Series HRS - Division of Human Rights and Peace Files

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Division of Human Rights and Peace Files


  • 1975-1995 (Creation)

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15.47 linear metres of textual records

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Administrative history

The idea to strengthen coordination of intersectoral human rights programming was introduced in the 17 C/4 Draft Medium-term Outline Plan for 1973-1978. As a response, the Human Rights Coordination Unit was created 1 May 1973 in the Sector for Social Sciences, Humanities and Culture. The Unit’s functions were to coordinate and organize activities in the field of human rights that were already part of the programme at that time, as well as to propose future programmes for the short-term and medium-term future. Of the already ongoing programme activities, the Unit became principally responsible for the execution of work in the following areas: the organization of a Peace Forum; the UN Decade for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination and study of the legal and technical aspects of the draft declaration on race based on the 1967 Statement on Race and Racial Prejudice; and, the assembling of information on the state of education and the cultural life of the population in the occupied Arab territories. The Director of the Unit was to form, along with the assistant director-generals of the programme sectors, an Intersectoral Committee on Human Rights which would meet once per month. As a director of one of the intersectoral projects, the Director of the Unit reported directly to the Director-General.

In 1974, the Executive Board confirmed that the Secretariat should have a division to coordinate and promote activities relating to matters of human rights and peace. Yet, with the change of Director-General in 1975, and within the context of the general reorganization of the Secretariat at the end of 1975 and continuing into 1976, Director-General M’Bow first proposed that the Division of Philosophy and the Coordination Unit become together a Division of Philosophy, Human Rights and Peace. When the reorganization of the newly named Sector for Social Sciences and their Applications was confirmed in March 1976, however, the unit remained the Division of Human Rights and Peace. The Division continued to coordinate UNESCO’s work in the fields of human rights and peace (normative action, research, publications, meetings, etc.) and to cooperate with the United Nations and its agencies. More specifically, during this early period the Division worked on the following matters: population phenomena, urbanization and the effect of rapid technological change; ethics in medical research; racial discrimination; rights and freedoms in multi-ethnic states; integration of immigrants; peace research, disarmament and the study of violence; the extension of specialized studies on human rights, including the publication of human rights handbooks, and the teaching of human rights; and, the role of women in the life of society and the International Women’s Year, followed by the UN Decade for Women. Responsibility in these areas was sometimes shared across Sector divisions or shifted altogether to newly-created units. This was especially true in the 1990s when inter-sectoral activities (such as gender equality, bio-ethics, and peace research) were moved to units reporting directly to the Directorate. In the Medium-Term Plans starting in 1977, the assurance of human rights and reinforcement of peace were described as two separate but related major programmes or Main Lines of Action (MLA). Study of situations of apartheid, for example, was considered an area of activity under the major programme for human rights beginning in the late 1970s and lasting to the early 1990s. The Division also acted as secretariat for the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education from its inception.

The next significant organizational change came in 1993 when a Unit on Democracy was created within the Division. This corresponded to work on the International Congress on Education for Human Rights and Democracy and the World Conference on Human Rights, both held in 1993. The following year, the Division was renamed the Division of Human Rights, Democracy and Peace, and was divided into two new units in addition to the Unit on Democracy: the Human Rights Unit and the Peace Unit. In response to work related to the United Nations Year of Tolerance, the Peace Unit became the Peace and Tolerance Unit in 1997. At the end of the 1990s, the Division’s work was primarily focused on activities tied into the Culture of Peace programme and human rights education. The Division was renamed the Division of Peace, Human Rights, Democracy and Tolerance in 1999 and its units were rearranged: Promotion of Human Rights and Actions to Combat Discrimination [Unit]; Peace and New Dimensions of Security Unit; Tolerance and Non-Violence Unit; Women and Culture of Peace Unit.

In the 2000s, emphasis was placed on facilitating research networks of regional or national institutions for ensuring the protection of human rights. Responsibility for intersectoral activities was largely moved back to the Sectors at this time. The Division was renamed the Division of Human Rights and Struggle against Discrimination in 2002 with three sections: the Human Rights and Development Section; Gender Equality and Development Section; and, the Struggle against Discrimination and Racism Section. Within UNESCO, there was an effort to introduce the ‘UN human rights approach to programming’ to all programme activities. The Division was renamed the Division of Human Rights, Human Security and Philosophy in 2006, and then the Division of Human Rights, Philosophy and Democracy in 2010. As part of a reorganization of the Sector for Social and Human Sciences in 2011, activities relating to human rights, poverty eradication, democracy, migration, dialogue and reconciliation, philosophy and sport were brought together under the mandate of the new Division for Inclusive Societies and Social Innovation.

The Division of Human Rights and Peace and its predecessor and successor units have had the following directors: Marie-Pierre Herzog (1973-1976); Karel Vasak (1976-1980); Pierre de Senarclens (1981-1982); [Deputy] Marion O’Callaghan (1987-1989); Janusz Symonides (1989-2000); interim ADG/SHS (2000-2001); Rudolf Joó (2001-2002) ; Eduardo Cifuentes Muños (2003-2005); interim ADG/SHS (2005-2009); Angela Melo (2009-2011).


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Series consists of the files of the SHS Division of Human Rights and Peace (HRS) as well as some files from its successor unit. The files date from the creation of HRS to the mid-1990s. The files cover programme activities such as the production of publications and studies, the organization of meetings, and the coordination of the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education. There are also two specific subseries: a subseries of correspondence files (COR) organized by year or by staff member; and a subseries of files (PP) on the UNESCO Prize for Peace Education .

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Files are open after 20 years according to the Access Rules.

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For complimentary records in the Central Registry collection, see files beginning with the following broad Universal Decimal Classification System codes :
-3-055.2 Status of Women
-323.1 Racism
-323.12 Racism and Discrimination
-323.15 Discrimination and Protection of Minorities
-325.1 Immigrants
-327.37 Disarmament
-327.4 International Peace Movements
-327.6 : 37 Teaching for International Understanding
-341 International Law
-342.7 Human Rights

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