In May 2001, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) awarded the University of Connecticut the first UNESCO Chair in Human Rights in the United States of America. The Chair joined a network of 52 UNESCO Chairs around the world, which was founded in 1992 to promote human rights through education and research and to encourage collaboration among institutions of higher learning.
Through the agreement with UNESCO, the Chair in Comparative Human Rights is mandated to:
Promote an integrated system of research, education, training, information, and documentation in the field of human rights;
Facilitate collaboration between high-level internationally recognized researchers and teaching staff of the University and other institutions in the United States and other countries, particularly South Africa;
Disseminate the results of research in the field of human rights.
The Chair, in working to realize a vision of a shared common humanity, is guided by three inter-related clusters of principles that, if put into practice, will contribute significantly to the building of a global culture based on human rights. These principles are:
The equality, dignity and freedom of all people;
Reciprocal respect for the dignity and rights of all people;
The universality, indivisibility, and interdependence of all human rights.
Based on these principles, the Chair has developed an inclusive approach to human rights known as comparative human rights, which seeks to transcend the ethnocentrism of human rights dialogue and unify various concepts and practices of human rights through integrated inter-disciplinary and cross-regional inquiry.
The Institute of Comparative Human Rights
The mandate of UNESCO is implemented through initiatives undertaken by the Institute of Comparative Human Rights, operating under the aegis of the UNESCO Chair.
The Chair collaborates with institutions all over the world, but focuses primarily on South Africa. This is due to the privileged relationships the Chairholder has already nurtured between the University of Connecticut and a number of South African institutions, including the African National Congress, the University of Fort Hare, and the UNESCO “Oliver Tambo” Chair of Human Rights at Fort Hare. These partnerships were a major factor in the University’s decision to designate human rights education and research as institutional priorities, and in the award of the UNESCO Chair to the University of Connecticut.