This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and its key message that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
When the campaign marking the 70th anniversary was launched at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris in December 2017, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein stated, “We must take a robust and determined stand: by resolutely supporting the human rights of others, we also stand up for our own rights and those of generations to come.”
The awareness underlying his call is evident in other UN campaigns as well. It can be seen in TOGETHER, the UN campaign dedicated to improving the lives of refugees and migrants. Expanding intersectional solidarity is critical to building an authentic human rights culture – something intrinsically different from the kind of passive tolerance in which one has no real understanding of the hardships experienced by others.
Passive tolerance is far removed from coexistence in the truest sense. There is a danger that people’s actions will remain superficial and minimal – limited to acts such as permitting others to live in the same neighbourhood or complying with the relevant laws and rules. Such passive tolerance falls short of leading people to actively recognise the common humanity in those they perceive as different, making it an ineffective counter to exclusionist impulses in times of heightened social tensions.
This has impelled a fresh approach, led by the UN, to create a human rights culture based on jointly working to transform public awareness towards a society where all can live in dignity.
Many members of dominant social groups may view discrimination as something unrelated to their lives, but for members of marginalised groups it is the undeniable reality of daily life. Human rights education calls attention to such unconscious predispositions, which fuel discrimination; in this way, it offers people the opportunity to reflect on their everyday behaviour. In our work to promote human rights education, the Soka Gakkai International has placed emphasis on the kind of empowerment and awareness raising that can restore dignity to all people and build a pluralist and inclusive society.
Those who remain trapped within unconsciously constructed walls fail to see the brilliant glow of humanity inherent in others. The humane light they too possess will also remain hidden, unable to reach those around them. Through its power to remove the barriers between self and other that arise from differences in identity and social standing, human rights education has the ability to expand opportunities for that humane light to shine most resplendently, both for ourselves and for others.
Mahayana Buddhism puts forth the analogy of Indra’s net, an enormous net suspended above the palace of the Buddhist deity Indra with brilliant jewels attached to each of its knots. Each jewel not only exudes its own brilliance but contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality. Indra’s net mirrors the kind of ideal society that can be realised through human rights education.
The pluralist and inclusive society called for in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, which we and other civil society organisations supported the adoption of, finds its firm basis in the process of weaving multiple bonds of connection that will ensure we each shine with, and are illuminated by, the light of humanity.
(The writer is President of the Soka Gakkai International (SGI) Buddhist association and Founder of the Toda Peace Institute and Soka Schools system)