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“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” An appeal for today’s world

Articles“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” An appeal for today’s world

by Eliane Perret, psychologist and curative educator


Living in peace is a deeply rooted desire of  all  people.  All  the  more  urgently  we are to create social conditions in which it is possible to live together in dignity and freedom today.We are all called upon – each in our own ieldof responsibility – to make our contribution, otherwise this goal will remain an empty demand.Our deci- sion-makers, elected and appointed by the people, bear a special responsibility. They must be fellow human beings who are ori- entated in their actions towards the good

of all and must not allow themselves to be seduced by conscious or unconscious ego- tistical claims to power.

However, in Switzerland in particular, with its unique direct democratic system, all people have a responsibility to make it possible forpeople to live together as equals. This requires mature personalities who  look  beyond  their  own  horizons  to the world and are willing torecognise and tackle the tasks that lie ahead. In this con- text, our elementary school is of particu- lar1 importance, as it is – with the support and supplementation of the family – an in- dispensable training ground for develop- ing the skills of democratic participation in small, age-appropriate steps. Being in a relationship with and with the guidance of their teachers, children and young people can build up a healthy senseof mutual ap- preciation and respect among each other and develop genuine compassion for suf- fering fellow human beings. This includes a spontaneous revulsion towards injustice, combined with the desire to contribute to social conditions in which the dignity of all people is notonly respected, but lived in mutual give and take. The educational content of our schools should speciically take account of this goal.

Today’s curricula:

Only meagre formulations

But is this still the case? After 30 years

of school reforms? If we look in the cur- ricula that are currently binding for Ger- man-speaking Switzerland, we ind the terms  “democracy”  and  “human  rights” in  the  competence  area  “Understanding and committing to democracy and human rights”2 A vagueformulated description

of a so called competence shows what is  meant  by  this  is:  “Pupils  can  explain the development, signiicance and threat to  human  rights  or  competences”3 or  in

the equally vague competence level: “… can explain children’s and human rights”. And now? Teachers standing in practice are aware of thecomplexity of such topics


and that a merely intellectual discussion and clariicationof terms is never enough, but a deep going emotional learning pro- cess is necessary.This is a demanding but enriching task for teachers, who fortunate- ly (contrary to their training) do not see themselves  as  learning-coaches  but  ful- il their task based on a personal view of human nature and to this purpose use the wide range of subjects in an individual and creativeway.

“We could actually all be friends …”

Learning to observe precisely, for exam- ple, is part of a technically sound and promising drawing lesson. We tested this and  each  child  traced  the  outline  of  its hand on a blank sheet. When the sketches were laid out on the loor in a helter-skel- ter, each child had to ind its ownhand

or be able to recognise that of another child.4 It is easy to imagine that this was a challenging task. For although the chil- dren were ofdifferent genders and ages, had different skin colours, and were dif- ferent sizes, their hands looked very sim- ilar and could only bedistinguished by minor  characteristics.  This  gave  rise  to the rather philosophical question of why this was so difficult. Children like to think about such questions, they feel that they are taken seriously and that they are important.

They  soon  came  up  with  various  hy- potheses, which they discussed among each other. Along the way, they practised listening to eachother calmly, pausing for a moment  and  adding  the  relections  of the other children to their own ones (so- berly referred to as “generic skills”in the curriculum). In the end, they agreed that people are very similar in many ways and cannot be categorised as superior or inferi-

  1. “We could actually all be friends,” said

one pupil thoughtfully else often being in- volved in arguments. Wasn’t that what was written in the irstarticle of the United Na- tions UniversalDeclaration of Human Rights put into simple words?

After the horrors

of the Second World War

“All  human  beings  are  born  free  and equal in dignity and rights. They are en- dowed with reason and conscience and should act towardsone another in a spirit

of brotherhood.”

This statement in Article 1 echoes the preamble to the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, followed by Article 2, whichprohibits discrimina-


tion: “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, politi- cal or other opinion, national or social ori- gin, property, birth, or other status. Further- more, no distinction may be made onthe basis of the political, jurisdictional or inter- national status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be inde- pendent, trust,non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.”5

When Eleanor Roosevelt, Chair of the United  Nations  Commission  on  Human Rights, proclaimed the Universal Decla- ration of HumanRights at three o’clock in the morning on 10 December 1948, a doc- ument had been created after the horrors

of the Second World War that was intend- ed to make peaceful coexistence possible worldwide.  It  was  drafted  in  a two-year discussion processby eight thoughtful and responsible men and women from Australia, Chile, China, France, Leba- non, the Soviet Union, the UnitedKing- dom, and the United States and was sub- sequently adopted by the then 58 member states of the United Nations General As- sembly withno votes against and eight ab- stentions. It has since been translated into more than 200 languages.

A globally valid catalogue of values

Even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has no binding status under international law, it was the irst time in history that it setout which rights should apply  equally  to  all  people.  A common ideal to be achieved by all peoples and na- tions was created, which was to pavethe way for people all over the world to live in dignity and freedom, a condition for last- ing peace. The right to life, liberty and se- curity, theprohibition of slavery and tor- ture, freedom of thought and belief, the right to freedom of expression, education, labour,  health,  and  well-being  were  de- rived from this, to name just a few of the more differentiated paragraphs. Many of these were later incorporated into nationalconstitutions or have since become bind- ing international law for all states. This legacy, based on the bitter experiences of a global war,unambiguously states that no

one has the right to use force to determine social coexistence or is authorised to re- strict, curtail, or disregard the rights con- ferred by nature toall human beings. To emphasise  this  demand,  the  United  Na- tions founded the UN High Commission

“‘All human beings are born …’”


er for Human Rights in 1993. Its purpose is to promote and enforce human rights at national and international level.

The more sobering it is to relect on world events in the decades that followed, because unfortunately we are a long way fromrecognising the validity of these rights all over the world.  The so-called post-war period is characterised by armed conlictsworldwide; were there only 26 days without war in September 1945.

Making the efforts

for a global peace palpable

Of course, in this drawing lesson and the following school lessons, we were una- ble to go into such depth about the prin- ciples ofpeaceful and digniied coexist- ence set out in the Universal Declaration

of Human Rights. But the children heard about these endeavours for global peace, they were made palpable for them. This could bebuilt on later, because treating people with dignity is not something that can be taken for granted and put on the wish list. It must beestablished, strength- ened, promoted, constantly renewed, and carried forward in the course of living together – an important ield ofwork in which psychology and education would have a lot to say, based on natural law and a personal conception of man.

Perhaps as Eleanor Roosevelt an- swered  the  question:  “Where  do  human rights begin?” – “In the small places, close tohome. So close and so small that these places cannot be found on any map.

After the Second World War, Swiss photographer Werner Bischof travelled to various European countries and documented the im- mense destruction left behind by the war. In the far north, he met anold Swedish Sami in a wooden hut, who returned his greeting with the words: “So, so, you come from Switzerland, the land of peace.” (Picture Magazine Du, No. 6, June 1949)
After the Second World War, Swiss photographer Werner Bischof travelled to various European countries and documented the im- mense destruction left behind by the war. In the far north, he met an
old Swedish Sami in a wooden hut, who returned his greeting with the words: “So, so, you come from Switzerland, the land of peace.” (Picture Magazine Du, No. 6, June 1949)

of the world. And yet these places are the world  of  the  individual: The  neighbour- hood  where  he  lives,  the  school  or  uni- versity heattends, the factory, the farm,

or the ofice where he works. These are the places where every man, woman, and child seek equal rights, equal opportuni- ties, and equaldignity without discrimina- tion. As long as these rights do not apply there, they are not relevant anywhere else. If the citizens concerned donot take ac- tion themselves to protect these rights in their personal environment, we will look in vain for progress in the wider world.”5However,  responsibility  cannot  lie  sole- ly  with  individuals,  as  the  protection  of human dignity must also be enshrined in the constitutions of countries and in inter- national  conventions  and  taken  serious- ly. Switzerland, with its direct democracy, therefor offers the bestconditions.

What do we tell

the children at Christmas?

But here, too, we need to be vigilant and take care, because the efforts to remove

our country from its neutrality and involve it in the war front are loud and brazen. We need a strong counterweight to withstand


the attempts at blackmailing pressure and to put a stop to the sophisticated spin-doc- toring of opinion. If we do not do this, we will be faced withour children and young people,  as  Annemarie  Buchholz-Kaiser, psychologist  and  historian,  warned  em- phatically more than twenty yearsago:

“Will we tell our children next Christmas that there used to be democracies? Coun- tries, where people were free, where they could decide ontheir laws, where every citizen and every inhabitant had inherent dignity,  where  there  were  human  rights and everyone had the right to theirown thoughts, their own opinions, a free opin- ion, a right to their own religion and tradi- tion, to legal proceedings that were bound by evidence?Will we tell them next year that – in the past – people were very con- cerned about peace, that they fought for it with all their strength andconviction? That they thought about how to help the poorer countries of the world? That there were once voices in favour of peace and socialjustice? That there was once a Swit- zerland in which several language regions, several mentalities, several religions had developed a model ofpeaceful coexist- ence thanks to direct democracy, a iligree


work of democratic organisation from the bottom up, which would also offer a way

out for crisis and war regions of the world? Do we tell them all this in the imperfect? Or do we do something else irst?”6

I would rather tell them how a Swedish Sami had greeted the well-known Swiss photographer Werner Bischof: “So, so, you come fromSwitzerland, the land of


1      In Switzerland elementary school is called

“Volksschule” which includes the irst six years

of primary school and three years of secondary school.

2 Area of competence RGZ 8. www.zh.lehrplan21. ch, retrieved 6 November 2023

3 Similar tasks can also be found in the book “Wie ich mit Kindern über Kriege und andere Katastro- phen spreche» (How I talk to children about wars and other disasters) by Eliane Perret andRüdiger Maas.

4 https://unric.org/de/allgemeine-erklaerung-men- schenrechte/

5 https://www.planet-wissen.de/geschichte/men- schenrechte/geschichte_der_menschenrechte/ pwiedieallgemeineerklaerungdermenschenrech- te100.html; accessed on 6 November2023

6 Buchholz-Kaiser, Annemarie. “Was erzählen Sie nächstes Jahr zu Weihnachten Ihren Kindern?” (What will you tell your children on Christmas next year?) In: Current Concerns from 21Decem- ber 2001

7       Caption in the magazine “Du”, No. 6, June 1949

Source: current-concerns

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