In a recent visit to an St. Clare's International College, students took part in a conference entitled 'Human Rights and Human Wrongs.' The specific focus of the conference was on the political turmoil involving the Palestinian and Israeli conflict over national boundaries. Students were asked to reflect on the 'UN Declaration of Human Rights' and to question the efficacy of applying its principles in the resolution of the conflict - a good idea for a TOK presentation.
The central argument was that the notion of 'rights' is like fashion - it changes and evolves according to the existing zeitgeist or climate of ideas that pervades the political arena of the time. During one era, we are more concerned with group rights (eg. early 20th Century Women's Movement), whereas during another era, we're more interested in individual rights (eg. the so-called 'sexual revolution' in the 1960s).
Various knowledge issues were raised concerning the meaning of the document and you can explore some of these in your own presentations:
1. To what extent does the UN document cater for individual rights?
2. How far does the UN document uphold the rights of particular groups?
3. In what way does the UN document lay down proscriptive or prohibitive rights?
4. Under which circumstances does the UN document put forward prescriptive or regulatory rights?
Check through the UN document to find articles that pertain to these rights and see if you can discover real life examples that either fulfil the articles or are in direct contravention of them.
Some further questions you might reflect on:
- Is there such a thing as 'Universal Rights'?
- If you were producing a Bill of Rights, what would be in your top 10?
- Should rights be enforced at an international level? If so, how?
- What happens when ethical principles become a matter of obligation?
Here are also some topics that students had to research and for which they had to prepare a short case study in advance of the conference. They would make ideal TOK presentations:
- Sweat (not the sugary things we like to eat!) shops
- Child labour
- Detention without trial
- The arms trade
- Drug production and trafficking
- Sex trafficking
- Blood diamonds
- Child soldiers
- Global poverty
- Corruption at the highest level in government and other public institutions
- Freedom of the press
- Women's rights
- Genital mutilation of females
- Child trafficking
- Identity cards
Whatever topic you choose, aim to get a GLOBAL perspective on it; that is, find an example from another part of the world that relates to your topic.