Celebrated each year on 10 December, Human Rights Day marks the anniversary of the adoption, in 1948, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) by the United Nations General Assembly. As a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) joins the United Nations and its sister agencies in observing the occasion and promoting and protecting human rights.
UNRWA schools have been providing human rights education for the past 14 years, with the support of the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration of the US Department of State. In 2013, Human Rights Day was enthusiastically celebrated in UNRWA schools throughout the five fields. Under the leadership of the school parliaments, students participated in and organized events ranging from artistic shows derived from Palestinian folklore to the launch of initiatives to provide impoverished students with winter clothes and solidarity boxes.
In Gaza, students created a 'train of rights', with three carriages representing three major rights - education, work and freedom. In Lebanon, eight 3rd-grade students formed a 'human tree', its leaves naming their rights. In Syria and Jordan, the holiday was observed over an entire school week, during which students helped beautify their schools by planting trees and painting the schoolyards. They also participated in painting and knowledge competitions and took part in community-outreach activities to spread the culture of human rights.
The creativity and passion of the UNRWA students exemplified the importance that human rights principles and values have acquired in their lives. The PRM-funded Human Rights, Conflict Resolution and Tolerance (HRCRT) education program in UNRWA schools empowers young Palestine refugees by encouraging them to enjoy and exercise their rights, uphold the rights of others, be proud of their Palestinian identity and contribute positively to their society.
The program also encourages students to engage with UDHR. The recently launched HRCRT Toolkit for teachers, for example, contains child-friendly activities highlighting the rights enshrined in the declaration. The toolkit complements the HRCRT policy as a practical tool, helping teachers and school managers create a culture of human rights in UNRWA schools.
The Human Rights Day celebrations of 2013 were exemplary representations of what the HRCRT program, with the support of PRM, seeks to instil in the next generation of Palestinians. From respect to equality and non-discrimination to community engagement, the fundamental messages of HRCRT were enshrined again on Human Rights Day.