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International Human Rights School for Young Activists 2020-2021 in numbers and Impressions of Participants

International Human Rights School for Young Activists 2020-2021 in numbers and Impressions of Participants

260+ applications, 150+ permanent participants from Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, 80+ graduates, 55 days, 100 hours of training, 24 experts from 9 countries, a new unique course on the ILIA educational platform and an immeasurable amount of experience and positive emotions. This is just a little about how the online component of the International Human Rights School for Young Activists 2020-2021 has held!

This School was organized and coordinated by the Educational Human Rights House in Chernihiv in partnership with Human Rights House Tbilisi, Human Rights House Yerevan, Human Rights House Belgrade, Viasna Human Rights Centre in Belarus, and Human Rights House Voronezh and supported by the Human Rights House Foundation.

What is the International Human Rights School for Young Activists 2020-2021and How was it Organized?

It is a unique platform for access to non-formal human rights education and the protection of human rights defenders themselves. By bringing together participants from six countries, the School has strengthened the capacity of human rights organizations, individual activists and established informal links between young people who are ready to act in protection of human rights.

The idea of organizing this pilot School arose as a reaction to the ongoing events and violations in the countries represented by the members of the Human Rights Houses Network. And, as it turned out, the need for such an educational course among young people is huge. "I was very afraid that the idea of online learning would no longer be interesting to anyone - but instead of the expected 60-70 applications, we received over 260!" - says Mariia Tsypiashchuk, the School Coordinator.

Our participants are all young human rights activists from Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Russia, Serbia and Ukraine, including Crimea - unique and inimitable individuals with different backgrounds and experiences. Some already have practice in the field of human rights protection, some are just beginning. Due to this, the exchange of experiences became even more valuable for the School students.

One of the most active School participants, Serbian Luka Radičević shared his thoughts: “'I saw someone shared some information about the International Human Rights School for Young Activists on Facebook. It was a few hours before the application deadline, I liked the idea and decided to try my luck out. As a human rights lover, a researcher, an activist, and a Russian culture enthusiast, I was very happy to have been accepted and can proudly say that the school provided me with indispensable knowledge and skills. I met a lot of competent young minds with whom I enjoyed discussing different human rights protection around the world.

School Format 

Due to quarantine restrictions, in this School component participants worked remotely - online. All course materials are posted on a special educational platform ILIA. However, thanks to the use of different methods and technologies, as well as - constant simultaneous translation - the online format has also proved to be quite interesting and effective. 

Lectures were organized in an innovative, unconventional way - the combination of different learning methods made this school a very interesting online experience, although I was skeptical at first, to be honest. The organizers thought of everything and everyone. Non-Russian speakers, including myself, were provided with decent language interpretation. I guess Zoom was the right choice of the video conferencing tool to use. The sessions were so interesting, I didn't even notice the school was about to end soon. I only hope there will be a chance to organize an offline meeting for this year's participants, lecturers, and contributors. Thank you for the opportunity once again! I enjoyed being there.'' - Luka Radičević from Serbia adds. 

As a result, in less than two months (from October 28 to December 25, 2020) there were 16 training sessions of various formats: expert and academic presentations from speakers, communication sessions where participants could communicate with each other and with experts, share experiences, as well as optional sessions where creative assignments were analyzed.

“Thank you so much for such a wonderful opportunity to participate in the International Human Rights School for Young Activists! It was very interesting to participate in both - meaningful and communication sessions. Special thanks to the organizers who supervised and made the whole learning process more convenient for the participants and kept in touch. Thanks to the wonderful speakers for not only presenting the material in a structured and accessible way, but also providing vivid examples of judicial and public practice and explanations on them. Also, I would like to note the creative tasks and their discussions, which led to additional research activities on the topics covered. The School was useful not only in the acquisition of new knowledge, but also in intercultural dialogue and the study of the peculiarities of certain processes in different countries. If there is an opportunity to participate offline, I highly recommend it to all those who are interested in the topic of human rights and their protection. Once again, a huge THANK YOU for such an interesting and rich School!” - said one of the School participants Natalia Koshel, Ukraine.

Also, in order to successfully pass the tests (one of the conditions for obtaining a certificate) and perform additional creative tasks, the participants studied additional materials on their own. In total, the online component of the School encompassed about 100 training hours. At the same time, the participants were also accompanied by 3 tutors, who advised on technical issues, helped with homework and more.

Each session was addressed by 1 to 5 speakers - the best European experts and practitioners in various fields of human rights protection. In total, we managed to attract 24 speakers from 9 countries!

Vsevolod Martseniuk, a participant from Ukraine, reaffirmed the importance of exchanging experience with participants and experts from other countries: “IHRSYA 20-21 [International Human Rights School for Young Activists] is a mega cool and useful School. This is not a banal pumping on human rights from cool speakers, and the most important thing - that this was an international school, during which we worked with representatives of different countries and professions. The School teaches that a big victory in human rights protection consists of small steps for each of us.”

Another School participant from Russia, Milana positively evaluates the work of the speakers, tutors and the entire team of the School:

“I would like to express my deep gratitude to all the tutors, lecturers, translators and especially the organizers of this School. You have done a tremendous amount of work to organize and conduct this School. And this was felt throughout the training. Attendance at all sessions of translators who did simultaneous translation; uploading videos in two languages to the YouTube platform; posting all the necessary materials on the ILIA platform, a reminder of upcoming classes and notification of assignments deadlines, high-quality feedback from the organizers - all this created a comfortable environment that made it possible to better perceive new information and to undergo quality training at the School.”

School Topics and Structure 

Regarding the diverse experience and knowledge of the School participants, its content was structured in such a way as to give a general understanding of human rights, different levels and systems of their protection, as well as to reveal more focused topics that, at the same time, correspond to the priorities of the Human Rights Houses Network.

The course included 4 thematic blocks:

  • The first module was devoted to general issues of the Human Rights Concept. It covered two main topics: the history and evolution of human rights, its key concepts and principles, and also - what rights a person has and how to understand what they mean.
  • The second module was aimed at familiarizing and understanding the mechanisms of human rights protection both at the national and international levels. Thus, two sessions were devoted to these two aspects. The final session allowed participants to communicate directly with human rights practitioners from different partner countries and to explore in detail their own national context on the topic of the module.
  • In the third module, the speakers covered such topics as: freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and also talked about the extent to which freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association is adhered to in our countries.
  • In the last fourth module, students learned who human rights defenders are, what are the standards for their protection, the national context of human rights movements and actions in different countries, and how to reduce risks in human rights activity.

As we have already noted, thanks to the international format, active participants of the School and speakers from around the world, we managed to build a dynamic platform for sharing experiences, expanding the range of knowledge about the human rights situation in different countries and building an understanding of how they can be protected.

Two participants from Georgia - Tamari and Mariam noted: 

Tamari Vardiashvili from Georgia shared: “International Human Rights School for Young Activists was an exceptional experience for me, I had an opportunity to learn and read about the philosophy of human rights, International, regional and national systems for the protection of human rights. It was tremendously interesting to learn about the importance of fundamental rights and freedom from different perspectives. International Human Rights School helped me develop a more critical, comprehensive and conceptualised thinking. I was greatly inspired by this course and interactive, well-organised discussions. Hearing different points of views from the perspective of different legislative systems and writing creative tasks made School so unique.

“This school helped me understand how national, regional, and international legal systems actually work. I was given the chance to engage in group activities and explore the international academic environment. I believe this experience will be useful in many years to come. Last but not least are opportunities to discuss important and interesting issues of today regarding Human Rights with experienced and brilliant speakers. I am truly grateful for this valuable opportunity. Thank you!” - says Mariam Ketsbaia, Georgia

Besides the certificates, participants also received cute branded souvenirs from this School. 


What’s next?

The organizers plan to develop this pilot International Human School for Young Activists into an offline format. We have already applied for several grant proposals and do hope that the most active and motivated participants of the School will be able to meet in person in summer or early autumn.

Mariia Tsypiashchuk sums up: “For me this School has become both a challenge and a wonderful personal experience. At the stage of writing the concept, everything seemed quite simple and straightforward. But already from the beginning of summer until the end of the online stage (until the end of December), events took place in different participating countries, during which we could observe multiple violations of human rights: oppression of peaceful protests in Georgia and Russia, dispersal and brutal persecution of civilians, activists in Belarus, the resumption of the military conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh in Armenia. Unfortunately, some of our participants also became victims of such illegal actions. But, despite all the mentioned difficulties, more than 80 participants were able to successfully complete the School and receive a certificate. Probably, this is the biggest reward for the efforts to organize the School - to see that it was interesting and useful to those for whom we did it all. And, of course, I am very grateful to my colleagues for their constant support, advice and great work during the School. I hope that we will see our participants and experts live soon.”