How can we talk about human rights with our neighbours, students and relatives?

Some books about human rights are laid out on the floor

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.