Through brainstorming and discussion,
this activity leads participants to define what it means
to be human and to relate human rights to human needs.
||1 hour or 3 separate
||Blackboard or chart
paper, chalk or markers
Optional: Copies of Part I, A Short History of Human
||Preschool - Adult groups
||Fits well with Activity 10, Windows
and Mirrors. Introduces the more technical Activity
5, A New Planet. See Part IV, Taking Action for Human
Rights, for action ideas.
PART A: What Does It Mean to
Be Human? (20 minutes)
1. Write the words "HUMAN"
and "RIGHTS" at the top of chart paper or a blackboard.
Below the word "human" draw a circle or the outline
of a human being.
Ask participants to brainstorm what
qualities define a human being and write the words or symbols
inside the outline. For example, "intelligence,"
2. Next ask participants what they think
is needed in order to protect, enhance, and fully develop
these qualities of a human being. List their answers outside
the circle, and ask participants to explain them. For example,
"education," "friendship," "loving
family." (Note: Save this list for use in Part B)
- What does it mean to be fully human?
How is that different from just "being alive"
- Based on this list, what do people
need to live in dignity?
- Are all human beings essentially
equal? What is the value of human differences?
- Can any of our "essential"
human qualities be taken from us? For example, only human
beings can communicate with complex language; are you
human if you lose the power of speech?
- What happens when a person or government
attempts to deprive someone of something that is necessary
to human dignity?
- What would happen if you had to give
up one of these human necessities?
4. Explain that everything inside the
circle relates to human dignity, the wholeness of being
human. Everything written around the outline represents
what is necessary to human dignity. Human rights are based
on these necessities.
Read these sentences from the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and explain that this
document sets the standard for how human beings should behave
towards one another so that everyones human dignity
recognition of the inherent
dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all
members of the human family is the foundation of the freedom,
justice, and peace in the world
All human beings are born free
and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with
reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood.
PART B: What Is a Right? (20
1. Brainstorm for the many meanings
"right" can have (e.g., "correct," "opposite
of left," "just.") Consider common expressions
like "Were within our rights" or "You
have no right to say that." Record these different
meanings on the board. What is the meaning of "right"
when we speak of a human right?
2. In small groups or all together,
brainstorm a definition for human rights and write these
possibilities on the board. Try to evolve a definition that
everyone can agree upon and write it on a chart sheet by
3. Write on the board this definition
of human rights:
Human rights belong to all people
regardless of their sex, race, color, language, national
origin, age, class, religion, or political beliefs. They
are universal, inalienable, indivisible, and interdependent.
- What is meant by universality? By
inalienable? By indivisible? By interdependent? Ask participants
to look up these terms in a dictionary or in A Human Rights
Glossary, Part V, "Appendices," and explain
their meaning to the group.
4. Look back at the list of qualities
that define a human generated in Part A.
5. Write "SURVIVAL/SUBSISTENCE,"
"HUMAN DIGNITY," and "CONVENIENCES AND LUXURIES"
on another chart or blackboard. Discuss the meaning of these
Consider the chart made in Part A. Place
each item listed as necessary to fully develop human qualities
under one of these headings. For example, is education necessary
to survival? To human dignity? Is education a convenience
or a luxury?
- Should human rights address only
what a human being needs to survive? Why or why not?
- Should human rights also protect
those things you classified under "conveniences and
luxuries"? Why or why not?
- Some people in the world have only
what is necessary to survive while others have luxury
and convenience. Is this situation just? Is it a human
- Can something be done to equalize
the enjoyment of human dignity? Should something be done?
If so, how? And by whom?
PART C: What Is a Universal
Right? (20 minutes)
1. Read the comments of Eleanor Roosevelt,
Chair of the UN commission that drafted the UDHR, on the
importance of universal human rights standards:
Where, after all, do universal
rights begin? In small places, close to home so
close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps
of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual
person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college
he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works.
Such are the places where every man, woman, and child
seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity
without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning
there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned
citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall
look in vain for progress in the larger world.
2. Discuss this passage:
- What do you think Eleanor Roosevelt
means by "universal rights"?
- Some people feel that universal values
or standards of behavior are impossible. What do you think?
- Why do you think the UN chose the
word universal instead of the word international
when naming the UDHR?
- Paraphrase the final sentence of
the quotation. What does it say about individual responsibility
for human rights? What do you think Eleanor Roosevelt
means by "concerned citizen action to uphold"
rights close to home?
1. Introduce the UDHR, explaining that
this document was intended to offer all people in all situations
the equal justice, opportunity, and dignity of which Eleanor
Roosevelt spoke. Then give a brief history of the UDHR.
See Part I, A Short History of Human Rights for background
information or use this as a reading.
2. Introduce the concepts of moral,
legal, and natural rights. See Part V, A Human Rights Glossary.
Are human rights necessarily legal rights?
3. Pose the question "What does
it mean to be alive?"
- When does life begin? When does life
- Should the right to be living ever
be taken away by the state?
- Is the right to live a human right?
- When do human rights begin and end?
4. Discuss the relationship between
human dignity, human rights, and the concept of "humane
For younger children
1. Ask children sitting in a circle
to think of a quality about themselves that they consider
a good quality. Using a talking stick or simply speaking
in turns, ask each to describe that quality briefly.
- Note that everyone has good qualities.
- If children have difficulty generating
qualities about themselves, ask "What are some qualities
we admire in people?" and write a list of responses
on the board. Have each child pick one that is true for
her or him.
2. Ask some of these questions:
- Do you respect in others the quality
you like about yourself?
- Do you respect good qualities in
others that you do not have?
- Do all human beings deserve respect?
- How do you show respect for others?
3. Ask children if they can remember
a time when they felt hurt because someone did not respect
- Did someone say something insulting
or hurtful to you?
- Why do people sometimes say bad things
to each other?
- What is dignity? Is your dignity
hurt when others do not respect you? How does it feel
4. Ask the group how human beings differ
from other living creatures. Emphasize that human beings
communicate with words, not just sounds, and that they decide
many things about their lives.
- Use the outline in Part A.
5. Ask "What does it mean if we
say that all human beings deserve respect because they all
have human dignity?"
6. Explain that after a terrible war,
World War II, all the countries of the world agreed in 1948
on a document that said the world would be more peaceful
if everyone respected the dignity of every human being.
These words are contained in the Universal Declaration of
- Read the quotations given in Part
A, Step 4.
7. Ask children to think of one example
of how life in their community could be more peaceful if
people showed greater respect for each other.
8. Have children work in pairs or alone
to illustrate one way they could show respect to someone.
Share these ideas with the rest of the class.
from The Bells of Freedom
(Addis Ababa, Ethiopia: Action
Professionals Association for
the People, 1996) 15-17; Ralph
Pettman, (Teaching for Human
Rights: Pre-School and Grades
5-10) 30; Betty Reardon, Educating
for Human Dignity (Philadelphia:
Pennsylvania Studies in Human
Rights, University of Pennsylvania
Press, 1995) 25-28; Felice Yeban,
ed., Human Rights Education
Pack (Bangkok: Asian Resource
Center for Human Rights, (1995)