An Education Initiative to Stem the Tide of Human Rights Abuse in Mexico

10 November 2010

Youth for Human Rights International educates thousands of Mexican school children on their 30 fundamental rights given in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights Youth for Human Rights International educates thousands of Mexican school children on their 30 fundamental rights given in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In Mexico—a nation long considered a human rights crisis zone by the international community—Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) has created an extraordinary movement. Its aim is nothing less than eradicating human rights abuse across the entire Mexican landscape.   

Youth for Human Rights’ campaign in Mexico started in 2003 with representatives on the ground launching an education initiative to raise human rights awareness throughout the nation. Since 2006, millions of Mexican youth and adults have seen YHRI’s audiovisual materials through tours, events and presentations. Most recently its message of hope has advanced to the highest levels of government.

At a recent meeting with a national commission representing 199 government agencies and non-governmental organizations, the minister of education announced his commitment to make “human rights part of the official curriculum in every school of Mexico.” The Youth for Human Rights audiovisual and print materials were also accepted by the federal government as a key component of the national human rights education plan.

Antidote to the Drug War

Broad education is an urgent imperative in human rights hot spots such as Mexico, where the drug war rages into its fourth year. Ignorance of fundamental rights—even among criminal justice officials—can cause a reign of terror whereby the lawless can subvert the police and military, greatly undermining public security. According to a report by the US State Department, that is exactly what has happened in Mexico, where horrific violence is now reported hourly by the news media.

Police corruption, physical abuse, arbitrary arrests and detention, unlawful killings by security forces and confessions coerced through torture are commonplace, prompting President Calderon to recently express his concern that the warring factions threaten the government itself. He described the widespread criminal behavior as “an activity that defies the state and even seeks to replace the state.”

Where Mexican drug cartels control an estimated 70 percent of the narcotics flow into the lucrative US market, the drug war touches all Mexican citizens, ripping asunder the social fabric. An estimated 28,000 deaths since 2006 are attributed to the drug war, while kidnapping, rape and enslavement and murder of young girls and women is on the rise. The most recent example was the late August mass execution of 72 migrant workers who refused to join drug cartels.

The mission of Youth for Human Rights International is to teach youth all over the world their human rights so they can demand and defend them. Broad education and adoption of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights by every country promotes cooperation and understanding, and ultimately, peace.

YHRI Campaign Moves Youth into Action

The campaign reaches across a broad spectrum of public and private organizations, including school districts, universities and municipalities. As just one example, the city of Atizapan adopted the campaign and held events to raise human rights awareness, using YHRI’s materials. At one event the municipal police trained 150 top officers for three weeks in all aspects of human rights.

The group’s compelling educational film, The Story of Human Rights, as well as public service announcements of each of the thirty human rights, and the street-savvy, hip-hop music video, UNITED, have disseminated the message of universal human rights throughout Mexico, reaching some 4.5 million viewers.

In companion with the audiovisual presentations, two educational booklets, What Are Human Rights? and The Story of Human Rights, are distributed to schools, youth groups and community-based organizations, and prove highly effective in moving youth and adults to action. In Mexico, the broad campaign has garnered the attention of leadership in government and education, resulting in new initiatives—just as it has in some 188 other nations, through joint efforts with hundreds of civic and governmental organizations.

The words of one pastor and human rights director on the Youth for Human Rights programs are particularly relevant to Mexico. “This campaign now makes a youth understand that there are some areas in his life where he cannot be intimidated, he cannot be dominated, he cannot be oppressed,” she said. “So he can speak with such knowledge of his rights.”

Among the other organizations in Mexico incorporating Youth for Human Rights educational materials and joining the national movement are the Youth Institute of the State of Toluca, the Faculty of Law of the National Mexican University, the Family Development for Youth at Risk Commission, Social Security for State Workers, and the Banamex Corporation.