Document Type : Research Article


Professor at Centre for Human Rights Education, Perth, Australia.


Peaceful co-existence is a universal but elusive aspiration. Despite the search for tools to create a peaceful world, conflict remains between nations and within nations. The fostering of peace is a question to which scholars, religious leaders and politicians put their minds, but despite this attention the paradox remains that there is little evidence that local and global conflict have subsided. Ideally the key to providing solutions can be found in the tenets of the world’s major religions and cultural traditions and in the musing of some of the great philosophy voices of past and modern times. Regrettably these tenets are often absent in education systems where there are limited endeavours to encourage young people to think locally and globally about social justice, peace and human rights. Many of the current ways of imparting knowledge of human rights and peace are limited, with the emphasis on the legal aspect alone and on international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Although the UDHR is an inspiring document given that its creation stemmed from a commitment to all humanity, its uncritical acceptance negates the critiques about western dominance. Arguably, unless humankind can find a way to grapple with the tension between universal and relativist approaches to human rights by acknowledging diversity, the search for peace and social justice will be limited. This paper contemplates the creation of human rights understandings beyond legal constructs to explore how human rights concepts can be invoked through education to reduce ignorance, prejudice, religious intolerance and fear that detracts from the goal of peaceful co-existence. It explores the question of responsibility to ‘the other’, a form of responsibility that is not apparent in the clash of cultures and the conflict between nations. The paper suggests a schema for human rights understandings based on philosophical, political, historical, anthropological, legal and practical approaches to human rights. This includes forging the connection between theory and practice; engaging in critical pedagogy through a process of collaborative dialogue and inquiry; being familiar with the historical origins of human rights and their application; and understanding that concepts of human rights are found in every cultural and religious tradition.  In advocating such a schema it draws on examples that present barriers and prospects and in so doing outlines the endeavours that take place in the inter-disciplinary Master of Human Rights program at Curtin University in Australia as a model that may be adaptable to other contexts. The paper concludes by suggesting practical ways in which the schema could be enacted including through a lifetime educational commitment to human rights through historical and philosophical understandings, inter-faith dialogue and cultural exchanges.


  1. A) Books & Articles
  • Bielefeldt, H. (1995). “Muslim Voices in the Human Rights Debate”, Human Rights Quarterly, 17, No. 4, pp. 587-617.
  • Briskman, L. (2007). Social Work with Indigenous Communities, Sydney: The Federation Press.
  • Briskman, L. and Fiske, L. (2008). Teaching Human Rights at University: Critical Pedagogy in Action. In Activating Human Rights in Education Exploration, Innovation and Transformation, ed. Christopher Newell and Baden Offord, Canberra: Australian College of Educators.
  • Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the Oppressed, revised edition, Harmondsworth: Penguin.
  • Gready, P. and Ensor, J. (eds.) (2005). Reinventing Development?: Translating Rights-Based Approaches from Theory into Practice, London: Zed Books.
  • Healy, K. (2005). Social Work Theories in Context: Creating Frameworks for Practice, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Ife, J. (2001). Human Rights and Social Work: Towards Rights Based Practice, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Ishay, M. (1997). “Introduction”, in Ishay, M.R. (ed.), The Human Rights Reader: Major Political Writings, Essays, Speeches and Documents from the Bible to the Present, New York: Routledge.
  • Ishay, M. (2004). The History of Human Rights from Ancient Times to the Globalisation Era, Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Lauren, P.G. (1998). The Evolution of International Human Rights: Visions Seen, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Sharruck, J. (2002). “Religion, rights and terrorism”, Keynote address at Harvard Human Rights Journal Conference on Religion, Democracy and Human Rights, Harvard Law School, 15 February.

B) Documents

  • United Nations (1981), Declaration on the elimination of all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, adopted by the UN General Assembly.
  1. C) Websites