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A New Frontier: Using International and Regional Human Rights to Address Inequality in Education

Tue, March 7, 10:00 to 11:30am, Sheraton Atlanta, Floor: 1, Georgia 9 (South Tower)


By ratifying international treaties that protect the right to education, many States have agreed to be held accountable for the fulfilment of their obligations by the international bodies tasked with monitoring and enforcing the right to education. There are a multitude of regional and international judicial and quasi-judicial mechanisms in which to advocate for greater protection of the right to education. The aim is to examine how civil society organizations (CSOs) can engage with the international and regional human rights system to address the growing inequalities and human rights issues raised by privatization in education.

As most of the accountability mechanisms are relatively unfamiliar, the first part maps out the different options that exist: the UN human rights treaty bodies such as the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; The Convention on Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; Convention on the Rights of the Child; UN Human Rights Council mandate holders, such as the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education and the Working Group on Discrimination Against Women in Law and Practice; and the regional human rights bodies the European Court of Human Rights; the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and African Court of Human Rights.

There are significant strengths but also weaknesses in using international forums as part of a strategic plan to realize the right to education. It is imperative to understand how these mechanisms function, the scope of their remedial powers and the legal status of the decisions. Building upon this, the second part assesses how CSOs can best use the international system to hold the state and private actors to account for the delivery of education. CSOs have traditionally spent a significant amount of resources compiling shadow reports to the periodic reporting process in the UN human rights framework. They have been crucial in providing information often overlooked in the state report. There have been some successes in highlighting the dangers of privatization. However, there is unlocked potential in the shadowing report process. Drawing on best practices from the CEDAW Committee, it can also be used to direct treaty monitoring bodies on how to engage with states in the constructive dialogue process.

It also crucial to explore the potential of overlooked mechanisms including country visits from UN Special Rapporteurs and individual complaints procedures. Of particular interest are the ICESCR complaints mechanism which allows collective as well as individual complaints, as are the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. The introduction of an international complaints procedure for child rights violations holds particular promise in light of the recent statement by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the UK funding of low-fee, private and informal schools run by for-profit business enterprises could be contributing to the violation of children’s rights in countries receiving the UK’s development aid.


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