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Message to “Transforming Lives: The Power of Human Rights Education” (Geneva, March 6, 2017)

(Geneva, Switzerland, March 6, 2017)

It is a great honor to be able to hold the first showing of the exhibition “Transforming Lives: The Power of Human Rights Education” here in Geneva at a time when the Human Rights Council is in session. On behalf of Soka Gakkai International (SGI) members in 192 countries and territories worldwide, I would like to express our profound gratitude.

I would further like to take this opportunity to thank the NGO Working Group on Human Rights Education and Learning, Human Rights Education 2020 (HRE 2020), the governments comprising the Platform for Human Rights Education and Training, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and all those whose invaluable support and cooperation has made this exhibition possible.

The exhibition was developed to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training; its key purpose is to highlight the role of human rights education in empowering people to contribute to the building and promotion of a universal culture of human rights.

Today, as the dark forces of hatred and xenophobia are increasingly directed at refugees, migrants and foreign nationals, we are reminded of the following two goals set for human rights education and training in the Declaration: “Promoting the development of the individual as a responsible member of a free, peaceful, pluralist and inclusive society”; and “Contributing to . . . the combating and eradication of all forms of discrimination, racism, stereotyping and incitement to hatred, and the harmful attitudes and prejudices that underlie them.”

What these goals highlight is the importance of not simply refusing to engage in discriminatory behavior ourselves, but of actively working to create an ethos within society that refuses to tacitly accept human rights abuses arising from hatred and prejudice, in this way creating a truly inclusive society.

One of the central tenets of the Buddhism practiced by the members of the SGI is that all people innately possess a state of life of ultimate dignity; that we are all in this sense equal and are entitled to have that dignity respected at all times. This belief undergirds one of our key fields of action: collaboration and engagement with a range of individuals and organizations to promote human rights education.

I am honored to count among my friends the late Austregésilo de Athayde, the Brazilian philosopher who contributed importantly to the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. [In the dialogue, we published together] he wrote: “The Declaration will manifest its true value when all human beings are ready to serve as its champions.”

Next year will mark the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration. Now more than ever it is important that we advance the work of building a culture of human rights, increasing people’s awareness that human rights are not something out of the ordinary, but are in fact an indispensable norm that must be protected and promoted everywhere on Earth. Such efforts, however unobtrusive, are crucial to closing the gap between the ideal and real.

It is of course vital that the legal frameworks protecting human rights be strengthened, along with the means for providing access to remedy in case of violations. At the same time, it has never been more important to create and solidify a movement for human rights education that will foster the social conditions in which people treasure human diversity and dignity within the contexts of their daily lives, so that ever more individuals can recognize and take personal responsibility for the construction of a culture of human rights.

It is my hope that this exhibition will contribute to this cause and that the process of transforming lives will gain renewed momentum here in Geneva. In closing, I would like to pledge our commitment to joining our efforts to those of our friends here today and all those with whom we share the goal of building a culture of human rights.

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