Human rights education in the Commonwealth: The role and approaches of Law Schools

Paper presented at the 2015 CLEA Conference in Glasgow

John Cantius Mubangizi
University of KwaZulu-Natal

Human rights education is an integral component of legal education. This is because of the obvious relationship between law and human rights. This relationship finds expression in the fact that human rights are often expressed and guaranteed by law in the form of treaties, customary international law, bills of rights in national constitutions and general principles and other sources of international law. It is precisely for that reason that the need and desirability of human rights education have become increasingly urgent and important. Indeed without human rights education there cannot be the necessary human rights knowledge and awareness that people require to access human rights and be able to enforce them. Human rights education is therefore crucial in empowering people and building a culture of human rights through the creation of public awareness.
The responsibility for human rights education cannot be confined to one role-player. Just as the responsibility for human rights protection is collective, so is the responsibility for human rights education. Governments obviously play an important role. So too do human rights institutions such as national human rights commissions. Non-state actors, such as NGOs and other civil society formations also play an important role. This paper, however, focuses on the role that Law Schools can and do play in human rights education, particularly in the Commonwealth. The paper highlights the various approaches adopted by law schools ranging from modular offerings of specified curriculum content to moots. An approach that is explored in detail is the establishment of centres of human rights at various law schools across the Commonwealth and the value add they bring to human rights education. The effectiveness of these approaches is also explored and the challenges facing law schools in their human rights education role are discussed. It is then concluded that law schools in the Commonwealth can play a more meaningful role in human rights education but they need to be supported and assisted in order to be able to play that role more effectively.

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