Culture and Human Rights Lesson 4 Activities
Culture and HR Lesson 4 Introduction

Time: 10 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objective 4
Related Resources:
- Daily Show: Guantanamo Baywatch. (2009, May 19). The Daily Show. Retrieved from:—the-final-season (5 min 47 sec)
- Daily Show: House of Pain. (2008, April 15). Daily Show. Retrieved from: (4 min 27 sec)

Start class with one of the Daily Show clips and then examine the  UN definitions of torture.

Torture” means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, article 1 (1)

What are the key points of the UN convention on torture?  According to this definition, who carries out torture? Is there any room for cultural norms, etc. when applying this decision, why or why not?

Culture and HR Lesson 4 Convention Against Torture

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking and Cross-Cultural Communications
Objectives 1, 2, 3 and 4
Related Resources:
An-Na’im Article Summary
- An-Na’im, A. A. (1992) “Toward a Cross-Cultural Approach to Defining International Standards of Human Rights: The Meaning of Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” Pp. 19- 44 in Human Rights in Cross-Cultural Perspectives: A Quest for Consensus. edited by A. A. An-Na’im. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Retrieved from:
- UN Human Rights Council (2010) “Joint Study On Global Practices In Relation To Secret Detention In The Context Of Countering Terrorism” by the Special Rapporteur On The Promotion And Protection Of Human Rights And Fundamental Freedoms While Countering Terrorism, The Special Rapporteur On Torture And Other Cruel, Inhuman Or Degrading Treatment Or Punishment, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances  (A/HRC/13/42). Retrieved from:
- UN CAT (1984) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Retrieved from:
- UN Convention Against Torture

Discuss the Convention Against Torture, An-Naim’s argument, and the HRC report on secret detention. Please note each article involves a lot of reading. You should assign students to read just first couple pages of the An-Naim article and the HRC report summary (pages 1-7).

Review the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

  • What are the obligation of the Committee Against Torture
  • What are the obligations of the State
  • What is included the optional protocol (and why do you think its optional)
  • What is universal jurisdiction and why do you think it is provoked discussion and disagreement?
  • Before class, ask the students to find a recent news story involving the CAT and present/share during this discussion.

Discuss An-Na’im’s argument about cross-cultural approaches to human rights.

  • How is it possible to construct international human rights standards that are culturally appropriate?
  • Ask students to provide an example of human right that different cultures might disagree upon as a standard human right?
  • What is ethnocentrism and cultural relativism how does it apply to human rights standards?
  • What is cultural dynamism and how does it relate to human rights?
  • How has your own culture contributed to your perspective on human rights

Discuss secret detention as a human rights issue.

  • What laws are broken with secret detentions? (international human rights law, international humanitarian law, the right to personal liberty and the prohibition of arbitrary arrest, habeas corpus, right to a fair trial,
  • How are secret detentions used in the “global war on terror” and what legal decisions were used to justify them?
  • What are the criteria for state involvement in a secret detention?
  • What are the enablers of secret detention? Which ones do you think are the strongest ones? How can culture serve as enabler?
  • Are there any situations that you think warrant a secret detention?
  • Do you think secret detentions are a crime against humanity?
Culture and HR Group Debate Activity

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking
Objective 4
Resources: n/a

Split entire class into 2 groups : based on the readings, debate when is it okay for governments to torture people.

  • Assign one side a pro-torture stance: under conditions ___, it is okay.
  • The other side is assigned a zero-tolerance stance: under no circumstances is it okay, because of ____.

Both sides can use examples from the HRC report.  Organize the debate as follows: groups huddle up for 5-15 minutes, then begin.  Instructor to moderate. Allow for three full exchanges.

Culture and HR Poster Presentation

Time: 30 minutes
Skills: Holistic Thinking, Cross-Cultural Communications, Technology Skills
Objectives 1 and2
Related Resources:
-UN CAT (1984) Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Retrieved from:

You are member of the Committee Against Torture. Create a poster campaign to convince the people of Pakistan (or choose another country that has not ratified the agreement) to join the CAT. Students should be aware of the audience and craft arguments that will be sensitive to that culture, yet still encourage them to join as well. This list of signatories can be found here: Please note posters can be done using actual posters or online using virtual poster presentation sites.

Culture and Human Rights Lesson 4 Reflection

Time: 5 minutes
Skills:  Holistic Thinking
Objectives 1 and 2
Related Resources: n/a

Ask the class, if the discussions/activities have changed their perspective on torture and why.