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Project Ploughshares

Member Profile November - December 2013


Equitas in Senegal

This month CCIC had a dynamic discussion with EQUITAS Executive Director, Ian Hamilton. Ian told us about the early days of the organization, the annual International Human Rights Training Program (IHRTP) and a workshop manual on human rights-based approach and equitable partnerships developed by EQUITAS in collaboration with Coady and CCIC... among other things!


CCIC - Can you tell us about the context that gave birth to EQUITAS in 1967?

Ian Hamilton - Equitas was established at a time when international human rights standards were little known in Canada.  Human rights were not part of the curriculum of schools and universities (even Law Faculties).  The Ontario Human Rights Commission had just been set-up, but other provinces and the federal government would not follow suit until much later.  At the international level, the UN had just adopted the two international covenants on civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, but the human rights discourse was still very new and, in Canada, tended to focus exclusively on civil and political rights.

J. Humphrey
John Humphrey

The catalyst for setting up the organization was the arrival at McGill University of one of the drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, John Humphrey. In 1967, a group of engaged Montrealers joined with Mr. Humphrey to establish an organization to meet the need for Canadians to learn about human rights - the Canadian Human Rights Foundation (as Equitas was originally named).  The name was changed to Equitas – International Centre for Human Rights Education in 2004 to reflect our emergence as an organization working worldwide, but still focused on the role of human rights education in bringing about positive social change.


CCIC - Is it easier or more difficult to promote human rights today then it was in the past? Why?

Ian Hamilton - The challenge of aligning human behaviour with human rights principles and values hasn’t changed.  However today, human rights educators have much greater access to knowledge, experience and tools that can facilitate their work.  We are adopting best practices from other disciplines beyond the field of law and breaking down silos which used to exist between the human rights movement and the development community.  In the process, the practice of human rights education has become more relevant, more engaging and more effective.

At the same time, the global environment is not as supportive as it was 20 years ago. The end of the Cold War and the Vienna World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 contributed to building an international consensus to promote human rights that came to a dramatic end with the start of the War on Terrorism.  Since 2001, this global consensus has been eroding and human rights educators and defenders are facing growing challenges from states and non-state actors to their legitimacy and personal security.  The global economic crisis, particularly its impact on Western economies, has also resulted in a decline in the resources available to sustain human rights education programs.


CCIC - What are the main programs offered by EQUITAS, and how are they unique?

Ian Hamilton - The cornerstone of our international programming is our annual International Human Rights Training Program.  Going into its 35th session in June 2014, this program brings together over 90 participants from over 50 countries.  Based on a participatory model, it facilitates the exchange of experience amongst participants and a deep and very personal reflection on how participants and their organizations can better reflect human rights principles and values in their work.  Participants receive coaching during the program as they develop an individual plan to apply their new knowledge and skills to the work they do in their communities.

Perhaps the most unique aspect of this program is what happens after participants return home.  As part of the online Equitas community, they have access to coaching from Equitas staff, continue to share experiences and offer each other their solidarity.  Equitas facilitates alumni meetings and in many countries, former participants have joined together to create informal and increasingly formal associations.  In a number of countries and sub-regions (e.g. Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Pakistan, Yemen, East and West Africa, Former Soviet Union), alumni networks have partnered with Equitas to design and deliver locally adapted versions of the IHRTP they attended in Montreal.  As a hub in a global network of human rights educators, Equitas plays an important role in identifying and documenting best practices in the field of human rights education.  We are also using this positioning to develop greater synergies between our domestic education programs for children and youth and our overseas programming.


CCIC - EQUITAS is involved, along with the Coady Institute and CCIC, in developing a workshop on human rights based approaches to international development programming; what will be the end product and expected outcomes?

Ian Hamilton - Building on a very successful pilot workshop conducted for 14 CCIC member organizations October 2013, Equitas, Coady and CCIC are currently finalizing the workshop manual which outlines a three-and-a-half-day workshop aimed at providing development practitioners with tools for integrating a human rights-based approach (HRBA) and equitable partnerships into the work of their organizations.

The manual is designed for use by both trainers and practitioners (participants to the workshop). Trainers will use the manual to prepare to conduct the workshop, while participants will use it as a reference tool both during and after the workshop. The manual is also designed to help participants transfer what they have learned back to other colleagues in their respective organizations.

The expected outcomes is that civil society organizations that participate in the workshop will improve their effectiveness and impact through a more intentional focus on HRBA and equitable partnership in their work.

In the words of participants to the October workshop:
“For the first time, I feel truly connected to and understand human rights, the CSO Development Effectiveness principles and the CCIC code of ethics.  I intend to make this more central to my daily work and am motivated to strengthen this knowledge.”

“The workshop provided me with practical tools with which I can identify the most significant human rights issues at play, and identify the best entry points through which my organization/project can intervene to begin addressing those human rights issues. Connecting the HRBA with RBM was critical for me, as RBM is the framework through which I manage projects on a day to day basis.”


CCIC - What is the value that you see in having your organization be a member of CCIC? And what do you bring to the table?

Ian Hamilton - CCIC provides Equitas with a very valuable space to connect with other development practitioners.  Our participation has helped us develop new or strengthen existing relationships with other members of the Council which are enriching our work.  .  These connections have led to sharing of best practices as well as some new collaborative initiatives.  They are also helping us to reflect upon and strengthen the linkages in our work between human rights and other important aspects of contributing to sustainable development.

In recent years, CCIC has also played an important role convening the sector to discuss responses to the important challenges we face and changes underway in Canada.  As an organization based in Montreal, we particularly value the information and analysis provided by CCIC staff about the latest policy developments affecting international development and the non-profit world. 

Building on the experience working with CCIC and Coady to develop the workshop on human rights based approaches and equitable partnerships, we look forward to other opportunities to share our experiences and contribute to ongoing discussions about the role of human rights in development. A number of our resources are available on our web site and many members already take advantage of opportunities to send their partners to participate in our training programs.  In the future, we look forward reinforcing our relationships with CCIC and its member organizations and acting as a resource when it comes to human rights education and training.



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