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Equitas celebrates 40 years of empowerment through human rights education

The 39th cohort of the IHRTP brought together around 100 participants from all around the world

Starting June 9, Equitas will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of its International Human Rights Training Program, bringing together to Montreal 100 human rights defenders from across the globe.


Aimed at better promoting and empowering human rights through education around the world, the International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) offers practical workshops to human rights educators over the span of three weeks. Through interactive and participatory activities, and with the help of former program participants, attendees learn about a variety of topics relating to human rights, knowledge which they then integrate into their work to more effectively approach the issues relevant to their own communities and cultures.


Connecting together in a collaborative environment, human rights educators from different backgrounds can share their knowledge, experiences, and ideas with each other, which not only helps them in their common fight for human rights but also builds strong connections between them. Throughout the years, the IHRTP has created an international community of over 4 300 human rights defenders and seen its alumni’s work bring great change to their communities.

A picture of the first IHRTP cohort, taken in 1980

When John Humphrey, a Canadian jurist who co-authored the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, developed the IHRTP in 1979, his primary goal was to implement the principles of human rights into Canadian society and government. Originally created as a summer course, the first seminars focused primarily on international law and human rights theory.


Thirty-seven students, government representatives, and teachers attended the first session of the program in 1980, and by its third edition, this number had already doubled. Almost a decade later, in 1988, the program received its first participants from developing countries; in 1993, the IHRTP hosted 100 attendees from over 35 countries.


As more and more members of human rights organizations and development agencies participated in the IHRTP, its focus began to move away from human rights law and theory and work towards education and teaching. The program underwent revisions in 2000 in order to better embody its goal of empowering human rights organizations in carrying out human rights education themselves. The newly implemented participatory and interaction-based approach is what made the IHRTP unique in the world.

Vincenza Nazzari, the Director of Education, and Jean-Sébastien Vallée, a Senior Education Specialist at Equitas, smile during the closing ceremony of the 2017 edition of the IHRTP

“It’s always been the cornerstone of our human rights education work,” says Vincenza Nazzari, Equitas’ Director of Education and one of the lead organizers of the IHRTP.

Having worked on the IHRTP since 1995 and taken part in each of its major revisions since then, she recognizes its important role in the development of each of Equitas’ overseas programs.


Over the years, she says the program has become a space which is increasingly inclusive of LGBTQI individuals and of people living with disabilities, while also centralizing gender equality.


According to Nazzari, one of the program’s greatest strengths is its ability to move people forward based on their own experiences and by building personal connections with them.


“Unless you have an opportunity to express how you think in an environment where you feel safe,” she says, “and you learn to express it in a respectful way, you can’t expect people to change.”

She believes that creating safe spaces for open discussions is the best way for people to flourish. Making the IHRTP an opportunity for critical reflection and learning, especially in a diverse setting, facilitates open-mindedness and empathy, and helps participants better understand how they can bring social change.


“We know that we’ve been successful when people leave a little less comfortable and with more questions than when they arrived,” she says.