Rethinking democracy and human rights education on the seventieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Hyo-Je ChoEmail author


The paper outlines the usefulness and challenges of teaching the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) to the young generation of the twenty-first century. Reflecting on the author’s experience of engaging university students the paper shares with readers some personal lessons on the subject. A brief history of the UDHR in the past seven decades will be outlined with a crucial question of why the promise of human rights has not been fulfilled as expected despite the proliferation of international legal standards since the foundation of the UDHR. In so doing I would like to shift the focus of human rights discourse away from the conventional legal-institutional one toward the conditions and contexts in which human rights could be conceptualized and realized. As a way of suggesting an alternative path to the realization of human rights through the lens of education I will discuss the structural literacy, global and ecological citizenship, and peace-rights nexus and solidarity. The conclusion will wrap up the whole argument with some pointers on the role of the UDHR-based human rights education in the seriously fragmented world of today.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights Structural literacy Global and ecological citizenship education Peace-rights nexus 



An earlier, much shorter version of this paper was presented as a keynote address at the 19th International Conference on Education Research held in the Seoul National University on 17–19 October 2018. I am grateful for Prof. Kenneth King’s helpful comments on the first draft.


  1. Ackerly, B. (2013). Feminist and activist approaches to human rights. In M. Goodhart (Ed.), Human rights: Politics and practice (2nd ed., pp. 27–41). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Brown, Gordon (Ed.). (2016). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights in the 21st century: A living document in a changing world: A report by the Global Citizenship Commission. Cambridge: Open Book Publishers.Google Scholar
  3. Cahn, E. (1964). The Sense of injustice. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Cardenas, S. (2009). Conflict and compliance: State responses to international human rights pressure. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cho, H. J. (2011). In search of the UDHR for the young generation. Seoul: Hanul Academy.Google Scholar
  6. Cho, H. J. (2015). A root cause approach for achieving human rights. Journal of Democracy and Human Rights, 15(3), 229–273.Google Scholar
  7. Cho, H. J. (2016). Horizons of human rights. Seoul: Humanitas.Google Scholar
  8. Cho, H. J. (2018). An integrative approach for the realization of human rights. Journal of Human Rights Studies, 1(1), 37–71.Google Scholar
  9. Constantinides, A. (2008). Questioning the universal relevance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Cuadernos Constitucionales de la Cátedra Fadrique Furió Ceriol, 62(63), 49–63.Google Scholar
  10. Dobson, A. (2003). Citizenship and the environment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Dunne, T., & Hanson, M. (2016). Human rights in international relations. In M. Goodhart (Ed.), Human Rights Politics and Practice (3rd ed., pp. 44–59). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Eide, A. (1999). Making Human Rights Universal: Achievements and prospects. Human Rights in Development Online, 6(1), 50. Scholar
  13. Foot, R. (2010). The cold war and human rights. In M. P. Leffler & O. A. Westad (Eds.), The Cambridge history of the cold war: Endings (Vol. 3, pp. 445–465). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Frezzo, M. (2015). The sociology of Human Rights: An introduction. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  15. Fukuda-Parr, S. (2017). Warning: Too much reliance on data can undermine the UN’s SDGs. PassBlue: Independent Coverage of the UN. 26 July. Retrieved from
  16. Gandhi, M. (1948). Letter. In UNESCO (Ed.), Human Rights: comments and interpretations (p. 3). Paris: UNESCO.Google Scholar
  17. Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society: Outline of the theory of structuration. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  18. Giddens, A. (2009). The politics of climate change. Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
  19. Glendon, M. A. (2001). A world made new: Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
  20. Hobbins, A. J. (1989). Rene Cassin and the daughter of time: The first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Fontanus, II, 7–26.Google Scholar
  21. Hopgood, S. (2018). What is the greatest challenge to the future of human rights? We the people are. The Conversation. Retrieved October 23, from,
  22. Humphreys, D. (2009). Environmental and ecological citizenship in civil society. The International Spectator, 44(1), 171–183.Google Scholar
  23. Kim, D. J. (1994). A response to Lee Kuan Yew: Is culture destiny?: The myth of Asia’s anti-democratic values. Foreign Affairs, 73(6), 189–194.Google Scholar
  24. Klug, F. (2018). Members of human family. International Politics and Society. Retrieved 6 March, from,
  25. Koo, J. W., Cheong, B. E., & Ramirez, F. O. (2015). Who thinks and behaves according to Human Rights?: Evidence from the Korean National Human Rights Survey. Korea Observer, 46(1), 53–87.Google Scholar
  26. MacNaughton, G., & Frey, D. (2015). Teaching the transformative agenda of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Radical Teacher, 103, 17–25.Google Scholar
  27. Marks, S. (2011). Human rights and root causes. The Modern Law Review, 74(1), 57–78.Google Scholar
  28. Melo-Escrihuela, C. (2008). Promoting ecological citizenship: Rights, duties and political agency. ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, 7(2), 113–134.Google Scholar
  29. Morsink, J. (2008). The Universal Declaration and the conscience of humanity. Conference: Rights that make us human beings—Human Rights as an answer to historical and current injustice, Nuremberg, 20 November.Google Scholar
  30. Moyn, S. (2010). The last Utopia: Human Rights in history. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Moyn, S. (2018). Not enough: Human Rights in an unequal world. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Pinghua, S. (2016). Pengchun Chang’s contributions to the drafting of the UDHR. Journal of Civil & Legal Sciences. Scholar
  33. Pinheiro, P. S. (2008). Sixty years after the Universal Declaration: Navigating the contradictions. SUR: International Journal on Human Rights, 5(9), 70–79.Google Scholar
  34. Podolsky, L. (2014). McGill’s John Peters Humphrey’s legacy work, original draft of Declaration of Human Rights, featured at Canadian Museum of Human Rights Grand Opening & exhibit. Retrieved from
  35. Revaz, C. (2016). Reframing SDG’s education target on ‘Global Citizenship” with human rights lens. Insights: Leading Voices on Today’s Topics. Retrieved from
  36. Roth, K. (2017). The dangerous rise of populism global attacks on human rights values. In Human Rights Watch (Ed.) Human Rights Watch World Report 2017 (pp. 1–14). Retrieved from
  37. Samnøy, Å. (1993). Human Rights as international consensus: The making of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1945–1948. Bergen: Chr. Michelsen Institute.Google Scholar
  38. Schabas, W. A. (2013). The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: The travaux preparatoire: Volume I October 1946 to November 1947. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  39. Sears, J.F. (2008). Eleanor Roosevelt and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Task Force: Celebrating Eleanor Roosevelt. Retrieved from
  40. Shue, H. (2018). Human rights in the Anthropocene. In D. A. DellaSala & M. I. Goldstein (Eds.), Encyclopedia of the Anthropocene (Vol. II, pp. 103–109). Oxford: Elsevier.Google Scholar
  41. von Bernstorff, J. (2008). The changing fortunes of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Genesis and symbolic dimensions of the turn to rights in international law. The European Journal of International Law, 19(5), 903–924.Google Scholar
  42. UN General Assembly. (1948). Resolution 217(III). International Bill of Human Rights A: Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from
  43. UN General Assembly. (1966a). Resolution 2200A(XXI). International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Retrieved from
  44. UN General Assembly. (1966b). Resolution 2200A(XXI). International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Retrieved from
  45. UNESCO. (2015). Global citizenship education: Topics and learning objectives. Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.Google Scholar
  46. Winston, A. (2019). Young People Are Leading the Way on Climate Change, and Companies Need to Pay Attention. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved 26 March, from,
  47. Wolf, J., Brown, K., & Conway, D. (2009). Ecological citizenship and climate change: perceptions and practice. Environmental Politics, 18(4), 503–521.Google Scholar
  48. World Wildlife Fund. (2018). Living Planet Report 2018: Aiming higher. Retrieved from
  49. Zakaria, F. (1994). Culture is destiny: A conversation with Lee Kuan Yew. Foreign Affairs, 73(2), 109–126.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Education Research Institute, Seoul National University, Seoul, Korea 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.SungKongHoe UniversitySeoulKorea

Personalised recommendations