At the 35th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) states reaffirmed their commitment to the right to education by adopting resolutions on the right to education and the right to education of girls. The resolution on the right to education, led by Portugal and sponsored by 37 states, welcomes the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education’s most recent report on non-formal education which she presented to the HRC on 6 June 2017. The resolution highlights several global issues regarding enjoyment of the right to education, including the increasing commercialisation of education; the negative impact of climate change, natural disasters, conflict and crisis on education; and gender barriers in education.
Notably, the resolution strongly condemns the ‘recurring attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities, which impair the realisation of the right to education and cause severe and long-lasting harm to individuals and societies.’ This focus on education in emergencies emerged as a key concern of states during the informal meetings held prior to the adoption of the resolution, where a number of states requested that the Safe Schools Declaration be included in the resolution.
The resolution urges all states to give full effect to the right to education through various means, including by ‘assessing the quality of education, […] through independent assessments, and taking appropriate remedial or other action to address policies or practices that prevent the enjoyment of the right to education’. The resolution also calls for states to make the right to education justiciable at both the national and international levels.
Lastly, the resolution extends the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education for a further three years.
On 19 June 2017, the HRC adopted a resolution on the right to education of girls, led by the United Arab Emirates and supported by 18 states. The resolution calls attention to the myriad barriers faced by girls in the enjoyment of the right to education and urges states to:
- eliminate all barriers that hinder girls equal enjoyment of the right to education
- eliminate all forms of school-related violence against girls
- eliminate discriminatory laws, policies, customs, traditions, practices, for instance on child marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, female genital mutilation, and gender stereotypes
- eliminate gender stereotypes in education, including in textbooks, teaching methods, and the curriculum, and to encourage girls to study non-traditional subjects
- provide adequate access to water and safe, separate and quality sanitation facilities in schools
The resolution recognises the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights’ (OHCHR) recent report on girls’ education, requested in a previous HRC resolution, which underlines the multiple and intersecting obstacles that limit effective and equal access of girls to education and highlights good practices to address those barriers.
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Meanwhile, down the road in Palais Wilson, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Committee; CESCR) was also in session monitoring implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966, ICESCR), a key UN treaty guaranteeing the right to education, in Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Australia, Uruguay, Liechtenstein, and the Netherlands.
During the session the Committee started a four year pilot of an updated procedure for follow-up to concluding observations (automatic download). The procedure, which forsees the appointment of a rapporteur to oversee the process, allows the Committee to assess a state’s efforts to comply with ICESCR outside of the normal five year reporting cycle.
The procedure focuses on up to three recommendations made to the state by the Committee. The recommendations are selected on the basis that they require urgent action, and that any action should be attainable within a period of 18 months. Mikel Mancisidor, vice chair of the Committee, noted that the the recommendations will also be selected based on the imminence of the issue, for example, if a new law is about to be enacted that would curtail the enjoyment of economic, social, and cultural rights, and concurrence with other UN treaty body recommendations.
Once the recommendations have been selected, the state is expected to provide a supplementary report on its efforts to address the recommendations within 18 months of its original review.
The procedure is also open to NHRIs and civil society, which can submit information on the recommendations selected for follow-up within the same timeframe or immediately following the reply of the State party. The Committee then assesses whether sufficient progress has been made in implementing the recommendations, and if not the issue is flagged in the state’s next review.
In addition to its monitoring activities, CESCR released its latest general comment on state obligations under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the context of business activities. The general comment highlights the potential human rights risks in the private provision of goods and services essential to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including: a decline in quality for the sake of increased profit and barriers to access due to higher prices, which it warns may lead to ‘new forms of socio-economic segregation’. CESCR cites the example of the negative human rights impacts of the privatisation of education, particularly ‘where private educational institutions lead to making high-quality education a privilege affordable only to the wealthiest segments of society, or where they are insufficiently regulated, providing a form of education that does not meet minimum educational standards while giving a convenient excuse for States parties not to discharge their own duties towards the fulfilment of the right to education.’ (Para. 22).