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17 December 1998
Education in the responsibilities of the individual
Committee on Culture and Education
Rapporteur: Mr Valentino Martelli, Italy, European Democratic Group
The European Convention on Human Rights, adopted by the member states of the Council of Europe in 1950, is internationally recognised as one of the most effective instruments for human rights protection. Nevertheless, the level of awareness among European citizens of their rights and responsibilities in a democratic society is far from satisfactory.
The Assembly stresses that the exercise of fundamental freedoms entails responsibilities, and believes that it is necessary to provide citizens with greater information regarding these, so as to promote responsible use of these freedoms.
Since awareness of their responsibilities on the part of all citizens is important for ensuring that other citizens can also benefit from their rights and freedoms, the Assembly recommends that action is taken to promote education in the responsibilities of the individual as part of human rights education.
I. Draft recommendation
1. The European Convention on Human Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights have made a major contribution to human rights protection for European citizens. However, the general situation in Europe with regard to human rights is far from satisfactory.
2. The Council of Europe Youth Campaign against Racism, Xenophobia, Anti-Semitism and Intolerance showed that disrespect for and violations of human rights are not only a matter of government policies but also depend on the attitudes of ordinary citizens in everyday life.
3. The Assembly has repeatedly advocated education as one of the most effective ways of preventing negative attitudes towards others and of promoting a culture of peace among all groups in society.
4. As the exercise of fundamental freedoms entails responsibilities, the Assembly recognises the need to take steps to promote both education in the responsibilities of the individual and awareness on the part of citizens of their responsibilities, within the context of human rights education, so as not to neglect the social aspect of these rights.
5. Bearing in mind the increasing prevalence of intolerance, racism and xenophobia, the Assembly believes that education in the rights and, at the same time, in the responsibilities of the individual should be taken much more seriously in all Council of Europe member states. It is particularly important to strengthen citizens’ awareness with regard to their responsibilities towards themselves and others, as well as towards society as a whole.
6. On the occasion of the 2nd Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe Member States, held in Strasbourg in October 1997, the participants expressed their commitment to developing education for democratic citizenship, based on both the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The Heads of State decided that efforts should be made to strengthen awareness among citizens of their rights and responsibilities in a democratic society.
7. In Recommendation 1346 (1997) on human rights education, the Assembly stated its belief that human rights education should be considered as a priority for the intergovernmental work of the Council of Europe in the years to come.
8. The Assembly is convinced that awareness of citizens' responsibilities should be raised through education, and that it is not the role of a democratic state to dictate rules for every aspect of human behaviour, since moral and ethical attitudes must remain an area in which the individual has freedom of choice, but always respecting the rights of others.
9. In view of the need to integrate education in the responsibilities of the individual into the existing programmes (human rights education, education in democratic citizenship), and given that the awareness of European citizens with regard to their rights and responsibilities is far from satisfactory, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers call on member states to:
i. include in school curricula, from primary schools to higher education, information designed to alert pupils and students to the importance and the substantive contents of human rights, including their social dimension and each person’s obligation to respect the rights of others. In higher education, the teaching should include legal subject-matter;
ii. prepare similar initial and in-service training programmes for adults such as teachers, public officials and particularly police officers, prison staff and those responsible for refugees and asylum seekers;
iii. prepare similar programmes aimed at raising the awareness of immigrants and asylum seekers about the human rights to which they will be entitled and the responsibilities that must be respected in the country where they settle;
iv. encourage, through schools, universities and non-governmental organisations' activities, a positive climate of understanding of and respect for the qualities and cultures of others, applying the rules of participatory democracy by promoting direct participation, for example, through pupils’ councils or parliaments;
v. develop documentation and information programmes, in particular on the Internet, aimed at raising awareness of human rights and duties among as wide a public as possible;
vi. bear in mind that all initiatives and programmes should take account of fundamental values, particularly as expressed in the European Convention on Human Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. Everyone should, inter alia:
a. fully respect the dignity, value and freedom of other people, without distinction of race, religion, sex, nationality, ethnic origin, social status, political opinion, language or age; everyone must act towards others in a spirit of fellowship and tolerance;
b. act peacefully without recourse to physical violence or mental pressure;
c. respect the opinions, privacy and personal and family life of other people;
d. show solidarity and stand up for the rights of others;
e. in practising his or her own religion, respect other religions, without fomenting hatred or advocating fanaticism, but rather promoting general mutual tolerance;
f. respect the environment and use energy resources with moderation, giving thought to the well-being of future generations.
10. In addition, the Assembly believes that it is necessary to step up the Council of Europe’s action in this field, and recommends that the Committee of Ministers consider human rights education and awareness-raising, including respect for the rights of others and the corresponding responsibilities, as a priority for the intergovernmental work of the Council of Europe in the years to come, and consequently:
i. instruct the Council for Cultural Co-operation to assist in raising citizens’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities by taking this aspect into account as part of its project on “education for democratic citizenship”;
ii. organise a colloquy in order to study more deeply the concept of responsibilities/obligations and ways of integrating education in the responsibilities of the individual into the existing programmes;
iii. at international level, establish close co-ordination between the Council of Europe, the European Union, the United Nations, Unesco and non-governmental organisations in the field of education in the rights and responsibilities of the individual;
iv. refrain from interfering in citizens’ private lives by prescribing rules of behaviour which could infringe on individual freedoms, recognising that every person must be responsible for his or her own moral and ethical behaviour as long as this responsibility does not jeopardise the rights of others;
11. The Assembly in particular recommends that the Committee of Ministers call on governments of member states to encourage political parties and professional organisations of journalists to set up training courses for members, given the considerable influence exercised by elected representatives and the mass media on public attitudes.
12. Lastly, the Assembly asks the Committee of Ministers to inform it on a regular basis of progress made in implementing these recommendations.
II. Explanatory memorandum by Mr Martelli
1. The basis and origin of the draft report
Since the foundation of the Council of Europe, emphasis has been laid on the importance of human rights, and the fact that rights entail obligations has barely been mentioned. This neglect of citizens’ responsibilities towards others has led to a culture in which everyone wishes to enjoy as many rights and freedoms as possible without considering that they should also respect the rights of other people. This is reflected in a society that could often be described as excessively individualistic and selfish.
During the cold war, the ideas of freedom and individualism were traditionally seen as of greater value in the countries of western Europe, while in eastern Europe the concept of the community dominated or was imposed by a totalitarian régime
The indifference and ignorance which are often at the root of negative attitudes towards others are a serious threat to the principles and values of a democratic society. Failure to perform individual obligations results from present-day public attitudes, which should be corrected through education.
At the same time, it should be remembered that in many non-European countries the level of human rights teaching and education is frequently different to that in European countries. People who are born in countries run by totalitarian regimes where all democratic movements are suppressed are often ignorant both of their own rights and of the duties which must be honoured in a democratic society. To avoid problems and facilitate the integration of immigrants and asylum seekers into society, education for the latter in this area should be promoted.
The idea of promoting awareness of human responsibilities is not new. The Council of Europe Committee of Ministers has regularly adopted recommendations to member states on human rights education. In its Declaration regarding “Intolerance — a threat for democracy”, adopted in 1981, the Committee of Ministers decided “to promote an awareness of the requirements of human rights and ensuing responsibilities in a democratic society”.
In March 1994, the Standing Conference of European Ministers of Education asserted the strategic role of education in promoting a culture of tolerance.
The correlation between rights and the associated responsibilities has also been reasserted in several international instruments:
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, while referring to all the inalienable rights of every individual, nevertheless states in Article 29 paragraphs 1 and 2 that “everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society”.
In the preambles to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed within the framework of the United Nations, it is stated that “the individual, having duties to other individuals and to the community to which he belongs, is under a responsibility to strive for the promotion and observance of the rights recognised in the present Covenant”.
The aim is therefore to restore the balance, by illustrating the social role of human rights in guaranteeing society’s internal stability, faced with the negative aspects of modern social life. Education will play the leading role in this context.
In conjunction with the subject matter of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly Recommendation 1346 (1997), education in the rights and responsibilities of the individual should be considered as a priority for the intergovernmental activities of the Council of Europe in the years to come. Education in the obligations of the individual should thus be viewed in the light of the draft report on human rights education (Doc. 7887), since it flows directly from it.
2. Previous action
At the Vienna Summit (1993), some member states discussed the possibility of a European Declaration on the obligations of the individual, but the idea was not approved.
At the 2nd Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Council of Europe Member States, held in Strasbourg in October 1997, the participants expressed their commitment to developing education for democratic citizenship, based both on the rights and the responsibilities of European citizens. The Heads of State decided to “launch an initiative for education for democratic citizenship [especially among young people] with a view to promoting citizens’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities in a democratic society…”.
At international level, the Interaction Council, an association of former heads of state and government whose members include Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, Helmut Schmidt,
James Callaghan, Jimmy Carter and Shimon Peres, proposed a “Universal Declaration of Human Obligations” in September 1997, in the framework of the UN.
Following its project “Democracy, Human Rights, Minorities: Educational and Cultural Aspects”, the Council for Cultural Co-operation (CDCC) launched a new project in 1997 on “Education for Democratic Citizenship”. This project covers "the set of practices and activities aimed at making young people and adults better equipped to participate actively in democratic life by assuming and exercising their rights and responsibilities in society".
The Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe has set up a working group on “Citizenship: rights and responsibilities” at local and regional level. A conference or ad hoc hearing is planned for autumn 1998. The first step will be to draw up a questionnaire, to be sent to universities and research institutes, associations of local and regional authorities and regional and municipal authorities.
In February 1998, together with several colleagues, I submitted a motion for a recommendation regarding action to promote “Education in the obligations of the individual” (Doc. 8012).
3. Strengthening education rather than issuing a declaration
A clear distinction must be made between two kinds of obligations: on the one hand, there are mandatory obligations towards the state (military service, payment of taxes, etc), and toward others, such as the obligation to refrain from the use of violence; on the other hand, there are moral and ethical obligations (the obligation to show solidarity, etc). The first may be described as legal obligations, while the second group are ethical requirements that should not be fixed by law.
If a state were to dictate rules for all human behaviour, this would represent a negation of freedom and of human rights, since everyone should be responsible for his or her own moral and ethical behaviour. The result would be a totalitarian state, incompatible with the principles and values of the Council of Europe. Moral attitudes should remain in the realm of an individual’s free choice.
This is why human rights and moral and ethical obligations should not be juxtaposed, since they belong to two different areas, the legal domain and the moral and ethical domain. Placing rights and moral obligations on the same level entails the risk of reducing the effectiveness of these rights, by ignoring their legal force, which is stronger than a question of morality. This is also why it does not seem desirable that each time reference is made in an Assembly document to a human right, a corresponding obligation should be systematically added.
As for mandatory obligations, it is not necessary to prepare a declaration, since the concept of human rights already implies that the rights of others are involved. It is a fundamental legal principle that if the law establishes rights for one person, other people have an obligation to accept and respect these, since freedom can never exist without limitations. If people’s rights are not respected, a judicial mechanism exists to protect them. The preparation of a “declaration on the individual’s/citizens’ obligations/ responsibilities” would not in any way improve the current situation.
There is also an individual dimension to human rights, which consists in the freedom to oppose and challenge the values of society and its institutions. It would thus be a fairly delicate matter to enumerate the individual’s responsibilities towards society.
Drawing up a declaration carries another danger: governments would be obliged to take a judicial approach to citizens who did not meet their obligations. Bearing in mind that this is also a matter of morals and ethics, such an "approach” would raise many difficulties in the European democracies, because a state cannot and should not prescribe its citizens’ moral and ethical attitudes.
Finally, the concept of obligations/ responsibilities could easily be distorted, abused and misunderstood if an individual’s observance of his or her moral responsibilities was seen as a legal pre-condition to enjoying human rights. It could be an instrument enabling every authoritarian regime to relativise human rights, establish social morality as the norm and intervene in all aspects of citizens’ private lives.
Education is the most effective method of raising citizens’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities so as to create a climate of mutual tolerance and solidarity. Since education is no longer limited by borders, new technology can contribute effectively to transmitting the message to a wider public.
Given the interdependence of rights and obligations, we cannot and should not separate “human rights education” from “education in the obligations of the individual”. The second must be developed as part of the first.
Education in the obligations of the individual should be included as part of the new project “Education for democratic citizenship” launched by the CDCC in 1997, the goals of which are practically the same. By using the existing networks rather than launching a separate project, it may be possible to avoid a bewildering range and excessive number of educational programmes.
Human rights education would thus be supplemented with the social dimension. It is only through all these measures that we can promote awareness among European citizens with regard to their rights and responsibilities in a democratic society.
In conjunction with human rights education, education in the obligations of the individual should reach all sections of society, from children to adults of all ages and occupations. It should be included in professional training courses for elected representatives, teachers, public administration staff, especially police officers, prison staff and those responsible for refugees and asylum seekers, throughout their career. At the same time, non-European countries should be made more aware of human rights and of the requirements of human responsibilities, so as to facilitate dialogue between civilisations.
The mass media have an increasing influence on the attitudes of citizens and can therefore play an important role in educating about human rights and obligations. It would thus be very useful to set up training courses for journalists, showing how they could participate in educating the public on this matter and also highlighting the responsibilities of journalists towards society as a whole.
Thus, a public conscience, based on the most precious values of democracy and freedom — tolerance and solidarity — must be created, so as to facilitate social co-existence and achieve a stable culture of peace.
Reporting committee: Committee on Culture and Education
Budgetary implications for the Assembly: None.
Reference to the committee: Doc. 8012 and Reference No. 2265 of 13 March 1998
Draft recommendation: unanimously adopted by the committee on 4 December 1998
Members of the committee: Lord Russell-Johnston (Chairman), Probst, Zingeris, de Puig (Vice-Chairmen), Arnason, Arzilli, Bartumeu Cassany, Bauer, Baumel, Mrs Björnemalm, Mrs Camilleri, MM. Chornovil, Corrao, Cubreacov, de Decker (Alternate : Staes), Diaz de Mera (Alternate : Varela), Dumitrescu, Mrs Fehr, Mrs Fleeetwood, Mrs Fyfe, Mrs Garajova, MM. Glotov, Gül, Hadjidemetriou, Hegyi, Mrs Isohookana-Asunmaa, MM. Ivanov, Jakic, Jarab (Alternate : Mrs Stepova), Mrs Katseli, MM. Kiely, Kofod-Svendsen, Kollwelter, Kriedner, Lachat, Mrs Laternser, MM. Lazarescu (Alternate : Chiliman), Legendre, Lemoine, Libicki, Liiv, Mrs Maximus, MM. Nemcova, O’Hara, Pereira Marques, Polydoras, Mrs Poptodorova, MM. Radic, Ragno (Alternate : Martelli), Risari, Rockenbauer, Roseta, Mrs Rugate, Mrs Saele, Mrs Schicker, Mrs Stefani, MM. Sudarenkov, Symonenko (Alternate : Khunov), Tanik, Mrs Terborg, MM. Urbanczyk, Valk, Vangelov, Verbeek.
NB: The names of those who took part in the vote are in italics
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Ary, Mrs Theophilova-Permaul, Ms Kostenko