TFHR presentation in Milan, ECP, 2015

The presentation 'From roots to results' - a joint work of Polli Hagenaars and Bogdan Isak can be found here.


As Human Rights are a responsibility of psychologists, this should have implications for their education and training. This societal responsibility has to be ‘translated’ into knowledge and practice for psychologists. As Human Rights have been formulated predominantly in judicial and political terms, a societal perspective on Human Rights needs to be further elaborated.


Human Rights, a societal responsibility for psychologists: implications for professional education.


Polli Hagenaars - EFPA Task Force on Human Rights

ECP2015, Milan July 10, 2015

Today is Human Rights Day. I want to give this presentation the umbrella of the words of David Grossman:

‘Morality and humanity are the basis of our existence’, (David Grossman, 2015)

And I start today with a positive and beautiful message: psychologists have the capabilities to make a difference to Human Rights.


Slide 2 


·         The Universal Declaration of Human Rights: from freedom for the few to freedom for all

·         Human Rights and Psychologists:

-          normative frame for action

-          contribution to human rights

-          social-science perspective on human rights

·         Focus on actions

·         Education of psychologists in Human Rights


Slide 3

                   Eleanor Roosevelt

"We the people of the United Nations determined to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom." (The struggle for Human Rights, 28 September 1948, Sorbonne, Paris; Preamble of the Charter of the United Nations, 26 June 1945)


The four freedoms of President Roosevelt:  freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship,freedom from want, freedom from fear (speech to Congress on January 6, 1941).


Slide 4

Magna Charta (1215): its goal was protection of the freedom of the church and the barons from the king.

Droit de l’Homme et du citoyen (1789): freedom for the citizens from nobility and the clergy.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): from freedom for the few to freedom for all.

 Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘The UDHR is the International Magna Charta of all men everywhere’. (1948)


If we look at the UDHR (1948) and the historical events that were at the basis: the terrible war(s) in Europe, the deportation and murder of millions of people because of their faith, ethnicity or way of relationship preferences, in the name of an ideology as crazy and evil as one couldn’t even imagine, then it looks like a wonderful instrument to the world. This Declaration comes from a different context as the Magna Charta, 1215 or the Droit de l’Homme et du citoyen, 1789.

The Magna Charta tried to gain power for and to give more freedom to the noblemen at the expense of the king; the Droit de l’Homme et du citoyen (1789) originated from the civilian movement to take away power from the Church and the aristocracy and to get freedom for the citizens.

Eleanor Roosevelt called the UDHR the International Magna Carta of all men everywhere (1948).


Slide 5

‘All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.’

(article 1 UDHR) 

The UDHR wants to give freedom to everyone, also to the powerless, those without a voice to speak. ‘We are one people’, President Roosevelt said.


If in the UDHR all minority groups were included, how could it possible take so long to get the USA desegregated in public transport, housing, military and education; how could colonial armed conflicts, like the Dutch-Indonesian and the French-Algerian still take place; and why is freedom today still a dream for many migrants, minority peoples and persons in disadvantaged positions?


Slide 6

Other –for psychologists- very relevant and important declarations pertain to children: Freedom for children.

·         The Geneva Declaration (LON, 1924), a historical document, recognised and affirmed for the first time the existence of rights specific to children and the responsibility of adults towards children.

·         Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1959), a logical follow-up to the UDHR.

·         The International Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).


·         The European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, Rome (1950).

·         The two International Covenants from 1966:

-       on Civil and Political Rights, considered as ‘liberty rights’, implying State abstention of intervention in the liberty of every human;

-        on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, ‘debt obligation’, meaning the State has to step up and take appropriate measurements.

Both International Covenants also refers to the Rights of the Child.


Slide 7

The Geneva Declaration (1924)


Slide 8

Human Rights and Psychologists

‘Human rights are of crucial importance to everyone in the world, psychologists included’ (EFPA GA, 2013).

Respect for the Dignity of Persons and Peoples is a leading principle in our ethical codes, e.g. in the Universal Declaration of Ethical Principles for Psychologists (2008).

In the Model Code to be presented this weekend to EFPA GA, there are two articles:

-          Respect for individual rights and dignity (3.1.)

-          The psychologist is aware of the professional and scientific responsibilities they have toward their clients, research participants, and toward the organization and society in which they live and work. (3.3.)

Evidently psychologists need to add to the realization of Human Rights, to human dignity and human freedom.


Slide 9

Freedom fits the humanistic tradition of psychology: self-realisation and autonomy.

Kant held that freedom -not happiness- is the goal of morality.

Note: this is not the libertarian principle of freedom, doing whatever one wants. (Sandel, 2011)


Slide 10

A social science perspective on Human Rights

The concept of freedom has an even broader approach in the Human Development and Capability Approach of the Nobel prize winning economist and philosopher Amartya Sen.

Freedom refers to opportunities to develop one’s capabilities. It is a theory of ‘wellbeing and social arrangements’ (Robeyns, 2003, p. 5). Sen sees human rights not as established legal rights

Human rights are:

·         Recognized freedoms, entitlements of a person to the development and realization of his or her capabilities’.

·         Strong ethical pronouncements as to what should be DONE for the development and realization of people’s capabilities’. (Sen, 2009, ‘societal ethics’ (p. 361))


Slide 11

Martha Nussbaum, who worked with Sen on this theory, listed 10 ‘capabilities’ as basic for everyone’s life in a civilized society. Examples are: health, education, physical integrity, and control over one’s political and material environment.

In human rights perspective it means that someone has to provide these opportunities to develop the capabilities of any person. Otherwise the concept of human rights is a meaningless, loose concept.


Slide 12

To Sen and Nussbaum the concept of freedom means really inclusiveness, also for groups and individuals in disadvantaged and minority positions.

artha Nussbaum                  Amartya_Sen.jpg

                                                               Amartya Sen: ‘Human rights are strong ethical pronouncements.’

Martha Nussbaum: ‘Moral responsibility goes together with political solidarity.’


Slide 13

What does this imply for us as psychologists?

Human rights and psychology is a bi-directional traffic:

1.       The Human Rights declaration forms a normative frame for psychologists and their associations.

2.       Psychologists and their associations can contribute to Human Rights.

Psychology matters in Human Rights - Human Rights matter in Psychology

(Policy paper of the Task Force on Human Rights, 2015)


Slide 14

‘Human Rights as a normative frame can be a great inspiration for psychologists and their associations.’ (Policy paper of the TF Human Rights, 2015)

As mentioned, societal responsibility is a task of psychologists and their associationsaccording to their Codes of Conduct; so are human rights in the Model Code (2015).

Societal responsibility and human rights tend to be aspirational goals (e.g. APA Code of Conduct).

However, they should imply commitment. Professional psychologists must act according to these -human rights- standards and not remain stuck in a ‘human rights oratory’ (Sen, 1999, p.227).


Slide 15 

Psychologists’ contributions to human rights

Actions are the responsibility of individual psychologists and their associations, local, national and international.

Such actions are to be directed at human rights of individuals, groups and the society at large.


Slide 16

We cannot take the entire burden, but we have to help carrying it: doing all what can be done may be impossible, but doing nothing is no option.


Slide 17

Actions include:

o   Raising awareness of human rights

o   Articulating human rights in codes of ethics

o   Promoting human rights and motivating for taking responsibilities

o   Prevention of human rights violations, e.g. speaking out in public or to the responsible authorities in case of e.g. bullying in the workplace

o   Bringing human rights violations to court

o   Alleviation of violations, e.g. trauma treatment


Examples of actions:

·         The President of the Surinamese Psychologists Association wrote an open letter to protest against a popular song discriminating LGTB people.

·         Article 12.1. CRC: ‘States Parties shall assure’.…. ‘the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.’ Psychologists should include children in decision making in institutional settings and in the case of divorce.

·         The Croation EFPA Member Association asked the TF HR for action. The evaluation forms in an EU funded project contained (obligatory), derogatory and potentially discriminatingquestions such as ‘Are you Roma?’, ‘Are you a person with disabilities?’, ‘Are you a child with disabilities?’, ‘Do you have a written confirmation of this?’, ‘Are you a minority?’, ‘Are you a migrant?’, ‘Are you a victim of family violence?’.


Slide 18

Action points for associations.

·         Every national association of psychologists needs a human rights group.

·         And policy for education of psychologists in human rights.

·         In national human rights institutes the profession of psychology should be represented.


Slide 19

Education of Psychologists in Human Rights

‘Psychology as a science and as a profession has accumulated a great deal of knowledge and expertise on the psychological mechanisms through which violations of Human Rights come about institutionally and in everyday life. There is also substantial research in psychology that has relevance for public policy.’ (Policy paper of the Task Force on Human Rights, 2015)

This knowledge and expertise has to be transferred to psychologists and psychology students.


Human rights education is effective, also in higher education; through seminars at Marburg University, knowledge of human rights and appreciation of their importance was shown to increase (Sommer & Stellmacher, 2009).


Slide 20


·         Education in human rights has to be part of the curriculum of education programs in psychology.

·         Education in human rights has to be part of CPD (continuous professional development).

And reality:

·         The good examples from Marburg University have no equivalence in the Netherlands. A couple of students looked for human rights items in the curricula of all the university psychology programs. And they found … nothing, nothing at all.


Slide 21

The EFPA Task Force on Human Rights has submitted to the EIUC in Venice a proposal for an expert meeting on human rights education for psychologists.

The meeting will address the essentials (knowledge, attitude and skills) for education.

Outcomes will include suggestions for curricula and a winter school for students and professionals.


·         Attitude: Psychologists are their own professional instruments and influenced by history and the society they live in, by power structures, colonialism, social Darwinism, in Europe Islamophobia. Beliefs, also prejudices and attitudes, are part of the psychologists’ habitus (Wekker, 2015). Psychologists need a regular calibration.

·         Knowledge: awareness and knowledge of the content and the importance of human rights.

·         Ethics: It is important to talk about ethics and ethical dilemmas, not only within our associations, but also with the public, the media and policymakers/politicians. ‘There are groups promising to restore morality and identity, but in a form excluding others’. (, 2015)

·         Framing: to translate psychological concepts into understandable language for politicians and the public, increasing the Human Factor.


Slide 22

Human rights are about freedoms for ALL persons to realize their ‘capabilities’.

Psychologists have the responsibility and the expertise to contribute.


Slide 23

I want to end this presentation with a paraphrase of the words of Grossman:

‘Morality and humanity are the basis of our profession’ 

Giorgio de Finis, Museo dell’ Altro e dell’ Altrove di Metropoliz, Roma (a museum made by migrants and  homeless people)


Slide 24 Human Rights, Education of Psychologists in Professional and Ethical Responsibilities

symposium A

Polli Hagenaars, Convenor EFPA Board of Human Rights;Human Rights, an implication for professional education for psychologists.

(Artemis Giotsa, Assistant Professor of Social Psychology in the Department of Early Childhood Education, University of Ioannina, Greece;  Human Rights in Europe (Greece).)

Nora Sveaass, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway; Psychologists, Human Rights and ethics - societal responsibilities of psychologists.

Kerstin Söderström, Associate professor, Child Psychologist, Lillehammer University College,  Lillehammer, Norway; How can psychological knowledge and formal procedures contribute to strengthen Children’s Rights?

Ulrich Wagner, Professor of Social Psychology at Philipps-University Marburg, Germany;


symposium B,

Ioannis N. Dimitrakopoulos, Head of Equality and Citizens' Rights Department, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Vienna, Austria; The contribution of psychologists in promoting Human Rights in the European Union through their work.

Janel Gauthier, Professor Emeritus, École de Psychologie, Université Laval, Quebec, Canada; The evolution of documents asserting Human Rights: Implications for Human Rights promotion and education.

Peter Kinderman, Professor of Clinical psychology, University of Liverpool, UK;Embedding Human Rights into the professional duties of psychologists.

Ava Thompson, Associate Professor, Psychology College of The Bahamas, Nassau, Bahamas;  Children’s Rights and psychology education and training: Advancing children’s well-being in the global community.



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