Session 1: Human rights: What are they, and how can they be protected?

Citizenship (Ages 11-14)
Session 1: Human rights: What are they, and how can they be protected?
  • Different Needs, Common Ground
  • Human rights: What are they, and how can they be protected?
  • Exploring the UK's Human Rights Act as a framework for living in a safe and equitable society
Key Messages
  • As citizens of the UK, we all have certain rights that are currently written into law in the Human Rights Act (1998).
  • It is important to protect human rights, but that is not always easy. Sometimes rights can conflict, and it can be difficult to find a balance.
  • Protecting rights is everyone’s responsibility.
  • Introduce the Human Rights Act and the rights that it protects
  • Objectively consider cases where rights can conflict
  • Distinguish between different kinds of rights that are protected in the HRA
  • Consider seven cases, identifying and balancing the rights involved
  • Make a connection between rights and responsibilities

Starter: Miriam’s Story

  • Show Miriam's Story Parts 1 to 4 (unless you have preceded the Citizenship module with the Miriam’s Vision PSHE module) and recap the content of the videos. MV Resource 0 Info for Students.pdf is a single page summary of Miriam's Vision and its aims. Print a copy for each student and distribute. Discuss as a class.
  • Assign each student a number from one to five and have them sit in groups with others with the same number. Then project Slides 1 and 2 of MV Citizenship Resource 1.1 Intro to Human Rights and ask them to imagine they are one of the following, depending on their number:

1. A police officer

2. A Londoner of Asian appearance

3. The Mayor of London

4. A family member of someone who was killed in the 7/7 bombings

5. A commuter who uses public transport to get to work every day

  • As per Slide 2, tell students that it is 7th August 2005, a month after the London bombings. Ask them how they feel, what they fear, and what they think should happen next. Discuss in their groups before feeding back to the class.
  • This activity could throw up lots of different thoughts and feelings. If necessary, take time to discuss these with students. The purpose is that they understand some of the conflicting pressures that followed the events. You might want to discuss the concerns of police to prevent future attacks, or fears in the Muslim community about increased Islamophobia, in the media and elsewhere. You could also highlight how different people in similar situations might develop very different responses.


Phase 1: Introducing Rights

  • Explain to students that in today’s session they will be learning about rights. Ask them which of the five people on Slide 2 have rights. The answer is all of them. Suggest to students that rights were not respected on 7/7, but that thinking about rights is a good way to make sure everyone is treated fairly.
  • Students may already have some familiarity with the concept of rights. In pairs or groups, ask them to write their own definition. They may find the words on Slide 3 useful to help them.
  • Show Slide 4 about the Human Rights Act, 1998. This protects the European Convention of Human Rights by UK law, and lists all the rights that we legally have as citizens of the UK. The main distinction between the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the Human Rights Act is that the HRA is UK law.
  • Give each student an A4 copy of MV Citizenship Resource 1.2 Human Rights Act Articles. Read it through together and discuss any unclear terms. Then show Slide 5 and ask students to highlight which rights concern crime and punishment, and which concern politics and making change. Link back to 7/7 by asking them to identify which rights were not respected on that day (especially the right to life). There is also a question on Slide 5 as an extension for G&T students: “Can you think of any situations where our rights should be limited?”
  • Show Slide 6 and explain that some rights are absolute while others can sometimes be limited. Ask students to suggest which of the rights are considered to be absolute, and why. Slide 7: There are four: Article 2 (right to life), Article 3 (protection from torture), Article 4 (protection from slavery) and Article 7 (no punishment without law). What do the students think about, for example, the fact that there are not more absolute rights, or the selection of rights that are absolute?

Phase 2: Human rights case studies

  1. Which rights are involved
  2. What they think should happen
  • There are different options for organising this activity. Each case could be discussed as whole class, possibly using the think-pair-share model. Alternatively, you could divide the class into seven groups and give each group a print-out of one case from MV Citizenship Resource 1.5 Human Rights case studies. After a given amount of time, the groups pass the print-outs around, so that each group sees several or all the cases. They could feed back orally to students from other groups. Students can make notes individually or as a group on A4 copies of MV Citizenship Resource 1.3 You Be the Judge student sheet.

The seven cases are all based on real situations. More information is on MV Citizenship Resource 1.4 You Be the Judge teacher sheet. An interesting extension (e.g. for G&T students) may be to read some articles about the real-world cases. The cases are:

1. “Fabrice Muamba: racist Twitter user jailed for 56 days”

2. “UK prisoners denied the vote should not be given compensation, ECHR rules”

3. “Gay snub Cornish B&B owners lose Supreme Court appeal”

4. “Blair pushes for 90 day detention”

5. “RAF Fairford protesters win legal battle against police”

6. “Article 3: No torture, inhuman or degrading treatment”

7. “Liberty wins landmark stop and search case in court of human rights”

  • Get feedback from the students about their thoughts. As they are feeding back, you might want to tell them about the outcomes of the actual cases. Do they think the outcomes are fair? Why? / Why not?
  • Show Slide 19 and discuss the statement: “There are no rights without responsibilities.” What does it mean? Do the students agree?


  • Show Slide 20 and return to the five characters from the start of the session. How might they be affected by human rights? e.g. the police officer will have to consider human rights when dealing with criminals and suspects

Reflection / Homework?

Time to reflect and relate to the topic is vital to Miriam's Vision.

Show Slide 21. "Make a list: The human rights that affect me and my life." You could do a couple of examples with the class to start them off. This could be completed for homework, giving the students time to think through the articles.

The second point says, "Optional: Tell a real-life story that relates to human rights." Set this as homework to allow students to consider sharing a personal story, which shows trust.

The task has been deliberately phrased to be open to interpretation. There may be sensitivities to be aware of. We suggest that students are encouraged to share stories from their own lives, or the life of someone they know. They may be more comfortable fictionalising the story.

We suggest that students record their story in whatever format they are most comfortable with. For example, sharing a personal story may feel more comfortable in writing. Students for whom writing is a barrier may feel more comfortable submitting an audio or video file. A series of pictures with captions may be an option. Students could write a poem, or even a song. The point is that the format should enable the telling of the story in the way that is best for the individual.

Start the next session by asking if anyone would like to share their homework with the group. Some might inspire discussion. Some might help or reassure others. Trust can also improve group dynamics.