It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.

Nelson Mandela


This activity uses information cards to stimulate interest in human rights heroes. The issues to be discussed include:
• Political repression
• Human rights activists in the twentieth century
• The struggle for rights in various countries

Related rights

• Freedom of opinion and expression
• The right to equality before the law and the right to a fair trial
• Freedom from torture and degrading treatment


• To learn about some of the individuals who have fought for human rights in different countries
• To develop skills of handling and ordering information, co-operation and group work
• To promote respect, responsibility and curiosity about human rights


• One set of the 30 cards per small group
• Scissors
• Envelopes
• Optional: glue and pieces of stiff paper for backing the cards


• Arrange the room so that people can work in small groups
• Make copies of the cards so that you have one set for each small group.
• Cut up each set of thirty cards, shuffle them so that they are not in sequence, and put them in envelopes. It is important to keep the sets separate from each other!

Key Date
  • 10 DecemberHuman Rights Day


1. Ask participants to get into small groups of 3 or 4 people. Hand out one set of cards to each group.
2. Ask them to spread the cards out, face down on the floor.
3. Explain that the cards describe events in the life of six human rights activists. The aim for each group is to match the events with the correct character, and thereby to build up a brief description of each person.
4. Explain that each of the characters is made up of a "set of five" (i.e. one ‘A', one ‘B', one ‘C', one ‘D' and one 'E' card).
5. Tell each group to do rounds of picking up one card at a time, until the cards run out.
6. Give people a few minutes to read their own cards in silence.
7. Then let them go… Allow each group to devise their own strategies for building up the personalities. They will need about 15 - 20 minutes for this stage.
8. Gather everyone together, and ask a representative from one group to introduce, in their own words, one of the personalities. Then repeat with the other groups in turn, so each personality is presented in full, and each group can check that they put the "pieces" together correctly.

Debriefing and evaluationGoto top

1. How easy was the exercise, and which strategies did the different groups use to sort the sets of cards?
2. Which of the characters had people already heard of, and which of them were new? Why do they think they had not heard of some of the personalities before, while others are very well known?
3. Were people surprised by any of the information? What did they find most shocking, or most impressive?
4. Ask people to select the quotation with which they most strongly identify: how do they think they would have behaved if they had been put in the same position as this person?
5. Which human rights in particular were the different "fighters" claiming?
6. Is "heroism" an inappropriate course of action for defending human rights? What actions are available to people who are the victims of human rights violations?

Tips for facilitatorsGoto top

There is a substantial amount of information available on each of these characters and the short biographies that have been supplied offer a very shallow (and subjective) perspective on the matter. There are also hundreds of other human rights activists who could just as well have gone onto the list. 

If you choose to use the examples in Compass but think that the personalities may seem remote from the young people you are working with, then you may want to start with a short introductory activity. Get pictures of four or five UN celebrity ambassadors, who are well known in your country, stick the portraits on large pieces of paper and put them on a wall. Ask members of the group to name them and to say what they are doing as UN ambassadors. 

It is also worth noting that people should certainly not feel "pressurised" in any way to take the type of stand that these activists have taken. There are many ways of fighting for human rights, and different individuals will select different paths according to their beliefs and abilities, for instance, working through existing NGOs, or organising petitions or direct lobbying.

VariationsGoto top

Give each small group a blank card and ask them to write a short biography of a fighter for rights of their own choosing. Then ask the groups to swap the cards and to guess each other's "fighter". If you do this variation, be prepared for surprises as the fighters may include celebrities and pop stars. You should accept all suggestions and place the emphasis on what the people have achieved or fought for. Inviting other participants to comment may be a good approach in case you do not agree with a given personality's record on human rights.

Suggestions for follow-upGoto top

It is highly recommended that you try to follow up this activity by encouraging people to find out about other human rights activists, so that they develop a feel for the characters who throughout history have contributed to the struggle for human rights. The group could start to build up its own "portrait gallery" of human rights activists. The six given in this activity can be used as a starting point: the photographs can be stuck to pieces of card together with the quotations and the short biographies, and displayed about the room. Each member of the group could be asked to find out about other personalities and to add them to the portrait gallery. The six that have been introduced here are all campaigners in the area of civil and political rights, but you may want to extend the range of rights to include social and economic ones as well. Chico Mendes would be an example.

In civil society there are several channels for expressing opinion and fighting for rights. If you want to take a closer look at these you could do the activity, "Making links" .

You might now want to think about situations in which you might have to stand up for your own rights. If so, then the role play "Guess who's coming to dinner" in the Education Pack All Different – All  Equal sets the scene for exploring what could happen if you brought an "unsuitable" boy-/girlfriend home to meet your parents.

Ideas for actionGoto top

Find out about some of the current political prisoners or activists – for example, those that Amnesty International has labelled a "Prisoner of Conscience". Write a letter or organise a campaign to inform people about this prisoner, and to put pressure on the relevant individuals to release him or her.

Further informationGoto top

The UK Section of Amnesty International have produced their own historical wall chart of human rights defenders, which can be ordered through their website:

The United Nations Office High Commissioner for Human Rights has a list of Human Rights Champions, who support campaigning for human rights:

HandoutsGoto top

PDFDownload as PDF



”I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Nelson Mandela

”As a result of certain painful but at the same time comforting encounters, I saw for myself how from the depths of moral savagery there suddenly arose the cry “it’s my fault” and how, with this cry, the patient recovered the right to call himself a human being.”
Evgenia Ginzberg

Born in a village near Umtata, and was elected President of the Republic of South Africa in the first democratic elections
in that country at the age of 76. Up to that point – and beyond – his/her life was devoted to

Born in 1906 in Russia and died in Moscow in 1977. Worked quietly as a teacher and journalist until branded a terrorist by the Stalin regime in a fabricated trial. Spent 18 years in

the fight against apartheid, the racist system used by the former white government to suppress the majority black population. S/he suffered various forms of repression: was banned from meetings, forced to go into hiding, and was finally

Siberian prison camps under horrifying conditions because s/he refused to accuse others of crimes they did not commit.
Spent the first year in solitary confinement in a damp cell, forbidden to exercise, speak, sing or lie down in the day. Later on s/he was

arrested, and sentenced to life imprisonment at the age of 44. S/he spent the next 28 years of his/her life behind bars,
away from his/her family and children.

sent from one to another of the Siberian labour camps – including, as a punishment for helping a fellow prisoner, the very worst, from which few returned alive.



“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation
where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character.”
Martin Luther King

“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.”
Mahatma Gandhi

Born in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1929, when the law required blacks to occupy special seats in buses, theatres and cinemas, and to drink from separate water fountains from whites.
When s/he was 28, co-founded

Born in 1869, to Hindu parents who lived in Gujarat, when India was still held by force in the British Empire. S/he led the struggle for Independence, never straying from his/her firm belief in

an organisation of black churches that encouraged nonviolent marches, demonstrations and boycotts against racial
segregation. The organisation participated in a protest in Birmingham, Alabama, at which hundreds of singing school children

non-violent protest and religious tolerance, despite being arrested and imprisoned on several occasions. When Indians acted violently against one another, or against the British Raj, s/he fasted until the violence ended. S/he led a 241 mile march across India, and

filled the streets in support. The police were ordered in with attack dogs and firemen with high-pressure hoses. S/he was
arrested and jailed.

persuaded followers to accept the brutality of the police and soldiers without retaliation. S/he spent a total of 2338
days in jail in a life tirelessly devoted to  peace.



"I often have the urge to cry but I don't show it. I swallow my feelings.”
"When I dream, I dream that I am back in Auschwitz.”
Zilli Schmidt

“Alas, this sad song in my mind I send to those who help prisoners. These feelings in this dark season – I will never forget the horrible tortures. May this present misery in prison never be inflicted on any sentient being.”
Ngawang Sangdrol

Born in 1924 in Thüringen, Germany to a family of Sinti travelling performers. A survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp, s/he has committed herself to telling the world what was done


is a Buddhist nun who believes Tibet should be independent from China, and who was arrested for the first time at the age of 10 by Chinese authorities. His/her only crime was to participate in

to the Romani people by the Nazi regime. In 1939 Zilli was arrested in Strasbourg. "Crime: gypsy" read the police file. S/he was sent to the prison camp at Lety in what is now the Czech Republic, but managed to escape. S/he was rearrested shortly afterwards. In March 1943 s/he was deported


a peaceful demonstration for the independence of Tibet. Was arrested again at the age of 15, and sentenced to 3 years imprisonment. The sentence was extended first because s/he sang an independence song in prison; and then again for 8 years because s/he

to Auschwitz-Birkenau. In the "gypsy family camp" hunger, thirst, disease, violence, and death were part of everyday life. Risking her life, s/he stole food and clothes to help keep the children and others in the camp alive. Twice her/his name was on the list for the gas chamber. Yet twice, s/he escaped. All her/his family were gassed by the Nazis.


shouted “Free Tibet” while standing in the rain in the prison yard. Today s/he has problems with her kidneys as a result of the torture s/he has suffered