unctad.org | Panel of Heads of Agencies<br> UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004)
Statement by Mr. Rubens Ricupero, Secretary-General of UNCTAD
Panel of Heads of Agencies<br> UN Decade for Human Rights Education (1995-2004)
11 Dec 2000

Good afternoon.

I was originally going to talk to you today about what we in UNCTAD have been doing with our colleagues in the High Commissioner´s Office to establish links and synergies between human rights and economic issues in trade, finance and development in general. But I would rather concentrate on two other topics. The first is the nature of education. In ideal terms, we should not speak about human rights education, but about education as being basically about human rights. The second is that it is not enough to include human rights in the educational curriculum, i.e., to educate people on human rights; we must also ensure the right to education and provide people with the means to exercise that right.

First, the nature of education. We at UNCTAD view development as a continuous educational process. And development is for us the same as it was for Jacques Maritain: the promotion of all human beings and of the whole of the human being, body and soul. Education is not only something that is required to meet market needs, but is also the promotion of all positive human potential; in this sense, it is the process by which human beings become aware of their rights and obligations. It is interesting to note that here in Switzerland, in the process of qualifying for naturalization, the total time spent in Swiss primary schools is counted twice. This is a good example of how education is recognized as the best way to form the citizen, defined as a person who is both willing and able to construct the network of rights and obligations that constitute an essential principle of civilization.

Secondly, it is not enough to include human rights in the educational curriculum if people do not also enjoy the right to education, as often happens when they are denied access to education because of prejudices and discriminatory measures, or when they do not have the ways and means of exercising that right. A couple of years ago UNCTAD drew international attention to the least developed countries in economic regress, countries where primary school enrolment was actually declining. In order to overcome this problem, we have to find practical and imaginative ways to make school attendance economically viable. One such way is to establish a link between different modalities of ensured minimum income and the commitment by families to enrol and keep their children in school. Some projects have been carried out along these lines in my own country, Brazil, in Mexico, and elsewhere. We are now working with the ILO, the Bretton Woods institutions and others to develop an effective source of financing similar projects in least developed countries by creating a link between payments to families and debt relief. The underlying premise is that, in many situations of extreme deprivation, families do not send their children to school because the families cannot survive without the modest income the children manage to earn in their precarious jobs. At the Third United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, to be held in Brussels from 14 to 20 May 2001, we are looking forward to the central participation of you, Mrs. Robinson, and your colleagues, to show that human rights is an integral part of governance and of the whole development process.

Thank you.


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