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Part Two: United Nations’ Commission on Human Rights


In July of 1964 Malcolm X attended the second meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). He presented a petition asking “In the interest of world peace, we beseech the heads of the independent African states to recommend an immediate investigation into our problem by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.” According to United Nations procedures, a nation can request a human rights investigation of another country on behalf of the people whose rights have been violated. The African heads of state discussed the proposition at the OAU summit but failed to bring the case before the United Nations based in part by pressure from the United States State Department.

Although the United Nations Commission of Human Rights never conducted the investigation, students will create a mock hearing and investigation. This simulation allows students to examine the human rights violations within the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s, viewpoints of African American leaders of the time, and review the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This exercise also serves as a model for potential investigations of current violations. Students will run the hearing, present various viewpoints, and act as journalists reporting on the investigation.

Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will learn about various stakeholders during a role play including; United Nations Commission Human Rights panel member, UN delegate, African American leader, United States citizen or journalist.
  • Students will research the backgrounds of various African American leaders and events of the African American Freedom Struggle.
  • Students will identify the human rights violations perpetrated against African Americans during the 1950’s and 1960’s.
  • Students will discuss the violations with their classmates during the role play.
  • Students will communicate in a written assignment the correlation between events and conditions for African Americans in the United States during the 1950’s and 1960’s and the human rights treaties of the United Nations.

Classroom set-up:

  • Class set of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).
  • Human Rights Role Play Handouts.
  • Access to online and print resources for students to conduct their research.   
  • For the simulated panel hearing, you will need 5 desks/chairs set up at the front for the members of the panel and 9 desks/chairs for the witnesses positioned in a semicircle facing the panel members. The rest of the class, including United Nations delegates and reporters will sit behind the witnesses, either in rows or a semicircle.
  • Markers and paper for students to create name placards and posters.


  1. Pass out role play handouts and read the introduction with the class. 
  2. Play the interview with Malcolm X in Cairo after the African Summit, which can be obtained from the Malcolm X Project at Columbia University.
  3. Review the UDHR and the events on the timeline from part one of the lesson.
  4. Assign roles and allow time for research. The panel members will need a place to discuss the procedures for the hearing while the other students conduct research.
  5. After students have had sufficient time to prepare, allow the panel to begin the hearing. The panel will conduct the hearing and the teacher will observe, providing guidance only when needed.
  6. At the close of the hearing the reporters will circulate the room asking questions of the panel members, United Nations delegates, African American leaders and citizens.
  7. While reporters are interviewing witnesses, citizens and delegates, the panel members reconvene to vote whether or not human rights violations have occurred and the recommended action, if any. The panel chairperson will make the announcement.
  8. After the announcement, students will return to their regular seats to complete their writing assignment. Each writing assignment depends on the role. Writing assignments include an editorial, a letter, a speech and a newspaper article. You may wish to display the various writing assignments on a board at the end of the activity.
  9. After the students complete their writing assignment, facilitate a class discussion. Consider the following questions:
    • Why did Malcolm X ask African nations to call for an investigation, why not European nations?
    • Did you agree with the conclusion of your classmates representing the panel?
    • Which human rights violations were the most serious? Why?
    • If the United Nations Commission on Human Rights had convened this hearing in 1964, what do you think the outcome would have been?
    • Why do you think the US State Department attempted to keep this hearing from occurring in 1964?
    • If a hearing like this took place in the United Nations about United States human rights violations today, which issues would be raised? Who would serve as witnesses and which human rights would they consider violated? What evidence would they provide?