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Foto: Human Rights Lens (Norway)

Who can violate human rights?

We often read and hear about human rights violations in the news. But can you as an individual violate human rights?

Photo: Human Rights Lens (Norway)

Quick facts

Human rights • Democracy and citizenship
Youth school • High school • Adult education • Organizations and others
Ca 1 hours
Materials: Large sheets of paper or flipchart paper. Small papers and pens.

Activity goals

  • To reflect on the relationship between individuals and state when it comes to human rights.
The exercise is based on "The worst violator of human rights”, Youth Centre for Human Rights and Legal Culture "Human Rights Education".


  • Individual work (5 min):
    • Participants get a list of different groups in a society. The task is to think and place the groups on a scale from 1 to 5 “the worst” violator of human rights. By “the worst” means the group that provoke the most negative consequences resulting from a violation. Participants produce the list/ranking and write it down.
    • The list consists the following groups: Parents, men, children, politicians, doctors, neighbors, workers, journalists, women, bureaucrats, teachers, religious people, judges, atheists, immigrants, police, thieves, military, businessmen, terrorists, priests.
  • Group work (20-30 min)
    • The task is to share their own list, compare, discuss and agree on a common list. Groups present their findings and moderator writes down on a blackboard or a large sheet of paper
  • Final discussion
    • The facilitator concludes about the list by analyzing who is placed on the list, from 1 to 5. Ask the participants for arguments that explain placing different groups in the scale. The goal for the discussion is:
      • to reflect on the issue of power;
      • to reflect on the state monopoly on violence;
      • to reflect on states’ obligations to guarantee human rights and not interfere into private life of citizens unlawfully;
      • to reflect on the so-called vertical paradigm of human rights: individual vs state, where human rights are a kind of umbrella protecting individuals from states’ misuse of power.


  • What do you think about this activity?
  • Was it easy to place the different groups on the scale?


Discussions can bring forward dilemmas. Participants might ask if, for example, teachers, parents, church leaders and/ or global business corporations have power and perhaps violate human rights. These are legitimate questions, which deserve to look more thoroughly at. You can propose to investigate these issues, for example as a follow-up assignment.

The main conclusion of this activity will be that in case it is the representatives of state, who violates human rights and freedoms, the consequences for individuals and society in general are very serious. National authorities have the main responsibility to respect and guarantee human rights to people.