Teaching the Transformative Agenda of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Gillian MacNaughton, Diane Frey


Neoliberalism has dominated the world for over three decades and now permeates our laws, policies and practices at the international, national and local levels. The International Monetary Fund, the World Trade Organization, the European Union, the United States and China all support trade liberalization, privatization of public services and the primacy of markets over people. Indeed, neoliberalism has become so ingrained that it has become invisible and many of us no longer notice when new agendas conflict with international human rights laws and principles to which almost all countries in the world have committed themselves. Adopted in 1948, immediately after World War II, to implement one of the four goals of the new United Nations Organization, the norms and aspirations elaborated in the UDHR provide a framework for a radically different world than the one we have today. In this article, we revisit the content of the UDHR, beginning with the right to a social and international order in which everyone’s rights can be realized, and consider other key provisions that conflict with neoliberalism, including the rights to the benefits of science, to full employment and decent work, to progressive realization of free higher education, to nondiscrimination on the grounds of economic status and to solidarity. We also share some activities that we use in the classroom and online to make the transformative agenda of the UDHR visible to students and demonstrate how far we have strayed from the aspiration of a world in which everyone enjoys their human rights.  The article concludes that teaching a holistic vision of the UDHR in a neoliberal world is a radical human rights curriculum.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/rt.2015.232


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