How can we talk about human rights with our neighbours, students and relatives?
In May 2020, Amnesty International presented the results of the Human Rights Dialogue for Russia, a joint project implemented by the Eastern Europe and Central Asia office with Amnesty International Netherlands. The project’s aim is to present human rights to the widest possible range of potential participants through a conversation about values and a respectful exchange of views.
"When we discovered that people in the Netherlands were very interested in discussing certain social issues like discrimination and refugees, we wanted to do two things. Firstly, to encourage people to look at those kinds of issues from a human rights perspective. We wanted them to 'put their human rights glasses' on, so to speak. And secondly, we wanted to facilitate these discussions, so that people within the so-called 'silent majority' felt safe and secure enough to speak out." Kirsja Oudshoorn, Senior Officer for Human Rights Education at Amnesty Netherlands.
“The methodology allows discussions about human rights to take place in a range of venues with a wide variety of different people: schoolchildren, students, friends or neighbours, without age restrictions," says Stasya Denisova, Amnesty International's human rights education programme coordinator for Europe and Central Asia.
According to her, the main difference between the methodology used in the Dialogue and that in a standard debate technique is that the Dialogue does not imply that any participant should prove his or her case to win, as in a formal debate. "The uniqueness of the Dialogue is that there is no requirement for the participants to win the dispute or to change their opponent’s mind”, Denisova clarifies. “The purpose of our approach is to hear the other person, to understand their point of view and what values they adhere to. Such a discussion helps to highlight controversial issues in the field of human rights from many sides, not just through the prism of ‘pros or cons’".
Toolkits have been produced on three topics: ‘Security and Human Rights’, ‘Discrimination and Racism’ and ‘Refugees and Migrants.’ Between 5 and 15 people can take part in each Dialogue on these topics.
"It is important to discuss these complex issues calmly, which for many of us can be unusual. Debates on television often spark harsh statements or insults, they rarely have a sincere desire to understand the issue and understand a different point of view. For example, how much the state can encroach on our lives, what our digital rights are and the extent to which citizens are willing to hand over and allow the authorities to store their personal data. Another issue is cultural differences and discrimination of refugees and migrants and what globalisation can mean in human terms" says Denisova.
In every Dialogue there is a facilitator to provide successful group communication. It is preferable that the facilitator has pedagogical experience or expertise in conducting informal trainings or seminars. That way, when they get acquainted with Human Rights Dialogue toolkit, they should already be comfortable working with the group whilst applying the new methodology. According to the guidelines, presenters should be aware of six different ways of conducting a Dialogue for different groups in addition to the sequence of steps necessary for participants to unpack the issues discussed. Once the main question at hand has been introduced, he or she can further facilitate the Dialogue using several tools - cards that describe specific case studies, provide relevant statistics or resonant statements; and the pocket-size Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"We are used to the fact that the different sides often want to shout at each other, to prove themselves right. Many people are surprised when they learn that by following our methodology the Dialogue can end simply by making the other side’s position clearer for yourself, by finding out the difference in underlying values, or conversely, if it becomes clear that although their positions are different, the values of the participants may converge," Denisova explains.
We are used to the fact that the different sides often want to shout at each other, to prove themselves right. Many people are surprised when they learn that by following our methodology the dialogue can end simply by making the other side’s position clearer for yourself
The methodology for the Human Rights Dialogue was specially adapted to the Russian context in collaboration with St. Petersburg’s P.G. Oldenburg Institute of Law. Three focus groups were held in St. Petersburg: one for schoolchildren, one for students, as well as one for trainers and teachers.
"By gathering feedback, we were able to better understand how to talk about such topics in Russian society. We, for example, were faced with the fact that high school students in St Petersburg were afraid to discuss any cases related to the invasion of privacy by the state. It became clear that they were uncomfortable with a critical discussion of the role of the state, perhaps because it is at odds with what they hear at school and at home. They preferred to discuss invasion of privacy using the example of parents - how they demand to look through the phones or read social networks of their children," Denisova says.
High school students in St Petersburg were afraid to discuss any cases related to the invasion of privacy by the state. It became clear that they were uncomfortable with a critical discussion of the role of the state, perhaps because it is at odds with what they hear at school and at home.
Volodymyr Selivanenko, HRE Coordinator at Amnesty Ukraine, added: “Dialogue is a very effective and at the same time a complex technique to facilitate. When I facilitated the Dialogue, I witnessed how the participants cried or burst into laughter and it was quite a challenge”.
Kirsja Oudshoorn from Amnesty Netherlands agrees on that, saying "Every time I facilitate a Human Rights Dialogue, I am amazed about the openness, the eagerness and sincere interest that participants show. It is fantastic to see how you can create a safe space for participants. But at the same time, it takes a lot of hard work, practice and self-criticism, to get the hang of active listening, a feeling of timing and improvisation on the spot."
Now, the Human Rights Dialogue methodology is adapted to the audiences in Central Asia. Partners from the youth network IDEA Central Asia were interested in using it at their debate clubs in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Trainers from IDEA are already familiar with this approach. In 2019, they tested it together with the teachers and activists from Ukraine, Moldova and Russia at the Training of Trainers hosted by Amnesty Ukraine.
You can download the toolkit in Russian here: https://eurasia.amnesty.org/education/dialog-o-pravah-cheloveka/