Teaching and Training for
Human Rights Practice:
Human Rights Overview
IASSW/Kendall Institute Workshop
Conference on Social Work & Social
Development, Stockholm, July 2012
Slides prepared by Lynne Healy & Kathryn
Libal, Univ. of Connecticut
Social Work & Human Rights
“Social work has, since its inception, been a
human rights profession” (IFSW, 1988)
“Human rights are inseparable from social work
theory, values and ethics, and
practice…Advocacy of such rights must
therefore be an integral part of social work, even
if in countries living under authoritarian regimes
such advocacy can have serious consequences
for social work professionals” (UN with
Global Recognition of Human
Rights in Social Work
The Global Definition of Social Work
includes the phrase: “Principles of human
rights and social justice are fundamental to
social work” (IFSW/IASSW, 2000).
The 2004 ethics document cites the
definition and lists seven human rights
treaties as “particularly relevant to social
Why Human Rights in Social Work
and Social Work Education?
Compatibility of basic concepts and
 Human rights offers a unifying framework,
relevant to micro and macro social work,
and to local and global considerations
 Human rights is an important concept and
language for international dialogue and
interdisciplinary work
 Human rights is a significant theme in UN
and other international bodies
Human Rights are:
A system of international laws and
accountability mechanisms
A set of globally agreed standards
A perspective to guide social work practice,
both micro and macro
A conceptual framework to guide
development of social and economic policy
A framework for ethical decision-making in
concert with professional ethics
The Universal Declaration of
Human Rights (UDHR) (1948)
“All human beings are
born free and equal in
dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason
and conscience and
should act towards one
another in a spirit of
–Article 1, Universal Declaration
of Human Rights
Human Rights: Working definition
 Humans have certain fundamental rights
by virtue of being human
 Grounded in “inherent dignity” and worth
 Debate over
 Which rights should be prioritized
 Universalism vs. cultural particularism
 How human rights are to be realized
Two Major Dimensions of Human Rights
Civil & Political Rights
Social, Economic, &
Cultural Rights
-NESRI, 2008
“I think it is necessary to realize that we have moved from
the era of civil rights to the era of human rights.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Major Human Rights
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
 Covenant on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights
Civil and Political Rights
Right to life
Right to security of person/bodily integrity
Freedom from torture or slavery
Equality before the law
Privacy & to own property
Freedom of assembly/association
Freedom of expression
Freedom of movement
Freedom of religion or belief
Political participation
Social, Economic & Cultural Rights
Food and water
Social security/social insurance/social service
Participate in the life of the community
Major Human Rights
Documents (cont.)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Racial Discrimination (1969)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women—CEDAW (1979)
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities (2006)
Human Rights Conventions
Recognized in Social Work Ethics
Universal Declaration of Human Rights
International Covenant of Civil & Political Rights
International Covenant on Economic, Social & Cultural
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Discrimination (1969)
Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of
Discrimination Against Women—CEDAW (1979)
Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989)
Indigenous & Tribal Peoples Convention
1951 Refugee Convention
UDHR Articles
Articles of particular interest to social work:
22, 25, 28
UDHR, Article 22
“Everyone, as a member of society, has
the right to social security and is entitled to
realization, through national effort and
international co-operation and in
accordance with the organization and
resources of each State, of the economic,
social and cultural rights indispensable for
his dignity and the free development of his
UDHR, Article 25.1
“Everyone has the right to a standard of
living adequate for the health & well-being
of himself & of his family, including food,
clothing, housing & medical care &
necessary social services, & the right to
security in the event of unemployment,
sickness, disability, widowhood, old age
or other lack of livelihood in circumstances
beyond his control.”
Article 28
“Everyone is entitled to a social and
international order in which the rights and
freedoms set forth in this Declaration can
be fully realized.”
Link with global social justice: address
transnational processes & human rights
concerns (e.g., refugees, migrants, access
to resources/water, arms control, trade
policy, etc.)
Core Concepts
Human rights are inalienable
Principle of equality (non-discrimination)
 (Note, however, that social and economic
rights can be “progressively realized”)
States, UN, and “Non-state Actors”
RESPECT rights: neither the state nor its
agents (police, military, etc.) should violate
them directly
PROTECT rights: ensure that private
actors do not violate them
FULFILL rights: create an “enabling
environment” in which rights can be
Promotion & Enforcement: States
 Implement treaties: laws, policies &
 Submit reports to monitoring committees
 Special “rapporteurs” follow progress &
conduct investigations (e.g. Extreme
Poverty in US)
 Consequences for failure to implement:
 Diplomatic costs
 “Shame” in international/national public
Human Rights Controversies
Are social and economic rights as
important as civil and political rights and
how can they be measured? (concept of
progressive realization)
 Sovereignty vs. humanitarian intervention
 Universalism vs. cultural relativism
 Are human rights “western?”
Emerging Issues in Human Rights
Draft Guiding Principles on Extreme
Poverty and Human Rights (adopted by
the Human Rights Council Sept. 2012)
 June 2011 Human Rights Council
Resolution on Human Rights and Sexual
Orientation (23 yes; 19 no 3 abstain)
 Universal Periodic Review Process
 Discussions on a potential treaty on older
For further information:
Office of UN High Commission for Human
Rights: www.ohchr.org
 International Federation of Social Workers
for Human Rights Policy: www.ifsw.org
 International Assoc. of Schools of Social
Work: www.iassw-aiets.org
 Human Rights Watch:

Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Macro Theories