. The cartoon begins with young footballers from Africa, Asia, the Americas and Europe discussing HIV/AIDS and the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS. “Football is a truly universal sport, and thus can be used as a medium and arena for disseminating important human rights and public health messages,” FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter said. “Promoting and protecting human rights in the context of HIV/AIDS is essential to ensure an effective response to the epidemic,” added Jim Yong Kim, Director of the WHO’s HIV/AIDS Department. In Darfur, western Sudan, where fighting between the government, rebels and militias has led to what the UN has called the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, a public education programme was inaugurated today in a moving ceremony in a displaced persons’ camp. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) will help organize human rights training courses over the next two weeks for military officers, government prison and police officers, women’s and youth groups and clan leaders, among others. In Geneva, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour noted that many people all over the world continue to be denied their human rights. The Day “is a call to action in the face of the enormous effort needed to make human rights a reality for everyone,” she stressed. “One strategy to achieve that reality is human rights education,” she added, calling it a vital tool. A group of 28 experts on the UN Human Rights Commission focused on the need to protect indigenous peoples. “We strongly believe that human rights education is an essential tool to address the rising tide of racial discrimination and xenophobia; discrimination that lies beneath the root causes of human rights violations suffered by these groups,” they declared. In Paris, the Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, named Vitit Muntarbhorn, a law professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, the winner of the 2004 UNESCO Prize for Human Rights Education. Human rights education is a prerequisite of harmonious and peaceful development for the whole of society, Mr. Matsuura said. And in Bangkok itself, the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) held meetings and panel discussions on human rights education.
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- UN celebrates International Human Rights Day stressing vital tool of education