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Population Diversity and Human Rights


Three class periods



World History

Christine LaPlaca Burrows, former high school social studies teacher and current freelance educator; Tish Raff, associate faculty, College of Notre Dame of Maryland.


Students will understand the following:

1. Nations try to influence the actions of other nations by employing economic sanctions.

2. Citizens of a nation may disagree on the morality and effectiveness of economic sanctions.


For this lesson, you will need:

Computer with Internet access
Documents, books, articles, and editorials concerning U.S. economic sanctions currently in place against other nations
Index cards for note taking

1. Review with your students the conditions of apartheid in South Africa until its dissolution in the early 1990s. Then discuss the cause-effect relationship between economic sanctions carried out by the international community and the end of apartheid. Explain to students that they will debate the issue of U.S. economic sanctions designed to isolate foreign countries and deprive them of U.S. dollars.

2. Explain to your students that American citizens disagree among themselves on the morality and effectiveness of economic sanctions against governments that the United States does not recognize. Tell students that they are going to become experts on (a) which international activities are prohibited and which are allowed when the United States places economic sanctions on another government and (b) the plusses and minuses of economic sanctions in general. Armed with facts, students will hold a debate to explore arguments for and against economic sanctions. Be sure that students understand the following points regarding the nature of a debate:
- Debaters on each side will alternate presenting arguments to support their case. After each presentation, members of the other side may offer arguments in rebuttal,or in opposition. In order to present convincing rebuttals, debaters should know as much about the arguments for their opponents' case as for their own.

- At the end of the debate, one person from each side will present a summary of that side's argument.

- After the summaries, each member of the audience will vote for the side he or she thinks has presented the most convincing argument.

3. Select three or four governments that the United States currently maintains economic embargoes against. (At the beginning of the 21st century, the United States had embargoes against Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yugoslavia, Cuba, North Korea, Angola, Burma [Myanmar], and the Taliban.) Then for each government, assign some students to the group that will argue in defense of the economic sanctions and some students who will argue against the economic sanctions. Encourage all groups to visit the library and use the Internet to collect the rules of each embargo (including exceptions) and facts and opinions about the effects of the embargo to date. One good place to start is http://www.treas.gov/ofac, the Web site of the Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

4. Instruct students to use index cards to keep notes on important background information about the embargo they are researching and information that supports either side of the argument. They should keep index cards in support of the embargo in one pile and cards in opposition to the embargo in another pile. Remind students to note on each index card the source of the information on the card.

5. After groups have completed their research, have them organize so that each member will present one important argument, backed up by facts and expert opinions, with sources cited. Groups should also review any information they found that supports the opposing side so that they will be prepared to rebut their opponents' arguments.

6. Allow time for each pair of groups to debate each other. Then have the class vote on which group in each pair presented the stronger argument.

Instead of having your students conduct their own research about economic sanctions, you can present to them the basic arguments for and against embargoes. Instead of holding a formal debate, you can simply encourage class discussion about the merits of both positions.

1. Nelson Mandela used his time in prison to imagine what life could be like in South Africa after apartheid had been abolished. He envisioned a peaceful, egalitarian society based on reconciliation between the races. Consider the extent to which his vision now exists in South Africa, as well as in the United States and other countries around the world.
2. Nelson Mandela is considered to be an international icon. He is regarded as a symbol of peace and reconciliation between the races. List and discuss some of the personal qualities and experiences that brought him this status. What other leaders today and throughout time have been, or should be, considered icons? Why?
3. Steven Biko, an early leader of the radical black consciousness movement in South Africa, believed that “the most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Discuss what he meant by this statement, and consider the extent to which you agree with him.
4. Archbishop Desmond Tutu said, “Mandela's miracle is that some people forgive despite the horrors committed against them and their loved ones in the name of apartheid.” Discuss the act of forgiveness in the historical context of apartheid. Consider other historical events for which forgiveness has been extremely difficult, if not impossible. What is the impact of forgiveness on those being forgiven and on those who offer it?
5. Although South African laws have been changed and provisions have been made for a Government of National Unity, the true abolition of apartheid will have to occur in the hearts and minds of all South Africans. This means that an attitudinal change must occur in addition to the legal one. To encourage this change, South Africa's Department of Constitutional Development has established a Directorate for Constitutional Education. Predict and discuss the potential role of such an agency. Examine its prescribed role at http://www.gov.za/yearbook/govsys.htm, then evaluate it against your predictions.
6. Archbishop Desmond Tutu played a large role in delivering Mandela's message. Called the single most unifying voice of the time, Tutu was an Anglican archbishop ostensibly promoting a political cause. Other religious leaders behaving similarly include Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. Discuss the potential political roles of religious leaders in bringing about political change.

You can evaluate your students on their group's arguments using the following three-point rubric:
- Three points:complete facts; well-organized presentation; logical, persuasive arguments

- Two points:more research needed; well-organized presentation; clear arguments

- One point:few facts; disorganized presentation; weak arguments

You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining how many facts should be required and what constitutes a well-organized presentation.

Looking Out for Humanity

Human Rights Watch is an organization “dedicated to protecting the human rights of people around the world.” According to its Website, http://www.hrw.org, it “stand[s] with victims and activists to prevent discrimination [as in apartheid], to uphold political freedom, to protect people from inhumane conduct in wartime, and to bring offenders to justice.” For example, Human Rights Watch has fought against child labor in the military, investigated land mines, and denounced genocide. Use the information provided by this organization as a springboard for further research. Ask your students to begin a classroom human rights watch of their own. Highlight on a world map the locations where human rights are in danger, and invite small groups to monitor situations of conflict. Encourage them to learn the background of these current situations. Then schedule times for groups to provide regular classroom updates.

Rainbow Country

By its own description at http://www.gov.za/yearbook/rainbow.htm, South Africa is a “rainbow country.” According to the 1996 census figures, there were 40,580,000 people in South Africa. Of these, 76.7 percent classified themselves as African, 10.9 percent as white, 8.9 percent as colored, and 2.6 percent as Asian. South Africa has actually become more heterogeneous since the end of apartheid. Other countries, such as Japan, tend to remain homogeneous. Have your students investigate the homogeneity and heterogeneity of selected countries around the world by collecting statistics about their population distributions across the 20th century. Direct students to graph and chart their findings for oral or written reports about population changes and trends.

Population Diversity and Human Rights

Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela. Little, Brown & Co., 1995.

Mandela's strong and generous spirit is revealed to readers as they take in his personal story. Students learn of his tribal years, his leadership of the anti-apartheid movement, his time spent in prison, and his return to leadership in South Africa. Not only is this autobiography a tale of one of our century's greatest leaders, it is also a compelling read.
No More Strangers Now

Tim McKee, Timothy Saunders McKee, Anne Blackshaw, and Desmond Tutu. DK Publishing, 1998.

This book is intended to welcome high school students with the honest voices of 12 South African teens from diverse experiences under apartheid. Blackshaw's black-and-white photographs and captions bring focus to these young people who share a part of world history. This wonderful book also connects readers to the changes in South Africa today.

Truth and Reconciliation Commission

The African Truth and Reconciliation Commission offers "a necessary exercise to enable South Africans to come to terms with their past on a morally accepted basis and to advance the cause of reconciliation."

South Africa Online

This is the South Africa government web site. It offers a thorough look at what is happening in South Africa post-apartheid.

African National Congress

The African National Congress is the majority party in South Africa. It features a page on Nelson Mandela.

Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation

This site contains press statements, publications, resources and an extensive list of related links

South Africa: A Country Study

This is the Library of Congress country study on South Africa. It is extremely comprehensive and contains extensive information on apartheid



The act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.


One question that remains after the abolition of apartheid in South Africa is that of amnesty for the perpetrators of the crimes.


A policy of segregation and political and economic discrimination against non-European groups in the Republic of South Africa.


In Afrikaans apartheid means “apartness,” and that is exactly what the South African apartheid government sought.


Unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power.


Black children were forced to learn in Afrikaans, the language of their oppression.


The act of restoring to friendship or harmony.


The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was designed to help the victims of apartheid rehabilitate their lives.


Incitement of resistance to or insurrection against lawful authority.


Many of the freedom fighters were arrested and convicted of sedition.

Grade Level:

6-8, 9-12

Subject Area:

world history


Understands how post-World War II reconstruction occurred, new international power relations took shape, and colonial empires broke up.


Benchmark 6-8:

Understands factors that brought about the political and economic transformation of Western and Eastern Europe after World War II (e.g., how Western European countries and Japan achieved rapid economic recovery after the war; the impact of the Marshall Plan, the European Economic Community, government planning, and the growth of welfare states upon the political stabilization of Western Europe; the formations of the Warsaw Pact and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization after the war, and which countries have participated in each of these pacts; why Germany and Berlin were divided after the 1948 crisis, and the resulting problems).

Benchmark 6-8:

Understands reasons for the shift in government in Africa and how Africans responded (e.g., reasons for the replacement of parliamentary-style governments with military regimes and one-party states in much of Africa, how Africans survived and resisted apartheid).

Benchmark 9-12:

Understands political conditions in Africa after World War II (e.g., the moral, social, political, and economic implications of apartheid; the diverse leadership and governing styles of African regimes through the second half of the 20th century).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands patterns of global change in the era of Western military and economic dominance from 1800 to 1914.


Understands influences on European migration, immigration, and emigration patterns throughout the world between 1846 and 1932 (e.g., the geographical, political, economic, and epidemiological factors that contributed to the success of European colonial settlements in various regions; possible connections of the rise of the Zulu Empire in South Africa to European settlements in the Cape Region; relations between migrating European and African peoples that laid the foundation for the apartheid system in the 20th century; how technology such as the steamship and the railroad facilitated emigration).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:


Understands the impact of significant political and nonpolitical developments on the United States and other nations.

Understands the influence that American ideas about rights have had on other nations and international organizations (e.g., French Revolution; democracy movements in Eastern Europe, People's Republic of China, Latin America, South Africa; United Nations Charter; Universal Declaration of Human Rights).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the search for community, stability, and peace in an interdependent world.


Understands rates of economic development and the emergence of different economic systems around the globe (e.g., systems of economic management in communist and capitalist countries, as well as the global impact of multinational corporations; the impact of black markets, speculation, and trade in illegal products on national and global markets; patterns of inward, outward, and internal migration in the Middle East and North Africa, types of jobs involved, and the impact of the patterns upon national economies; the rapid economic development of East Asian countries in the late 20th century, and the relatively slow development of sub-Saharan African countries).


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