For Schools

High School Students: Human Rights
Life in a New Country: What Rights Would You Choose?

You have decided to leave the country in which you have been living in order to go, with others, to a new country where people have never lived before. In order to set up the best possible society, you and your group decide to make a list of the rights guaranteed everyone in the new country.

(See the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for reference.)

Choosing Rights for a New Country

  1. On your own, list at least three rights you think should be guaranteed.
  2. Next, share and discuss your individual lists with the group. Then select no more than ten rights you all agree are important.
  3. List your group's choices on newsprint or a blackboard so that everyone in the group can see them. Compare them to the rights selected by other groups. Which rights do all groups have? Which ones do only some groups have?
  4. Make general headings and place related rights from groups together.
  5. Do any rights on the combined lists contradict one another? If so, which?


1 and 2. Many of the rights mentioned in the UDHR and some others are likely to come up on the lists. Encouraging everyone to think and perhaps list three rights on their own before going into the groups will bring about more participation in the groups.

The use of small groups here is important to demonstrate how consensus can fairly easily be formed on the issue of human rights. Groups of five are recommended, but smaller or larger groups are possible. Obviously, a larger group will take a longer time to come to a consensus on the ten items. Note: The Delphi technique is a useful method for reaching consensus. Using this method, each student in the group votes 50 points for his or her first choice; 45 points for second choice; 40 points for third choice; 35 points for fourth choice; 30 points for fifth choice; 25 points for sixth choice; 20 for the seventh; 15 for the eighth; 10 for the ninth and 5 for the tenth. The group then tallies each of the rights to see what the point value totals. The top ten rights are the ten with the most points. This method more fairly takes into account input from all students.

3. The group recorder should have access to large sheets of paper and markers. As the groups finish, each list should be taped to the wall in positions where they can be read by all. Once the lists are posted, ask students to identify which rights appear in every group's list. Are these the rights most accepted by all humans? At this point, you may wish students to refer to the one-page simplified version of the UDHR on page 127 and ask them to read it. Ask if the rights appearing on everyone's lists can be found in the UDHR. Now proceed to other rights which are on more than one list. Follow the same procedure and compare these rights with those in the UDHR. Then take the rights that appear on just one list. Some of these are also likely to be found in the UDHR. Ask what the appearance of many rights on their lists and in the UDHR indicates. Hopefully, after this exercise, all of the students, and people from over 160 countries that have signed the UDHR, will have identified similar items as human rights. Point out the universality of these rights.

ENRICHMENT: Cultural Pluralism

Some differences of opinion concerning what human rights are the most important will appear on lists among people from different cultures and countries. People in the U.S. often list political and civil rights such as freedom of speech and religion and freedom from discrimination, while people from less developed countries more frequently list economic and social rights such as food, shelter and education. People from particular countries often take certain rights for granted. In the U.S., voting is often not listed, while in a country such as South Africa, people doing this exercise almost always list voting as an important human right. When this exercise has been done in Latin America, access to justice, freedom from torture, and right to attorney are frequently listed, perhaps because of the region's history of denial of these rights.

4. This classifying process enables the group to see that while some rights protect people from harm, others protect property or provide freedom. Some people differentiate between moral rights, natural rights and legal rights. The rights listed in the UDHR are more commonly divided into (1) civil and political rights, (2) social and economic rights and (3) environmental, cultural and developmental rights.

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