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Part One of the EquiTalks: Bridging our Diversities

On October 5th, gathered at the Palais des Nations in Geneva for a side event of the 51st session of the Human Rights Council and the first segment of this year’s EquiTalks: Bridging our Diversities. Hosted in collaboration with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in Geneva, the event highlighted the recent joint publication by Equitas and Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Bridging Our Diversities: A Compendium of Good Practices in Human Rights Education. The EquiTalks began with a keynote address from Clément Voulé, UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, followed by a thought-provoking and inspiring panel discussion with prominent human rights defenders.

Moderated by Stephanie Nichols, Equitas’ Director of Communications and Development, the panel explored how human rights education can lead to increased public participation and empower marginalized groups to exercise their rights, especially against the backdrop of shrinking civic spaces. Joining the panel, either in-person or virtually, were:

  • Henri Tiphagne, Executive Director, People’s Watch (India)
  • Fernanda Lapa, Executive Coordinator, Institute for Development and Human Rights (Brazil)
  • Hillory Tenute, Executive Director, Canadian Roots Exchange (Canada)

In his keynote address, Special Rapporteur Clément Voulé emphasized the inherent relationship between human rights education and the rights on freedom of assembly and association within his mandate. On this issue, he contends that

Through human rights education, rights holders are empowered to exercise human rights, including rights to peaceful assembly and association… it enables them to participate in public life and contributes to peaceful and equitable societies.

Noting the importance of intersectionality in human rights activism, Special Rapporteur Voulé went on to praise how the dialogue generated by human rights education leads to concrete action that protects the rights of vulnerable groups. Calling attention to the power of the work done by Equitas and other NGOs in this field, the Special Rapporteur stated that “human rights education challenges patriarchy, racism, homophobia, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination that marginalize groups and prevent them from participating in civic space.”

Following up on this inspiring and stimulating keynote address, panelists delivered comments based on their own experiences as human rights defenders and educators across the globe.

For Fernanda Lapa, the progressive shrinking of civic space in Brazil has created challenges for the exercise of human rights. Advocating that “every country should have an open space… to dialogue with civil society about human rights education,” she denoted successful efforts to establish dialogue on human rights education in political spaces. In particular, she drew attention to Brazil’s increased engagement on the international level on the subject of human rights education, noting that over 100 human rights defenders engaged in this conversation during the most recent Universal Periodic Review in Brazil.

Henri Tiphagne, speaking from his extensive experience as a proponent of human rights education in India, began his remarks by calling for radical human rights education. In implementing what he calls a “child-centred” approach to human rights education, Tiphagne highlighted the importance of working with teachers. Like Fernanda Lapa, he also spoke of the challenges in working from a context where civic spaces were dwindling, and democracy is under attack. To protect the right to education in this situation, he posits transforming the right to education into a constitutional right as a solution moving forward.

Lastly, Hillory Tenute’s remarks focused on the importance of centering decolonization and Indigenous experiences in human rights education movements, particularly in the unceded territory that is referred to as Canada. In practice, this means using human rights education to create spaces where settlers’ descendants relinquish power and  support movements that are led by Indigenous youth. Like Special Rapporteur Voulé, she emphasized the importance of intersectionality and “ensuring that this movement is Indigenous-youth led, matriarchal-led and centers the voices of two-spirit individuals.” Equitas is fortunate to have Hillory Tenute joining us again as a panelist at the EquiTalks event happening in Toronto and online on October 25th; and we are excited for her to share more on creating transformative, intersectional and Indigenous-led social movements.

During this panel discussion, human rights defenders present discussed the challenges of human rights advocacy in the context of shrinking civic space. Positing human rights education as a tool to facilitate public participation and translate human rights norms into concrete protections for marginalized groups, all the speakers from this event were adamant about the importance of civil society groups in building equitable and inclusive communities.

These conversations will continue on October 25th in downtown Toronto, with a panel discussion featuring Marie-Claude Landry, the Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Human Rights Commission and other thought leaders committed to building a culture of human rights.

To participate, register for the event here

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