Action Activity 1
Creating a Human Rights Community


Working cooperatively, participants create a list of rights and responsibilities that set a standard of behavior for their community and foster respect and social order.

Time: 1-1/2 hours or 2 class periods
Materials: Blackboard or chart paper/ chalk or markers
Copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Setting: Elementary school - High school
Links: Should be preceded by activities that introduce rights principles and the UDHR (e.g., Part III, Activities 1-6).
Part III, Activity 7, Mapping Human Rights, relates rights to the local community.


1. Explain that everyone wants to live in a community where she or he can enjoy peace and be treated with respect and dignity as an individual. However, the steps necessary to achieve this cherished dream of a community based on human rights require everyone’s effort and participation:

Step One: Understanding Human Rights – People need to understand their rights. That is the goal of this book and of all human rights education.

Step Two: Taking Responsibility for Human Rights – This step requires personal commitment. People must understand and accept the responsibilities that go along with human rights: to uphold the principles of the UDHR in their daily lives and to defend those rights for others.

Step Three: Taking Action for Human Rights – The UDHR has established standards for how people and governments should behave. It also provides a framework by which to evaluate how individuals, institutions, and governments are living up to human rights principles. Using these standards people can take action to further human rights, to stop or prevent abuse, or to defend the rights of others in their local community, state, region, country, or anywhere in the world. However, effective action requires effective evaluation and planning:

  • Assessing the situation, getting the facts straight, identifying needs

  • Applying the human rights framework to the situation in order to understand what specific rights are involved

  • Developing and implementing a plan of action

Explain that this activity is intended to help people take that second step towards a human rights community by applying human rights principles to their own lives.

2. Divide participants into groups of 4 or 5. Each group is to draw up a list of around 10 rules for their class or organization that they think are needed for everyone to enjoy their human rights and live together with peace and respect. They should write out their lists on chart paper and hang them up when complete.

3. When everyone has finished, ask a representative from each group to present their ideas. Then ask participants to try to consolidate these ideas into a master list, combining rules that are close in meaning. (The teacher needs to perform this step for elementary school students, asking their approval for combinations; high school students and adults can usually facilitate this for themselves). Urge participants to keep the list short (e.g., about 10 rules). (Note: in a classroom setting, an average lesson period would end at about this point.)

4. Rephrase these rules statements into rights statements (e.g., "People should not steal from others" might be restated as "Everyone has the right to keep and enjoy his or her own property"; "The teacher shouldn’t yell at kids" might be "Everyone has the right be treated with respect"). Write out this draft list of rights, leaving space below each statement.

5. Introduce the idea that every right involves a responsibility. Ask participants, working in small groups, to write a responsibility statement for every rights statement on the draft list (e.g., "Everyone has the right to keep and enjoy his or her own property" might have the corresponding responsibility statement "Everyone has the responsibility not to take others’ property"; for "Everyone has the right be treated with respect," the responsibility statement might be "Everyone has the responsibility to treat others with respect"). When the small groups report, ask the whole group to select the version of each responsibility statement they like best. Write it in the space left below that rights statement.

6. Once the draft master list of rights and responsibilities has been completed, ask participants to consider the following possible refinements (this step might be done by the whole group or divided among small groups who report back):

  • Just as all human rights are indivisible and interdependent, all the rights on this list are equally important. However, some are more general and provide a basis for others. Are these rights listed in the best order?

  • The wording of rights needs to be clear and simple. Can the language of these rules be improved?

  • What specific human right(s) does each item on this list represent? After each item, write the number(s) of the UDHR article(s) involved.

  • Is the list complete? Are the different needs (e.g., needs arising from differences in ability, race, religion, gender, class, etc.) of everyone in this group acknowledged? Look through the UDHR to see if any articles suggest ideas that need to be added to the list.

  • Is the list democratic? Has everyone who will follow these standards had a say in their creation?

  • What should this list of rights and responsibilities be called?

7. After the list is finalized, ask someone to copy it neatly onto a poster board and place it where everyone can see it. Explain that this list will set the standard for how people in this group will treat each other and that they should refer to it in cases of conflict and disorder in the group.

However, just as human rights are constantly evolving as human needs are identified and addressed, so this list is not final either. Explain that at regular intervals the group will check up on whether they are living up to their standards and that anyone may suggest changes at any time. Some rights and responsibilities might be eliminated because they are unnecessary or amended because they are not adequate. And situations may arise that this list does not cover; the new rights and responsibilities may need to be added.

Going Further


1. Educating the Community about Human Rights – Discuss what the group could do to accomplish Step One: Understanding Human Rights. How can the group make sure everyone in the school or community knows about their rights?

2. Making the School a Human Rights Community – After participants have experienced using the list of rights and responsibilities generated in Part A, including using it to settle disputes or disorder and revising it to meet different situations, consider whether a list of such rights and responsibilities could be created for the whole school community. Before undertaking such an action that affects the whole school, however, teachers should first discuss it with the administration.


  • Who is included in the school community? Adults as well as students? Faculty? Administration? Staff (e.g., secretaries, food works, maintenance, bus drivers)?

  • What would be the results of having rights and responsibilities defined for the whole school community? Advantages? Disadvantages?

  • Strategize how to go about making such a list of (or defining) rights and responsibiliites for the whole school community. Who would need to be consulted? Do groups exist who might support this efforrt (e.g, student council, PTA, student groups, administrative groups)?

  • Brainstorm how the whole school community could participate in drawing up a set of rights and responsibilities. Why is it important for everyone to have a say?

  • On the basis of these considerations, draft a plan of action that outlines the steps necessary to establish a set of rights and responsibilities for the whole school community.

  • If the class is willing and engaged, implement the plan!

3. Rights and Values – Human rights reflect deeply held values. Analyze the completed list of rights and responsibilities for the values it reflects. Discuss and list these values. For example, "Everyone has the right to be treated with respect" might represent a belief in the inherent dignity of every individual.

Source: Nancy Flowers, Human Rights Educators’ Network, Amnesty International USA, with ideas drawn from Margot Brown, Amnesty International UK, Ellen Dorsey, Amnesty International USA, and Kristi Rudelius-Palmer, Partners in Human Rights Education.

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  Human Rights Fundamentals The Right to Know Your Rights Activities Taking Action for Human Rights Appendices