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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Scholz

UN Human Rights Council strengthens public education - a landmark decision supported by BEPC

(Geneva/Patna, 15 July 2019) The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) unanimously adopted last Thursday a new resolution on the right to education and in doing so firmly recognised the Abidjan Principles on the right to education. This is the first formal recognition to date by States of this new instrument, the Human Rights Council being made up of 47 States elected by their peers.

The Abidjan Principles were adopted in February 2019 by over 50 eminent experts on the right to education, following a three-year consultative process with decision-makers, communities and practitioners. This landmark text unpacks existing human rights law regarding the obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education. It is quickly becoming one of the reference instruments on the right to education, in particular in the context of the growing privatisation and commercialisation of education worldwide.

“The recognition by the Human Rights Council of the Abidjan Principles is truly historic. It is a reflection of the rigour behind the process to draft these Principles, and of the demand from States to have more precise guidance and a coherent rights framework to reflect on their education policies”, said Delphine Dorsi, from the Right to Education Initiative.

The HRC resolution on the right to education was adopted unanimously without a vote, and has been sponsored so far by 75 States from every region. This broad support reflects the many positive statements regarding the Abidjan Principles made by States during the dialogue with the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to an education that took place in Geneva two weeks ago. A range of States from all continents - including in particular Ivory Coasts, where the Principles were adopted - supported the inclusion of the Abidjan Principles in the resolution.

I am delighted that African States and institutions at the highest level are taking the lead in responding to the increasing threats to the right to education, in particular the unregulated growth of the private sector. This is a worldwide phenomenon however, and it is important that global standards be set, as the Human Rights Council did,” stated Paulin Junior Kouamé, from the Ivorian Network for the Promotion of Education for All.

This resolution adds to the growing momentum in support of the Abidjan Principles. In May, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted a resolution recognising the Abidjan Principles as guidelines for States to meet their human rights obligations. In June, the Global Partnership for Education, the main global multilateral fund for education, took note of the Abidjan Principles in its new private sector engagement strategy. The UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education also dedicated her June 2019 report to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education in accordance with the Abidjan Principles.

Salima Namusobya, from the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights, commented: “The Human Rights Council Resolution sends a powerful message, as States are currently meeting in New-York to review the implementation of SDG 4. We are still far from meeting the SDG 4 targets, including to ensure 12 years of free quality education for all. The human rights framework offers not only a set of legally binding norms, but also tools that will enable States to fund and develop quality public education systems and put in place adequate regulation of private actors.

In a statement released today, the nine members of the committee that drafted the Abidjan Principles also welcomed the milestone HRC resolution.

There is now a global movement to put the right to education at the core of education policies. After years of failed attempts to improve education delivery by privatising or commercialising education systems, States and education stakeholders are realising that creating an anarchical education market is failing to deliver on the right to education, and that norms and standards are needed if we are serious about developing fair education systems”, added Sylvain Aubry, from the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

As in previous years, the HRC resolution also recognises “the significant importance of investment in public education” and urges States, among other recommendations, “to put in place a regulatory framework to ensure the regulation of all education providers” in order to address “any negative impact of the commercialization of education and strengthens access to appropriate remedies and reparation for victims of violations of the right to education”.

The Bihar Education Policy Center's take on the decision: "The Right to Education cannot be fulfilled without a clear commitment of governments to public education. For too long, Bihar has underinvested in its government schools. Turning this trend around requires deep reforms that are underpinned by substantial budgetary increases. With only around half of BEO posts filled, tens of thousands of teacher posts vacant, and an enormous number of schools that are dilapidated and violate legally binding minimum norms, Bihar cannot develop. The time for the government is now to invest in Bihar's future. We are committed to strategic partnerships with Blocks, Districts and States to support them in their reform journeys. The Abidjan Principles provide the cornerstone of the legal framework that can make this happen."

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