Education is a fundamental human right of every woman, man and child. However, millions are still deprived of educational opportunities every day, many as a result of social, cultural and economic factors.
UNESCO and the Right to Education Initiative (RTE) recently released the Right to education handbook, a key tool for those seeking to understand and advance that right. It is also an important reference for people working towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 by offering guidance on how to leverage legal commitment to the right to education.
Why is this handbook important?
The aim of this handbook is to make sure that everyone enjoys their right to education. Its objective is not to present the right to education as an abstract, conceptual, or purely legal concept, but rather to be action-oriented. It provides practical guidance on how to implement and monitor the right to education along with recommendations to overcome persistent barriers. It seeks to do this by:
- Increasing awareness and knowledge of the right to education. This includes the normative angle of the right to education, states’ legal obligations, the various sources of law, what states must do to implement it, how to monitor it, and how to increase accountability.
- Providing a summary of current debates and issues regarding education and what human rights law says about them, including on forced migration, education in emergencies, the privatization of education, and the challenge of reaching the most marginalized.
- Providing an overview of the UN landscape and its mechanisms, including a clear understanding of the role of UNESCO and more generally the United Nations, as well as all relevant actors in education, particularly civil society.
Who should use this handbook?
The handbook was developed to assist all stakeholders who have a crucial role to play in the promotion and implementation of the right to education. This includes:
- State officials, to ensure that education policies and practices are better aligned with human rights.
- Civil servants, policy-makers, ministers, and the ministry of education staff, officials working in ministries and departments of justice, development, finance, and statistics, as well as National Human Rights Institutions.
- Parliamentarians, their researchers and members of staff will find this handbook useful in evaluating and formulating education, human rights, and development legislation, and in implementing international human rights commitments to national law.
- Judges, magistrates, clerks, and lawyers and other judicial officials can use the material to explain the legal obligations of the state and how to apply them.
- Civil society including NGOs, development organizations, academics, researchers, teachers and journalists will benefit from this handbook as it includes guidance on how to incorporate the right to education in programmatic, research, and advocacy work.
Those who work for inter-governmental organizations, including at key UN agencies, will find this handbook useful in carrying out the mandate of their organizations. Private actors, multilateral and bilateral donors, and investors can use this handbook to ensure their involvement complies with human rights and that they understand and can apply their specific responsibilities.
How to use this handbook?
The handbook was designed to be accessible. Each chapter starts with the key questions addressed in the chapter and ends with a short summary consisting of key points and ‘ask yourself’ questions, designed to make the reader think deeper about issues raised in the chapter or to encourage people find out more about the situation in their own country.
For more than 70 years, UNESCO has been defending and advancing the right to education, which lies at the heart of its mandate. It recently ran a digital campaign on the #RightToEducation to mark the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
UN: Paraguay violated indigenous rights
Paraguay’s failure to prevent the toxic contamination of indigenous people’s traditional lands by commercial farming violates their rights and their sense of “home”, the UN Human Rights Committee said in a landmark ruling on Wednesday.
The Committee, which is made up of 18 independent experts from across the world, monitors countries’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Lands represent ‘home’
The decision on Paraguay (in Spanish) marked the first time it has affirmed that for indigenous people, “home” should be understood in the context of their special relationship with their territories, including their livestock, crops and way of life.
“For indigenous peoples, their lands represent their home, culture and community. Serious environmental damages have severe impacts on indigenous people’s family life, tradition, identity and even lead to the disappearance of their community. It dramatically harms the existence of the culture of the group as a whole,” said Committee member Hélène Tigroudja.
The decision stems from a complaint filed more than a decade ago on behalf of some 201 Ava Guarani people of the Campo Agua’e indigenous community, located in Curuguaty district in eastern Paraguay.
The area where they live is surrounded by large commercial farms which produce genetically modified soybeans through fumigation, a process which involves the use of banned pesticides.
Traditional life affected
Fumigation occurred continuously for more than 10 years and affected the indigenous community’s whole way of life, including killing livestock, contaminating waterways and harming people’s health.
The damage also had severe intangible repercussions, according to the UN committee. The disappearance of natural resources needed for hunting, fishing and foraging resulted in the loss of traditional knowledge. For example, ceremonial baptisms no longer take place as necessary materials no longer exist.
“By halting such ceremonies, children are denied a rite crucial to strengthening their cultural identity,” the Committee said. “Most alarmingly, the indigenous community structure is being eroded and disintegrated as families are forced to leave their land.”
The indigenous community brought the case to the Human Rights Committee after a lengthy and unsatisfactory administrative and judicial process in Paraguay’s courts.
“More than 12 years after the victims filed their criminal complaint regarding the fumigation with toxic agrochemicals, to which they have continued to be exposed throughout this period, the investigations have not progressed in any meaningful way and the State party has not justified the delay,” the Committee said in its decision.
Members found Paraguay did not adequately monitor the fumigation and failed to prevent contamination, adding “this failure in its duty to provide protection made it possible for the large-scale, illegal fumigation to continue for many years, destroying all components of the indigenous people’s family life and home.”
The Committee recommended that Paraguay complete the criminal and administrative proceedings against all parties responsible and make full reparation to the victims.
The authorities are also urged to take all necessary measures, in close consultation with the indigenous community, to repair the environmental damage, and to work to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future.
Girlpower from Tajikistan to Costa Rica, helps narrow gender gap online
A marked global gender gap in terms of internet use continues to grow, but from Syria to Costa Rica, girls are increasingly pushing back to try and narrow the gap.
The gender gap for online users has widened from 11 per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2019, and in the world’s least developed countries, it reaches 43 per cent.
This year, to mark International Day of the Girl Child, taking place on Monday, the UN is showing how the pandemic has accelerated the use of digital platforms, but also highlighting girls’ different realities when it comes to getting online.
Below, you can read stories from across the UN, featuring how five girls, from five different countries, are using technology to build a better future.
In his message for the day, the UN Secretary-General noted that these girls and all the others “are part of a digital generation.”
“It is our responsibility to join with them in all their diversity, amplify their power and solutions as digital change-makers, and address the obstacles they face in the digital space”, he said.
The path to girls’ digital equality is steep. In more than two thirds of all countries, girls make up only 15 per cent of graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths, known by the acronym, STEM.
In middle and higher-income countries, only 14 per cent of girls who were top performers in science or mathematics expected to work in science and engineering, compared to 26 per cent of top-performing boys.
“Girls have equal ability and immense potential in these fields, and when we empower them, everyone benefits,” Mr. Guterres said.
He recalled seeing this long before he began his political career, when he was a teacher in Lisbon, Portugal, and “witnessed the power of education to uplift individuals and communities.”
“That experience has guided my vision for gender equality in education ever since”, he explained. “Investments in closing the digital gender divide yield huge dividends for all.”
Tied to this, the UN has a new platform, called Generation Equality Action Coalition on Technology and Innovation, where governments, civil society, the private sector and young leaders, are coming together to support girls’ digital access, skills and creativity.
“The United Nations is committed to working with girls so that this generation, whoever they are and whatever their circumstances, can fulfil their potential”, Mr. Guterres assured.
Yemen’s future recovery hangs in balance
Ongoing conflict and violence across Yemen continue to impact heavily on the country’s people who desperately need the fighting to end, so that they can rebuild their lives, the UN’s senior humanitarian official in the country said on Monday.
“I’ve seen the destruction of schools, of factories, of roads and bridges; I’ve seen the destruction of power systems so what made Yemen work seven years ago in many cases no longer exists”, said David Gressly, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Yemen.
Speaking in Geneva after a weekend that saw a car bomb at Aden airport reportedly leave 25 people dead and 110 injured, the veteran aid worker warned about arecent escalation of fighting in the oil-rich northern province of Marib.
Fighting cuts access
“This is now adding to additional displacement in that area, a place where we already have over a million people displaced”, he said. “And secondly, we have enclaves where fighting is continuing where we’re not able to provide support”.
Longstanding concerns over potential famine in the country prompted a UN-led appeal for $3.6 billion in funding in March that has raised nearly $2.1 billion to date.
An additional $500-$600 million was also pledged during the recent UN General Assembly, Mr. Gressly added, noting that although the international response has been higher than for other emergencies, “it’s been particularly focused – and we understand why – on the food security and nutrition side, for most immediate lifesaving response”.
This has left the situation inside Yemen “very fragile and if that’s not sustained, if we’re not getting the new pledges on time…in 2022, we will revert back to where we were in March”, Mr. Gressly insisted.
He explained that people needed more than emergency care: “Health, education, water, access and support to IDPs (internally displaced people) and livelihood support; those are almost all funded below 20 per cent, and so while the lifesaving is important, we can’t, we cannot afford to ignore the rest”.
Civil service need support
Critical to Yemen’s recovery is support for the country’s civil servants, many of whom have not been paid in many months, amid conflict between the internationally backed government of Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and Houthi opposition forces, who occupy much of the north of the country.
Mr. Gressly stressed the importance of finding ways to support these civil servants as they are key to the country’s recovery – and the UN’s aid programmes. Without them, “the whole humanitarian response” risks becoming more expensive”, he said.
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