Soka Gakkai International
Buddhism in Action for Peace
History & Philosophy
Stories and reflections on the Buddhist approach to life
Section six of thirteen of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2018 peace proposal, “Toward an Era of Human Rights: Building a People’s Movement.”
For its part, Japanese society is rife with discrimination against Chinese, Koreans and the citizens of other Asian countries.
In the course of my efforts to promote exchange with Japan’s neighbors and foster mutual understanding and trust, I became friends with former South Korean prime minister Lee Soo-sung, whose father served as a judge during Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula (1910–45). The prime minister’s father continued to report to work in traditional Korean garb and refused to use the Japanese language. His subsequent refusal to comply with a directive compelling Korean citizens to adopt Japanese names cost him his legal career. The Japanese authorities dismissed him from his post and prevented him from practicing law.
Over the years, I have often spoken with the youth of Japan about the bitter lessons of history. In doing this, I have been impelled by the urgent need to transmit to the future accounts, such as that of former prime minister Lee, of our nation’s inhumane treatment of its neighbors before and during the war and the deep pain that it has caused.
During a commemorative lecture at Soka University in October 2017, the former prime minister told the students:
“Even the most talented and accomplished person should never look down on others. Likewise, members of one ethnic group must never behave arrogantly toward those of another.”
I sincerely hope the younger generation will take these words to heart in order to uproot the prejudice and discrimination that still pervade Japanese society.
Many members of dominant social groups may view discrimination as something unrelated to their lives, but for members of marginalized groups it is the undeniable reality of daily life. Human rights education calls attention to such unconscious predispositions, which fuel discrimination; in this way, it offers people the opportunity to reflect on their everyday behavior. In our work to promote human rights education, the SGI has placed emphasis on the kind of empowerment and awareness raising that can restore dignity to all people and build a pluralist and inclusive society.
The SGI supported the United Nations Decade for Human Rights Education (1995–2004). We called for the adoption of a follow-up international framework and have engaged in activities in support of the World Programme for Human Rights Education that began in 2005. Partnering with other civil society organizations, we supported the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training in 2011 and have subsequently worked to develop a civil society network for human rights education. The SGI also organized showings of a film it coproduced, A Path to Dignity: The Power of Human Rights Education, and is currently promoting international showings of its newest exhibition “Transforming Lives: The Power of Human Rights Education,” which debuted at the UN European Headquarters in Geneva in March 2017.
A case study portrayed in both the film and exhibition details how a human rights training program conducted with the Victoria Police in Australia helped to dissipate societal tensions. After an investigation brought to light abusive behavior by the Victoria Police toward members of the LGBT community, the police department adopted a human rights training program that further resulted in improved treatment for members of migrant communities.
As a result of the program, police staff were able to clarify their role within the framework of human rights and the need to avoid conflating the person, who must always be protected, and their behavior, which if illegal must be managed.
related article The Power of Human Rights Education In a world that is increasingly interconnected, a challenge of human rights is to bring people together across differences. Human rights education helps us recognize and guard against attitudes that put up barriers to others’ experience of human dignity. This change in police attitudes also brought about a shift within immigrant communities. One immigrant youth explained that he always felt uneasy whenever approached by the police. One day, a police officer invited him to learn about a program on youth leadership. After participating in the program, the young person’s attitude toward the police changed as he began to realize that both he and the officer were ordinary people, the only difference being that one of them wore a uniform.
In this way, a human rights training program not only led to a change in police attitudes toward members of the community but also to a gradual decline in migrants’ ill-feelings toward them and the overall strengthening of trust between local residents and the police.
This case study illustrates that the real significance of human rights education and training programs lies far beyond acquiring specific knowledge or a certain set of skills—it lies in reviving our desire to perceive the common humanity in those who are different from us and in weaving the bonds of a shared social life.
The World Programme for Human Rights Education has focused on different target audiences every five years and has seen three phases thus far. The first (2005–09) focused on human rights education in the primary and secondary school systems; the second (2010–14) highlighted higher education and human rights training for teachers and educators, civil servants, law enforcement officials and military personnel; and the current third phase (2015–19) focuses on media professionals and journalists. I would like to propose that young people be the focus of the fourth phase, slated to begin in 2020.
While they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of the filter bubble in this digital age, youth also have a special aptitude for sharing what they have learned about human rights with others in their lives, making them a powerful force for expanding the circle of those committed to overcoming discrimination and prejudice. The core group of individuals leading ICAN were young people in their twenties and thirties. If members of the younger generation can shape the movement for human rights promotion in a similar way, we can surely shift the global current from one of division and conflict to one of coexistence.
Those who remain trapped in the echo chambers of the filter bubble or within unconsciously constructed walls fail to see the brilliant glow of humanity inherent in others. The humane light they too possess will also remain hidden, unable to reach those around them. Through its power to remove the barriers between self and other that arise from differences in identity and social standing, human rights education has the ability to expand opportunities for that humane light to shine most resplendently, both for ourselves and for others.
Mahayana Buddhism puts forth the analogy of Indra’s net, an enormous net suspended above the palace of the Buddhist deity Indra with brilliant jewels attached to each of its knots. Each jewel not only exudes its own brilliance but contains and reflects the image of all the other jewels in the net, which sparkles in the magnificence of its totality. Indra’s net mirrors the kind of ideal society that can be realized through human rights education.
The pluralist and inclusive society called for in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training finds its firm basis in the process of weaving multiple bonds of connection that will ensure we each shine with, and are illuminated by, the light of humanity.