The International Human Rights System

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An introduction to the international human rights system and how it has evolved since the Second World War. Special focus is given to the establishment of the UN in 1945 and the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights three years later.

Time About 3 to 4 hours.

Material room with space for group work, large sheets of paper, pen and paper, a copy of the Universal Declaration for each participant. Computer, projector and loudspeakers (internet access if the film has not been previously downloaded).

Group Size 10-30 people

Keywords human rights




Toolbox Journalism-edu.png

Online manual on intercultural under­standing, ethics and human rights



  • The learners obtain knowledge about the history behind and the content of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948)
  • understand that human rights are rights of individuals and that the state governments have the main responsibility to respect, promote and fulfil human rights
  • learn about the important difference between a declaration of and a convention on human rights, and what the states’ responsibilities are when they ratify human rights conventions
  • be able to use the international human rights system as a resource in their professional work



Two lectures of about 30-40 minutes each: 1. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 2. The International Human Rights System.

1. Introductory group work

In order to explore the shared understanding of rules and rights use one of the methods

The process will reveal that many of the group´s rules have similarities to, and the same intentions as, modern human rights. The session leader concludes that the students’ group work, in a way, resembles the negotiating process that the UN´s Human Rights Commission undertook after the Second World War, where state representatives from all over the world agreed on some basic human rights that should apply to all people everywhere. This exciting history is what they now will learn about.

2. Lecture 1

3. Reflection

After lecture 1, everyone receives a copy of the Universal Declaration and they all return to their initial small groups. The task now is to compare their own planet’s rules with the articles in the Universal Declaration. Which articles regulate the same issues as their own rules? The articles’ numbers should be written alongside the rules (20 – 30 min).

Everyone returns to the plenary session for a summary. The participants will have discovered that many of their own rules are in accord with the contents of the Universal Declaration. This is a good opportunity to look in more detail at a number of the articles and become more familiar with them.

The session leader concludes that international human rights represent values and norms that are common to human societies worldwide. When the Universal Declaration was adopted in 1948, the UN member states declared that they would work to protect and promote human rights. This became the foundation for the international human rights system we know today.

4. Lecture 2

5. Transfer

The questions below can be a follow-up assignment after the students have got knowledge about the international human rights system. They can also be used for group work.

  • Look up a report on a UN treaty body that your country’s government has delivered lately. What are the main issues being addressed? Have non-governmental organisations submitted “shadow reports”? If so; what do these reports add to the issues?
  • Analyse the response from the UN treaty body. Can the challenges that are addressed in this report be relevant in your work as a journalist?
  • Find information about a non-governmental organisation or an activist in your country that is working for human rights. Can this information be relevant in your work as a journalist?
  • Write an article about a person who has had his or her human rights violated.

Video: The story of Human Rights


  • Relevance of Human Rights for your everyday
  • What rights are not included, what rights were surprisingly included?
  • Would one phrase these articles different today?
  • Where did you get in touch with Human Rights the last time?


Marit Langmyr


Project manager and expert for Human Rights Education at Human Rights Academy, Oslo.

Lillian Hjorth


Director of Human Rights Academy, Oslo. Long-standing facilitator and expert for Human Rights Education.