In order for people to effectively participate in the development, implementation and evaluation of social and economic policies and programs, they must be aware of and informed about the issues affecting them and choices available to them. As with civil and political rights, education and organizing for ESC rights go hand-in-hand. Stimulating others into action on human rights concerns necessarily involves education. Likewise, the resources devoted to educating people about their rights lacks potency if the new knowledge is not put into action and people do not have channels for participation.
Human rights education (HRE) is the process of informing people about the human rights framework and facilitating the development of learners' capacities to use the framework as a lens through which to analyze issues, problems and proposals. Central to any effort to educate people about their ESC rights is the development of awareness about their rights in general. In this sense, there should be no distinction between education on civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights on the other. The methods and approaches are the same.
Successful HRE efforts are designed with the knowledge that people tend to learn best what they feel they need to learn -- information which is relevant to their own lives. Such HRE often begins with soliciting information about the needs, issues of concern and experience of the learners. Many of the immediate concerns of communities and societies relate to economic and social issues. Activists involved in HRE should thus develop their knowledge of human rights standards related to ESC rights because the next step in the education process would be analyzing and articulating these concerns within a human rights framework, and reflecting this new analysis back to the learners.
However, a challenge facing organizations involved in human rights education is that HRE curricula have, for the most part, emphasized civic education, political rights, and "democratization" with less attention paid to those rights specifically economic, social and cultural in nature. Thus, few resources exist for teaching people about ESC rights.
An additional critique of traditional HRE curricula is that they have reinforced the idea of "generations of rights": the "first", civil and political rights; the "second", economic and social rights; and, the "third", environmental, cultural and developmental rights. Teaching about ESC rights as a separate generation runs the risk of creating undue differentiation from other rights, thus contradicting the principle that they are indivisible and interdependent.
Effective human rights activism involves the people for whom it advocates -- whether the focus is on civil and political or economic and social rights. Mobilization or organizing is the process of motivating and coordinating people for a purpose. Human rights mobilization involves working with affected populations to amplify their needs and concerns. The stronger the links between an organization and a community, the greater the organization's ability to advocate for the community's needs. The relationship of an organization to a community is stronger when people in the community see that their issues and grievances are presented through mobilization efforts in a way that is shaped by them and when responses, reactions or results are, in turn, shared with the community.
Human rights education and organizing can be undertaken with members of communities or constituencies, community-based organizations (CBOs), NGOs doing development work, direct service work or advocacy, professionals and government officials, among others. As with any human rights effort, each of these target groups has particular concerns and considerations which will affect the approach of the educators.
In some cases community human rights education and mobilization may be easiest to initiate in response to a particular crisis or event. Such crisis situations may awaken the community into action; the introduction of human rights concepts and tools for action may be welcomed as a response to the crisis. However, immediate action should be linked to a long-term human rights vision and methods for sustained work.
Human rights education and mobilization should always be understood within a specific political and social context. If the underlying issues are not clearly identified and understood by the community or constituency within a rights framework, the end to a particular crisis or a change in political leadership can "demobilize" a community, thus removing the impetus for sustained analysis and community action based on human rights principles. While human rights education and mobilization can be political -- that is, engaged in political debate and using political channels for advocacy -- the content should remain impartial. The end toward which human rights education and mobilization efforts are directed is the fulfillment of and respect for human rights. This remains true regardless of whether or not a particular political party is elected or a particular policy is adopted, though these developments may signal steps in the right direction. Effective, long-term human rights mobilization entails maintaining a vigilant eye to the realization of human rights, even if positive changes in the system have occurred.
Community human rights monitoring is an effective tool for human rights education and mobilization. Using community monitoring techniques, whereby members of the community are involved in gathering information related to indicators (such as the number of children in a neighborhood who have died of dehydration, or the number of children unable to attend school because of prohibitive school fees) can be an important way of involving and educating community members about the content of different ESC rights. Community members can be trained to analyze data which is collected and to present to authorities the human rights claims which are derived in this way. This process can also be empowering for the community.
Mobilization can also involve educating other community-based organizations and NGOs on the rights framework and the use of the rights approach as a tool for advocacy. Participants have found that working in partnership on specific ESC rights with groups which are already deeply tied to a community or constituency is effective. CBOs and NGOs which are devoted to equality or non- discrimination issues may be particularly keen to learn about and use a rights approach and rights language in their advocacy.
The general guidelines provided by international human rights standards can be presented to NGOs and CBOs as a means of enabling them to develop and present proposals for and critiques of official policies and plans regarding ESC issues. The Caribbean Initiative, for example, has designed a method it has used to help develop coalitions and formulate agendas and techniques for working with government agencies to review, critique and suggest changes to legislation, policies and programs using human rights standards. (See box below.) In the Caribbean Initiative's experience, NGOs which provide services to certain populations find the human rights framework a valuable tool for structuring their own analysis and ideas for future work.
As a result of the historical focus of human rights work on civil and political rights and a perception that human rights work is fundamentally political and adversarial, service and development NGOs may be reluctant to adopt a human rights framework or develop relationships with human rights organizations. Activists interested in introducing the rights framework to these organizations are faced with the challenge of highlighting ways that the framework may be useful to these groups, at the same time that they respond to these organizations' concerns about the risks involved in human rights-related advocacy.
The relationship between human rights organizations and government agencies and officials is often ambiguous, complex or wrought with tension. Some activists adhere to the view that the proper role of a human rights organization is to watch and put pressure on a government to comply with its rights obligations. Working too closely with government officials may compromise a human rights group's ability to be impartial, and potentially inhibit its willingness to bring cases against the government or pressure officials in other ways. Even when there is a genuinely good relationship between an NGO and government officials, this relationship may be problematic in the eyes of the victims or affected community if they perceive the NGO and government are too closely connected.
However, other human rights activists believe that ESC rights advocacy may entail a different relationship with governments. Because ESC standards are in an active phase of formation, and the fulfillment of these rights necessarily involves the development of governmental policies and programs, human rights NGOs may want to cooperate more closely with government agencies than they have typically done in carrying out their civil and political rights work. This perspective is based on a belief that human rights organizations can provide valuable resources to the government, such as information about the rights framework, which will be useful for policy formulation.
There is not a uniform perspective regarding the relationship between human rights NGOs and government officials and entities. Human rights activists will have to evaluate for themselves what method or approach they will adopt. Whatever approach is taken, however, an NGO's impartiality and autonomy -- both real and perceived -- are essential to the effectiveness and integrity of its human rights work.