Human Rights Council Discusses Report on Cultural Dimension of Right to Education and Concludes Debate with Special Rapporteur

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this morning started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education in which she presented a report on the cultural dimension of the right to education.  It also concluded the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health on her strategic priorities.

Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, presented her thematic report on the cultural dimensions of the right to education and crucial elements for the realisation of the universal right to an inclusive and quality education, as required by the Sustainable Development Goal 4.  This work helped to understand the right to education as a cultural right in its own right.  All States, as well as all other actors in the field of education, were called upon to adopt this approach because it made the content of the right to an inclusive and quality education more substantial.  Understanding the right to education as a cultural right brought about several shifts in perspective.

In the discussion, some speakers noted that quality education must reflect learners’ identities and lived realities in all their diversity such as gender; gender identity or sexual orientation; ethnic, linguistic or religious background; disability; diversity linked to socio-economic situation; and migration background.  Thanking the Special Rapporteur for the report, speakers emphasised that educational institutions should take advantage of this diversity and use it as an opportunity to strengthen school curricula.  The devastating effects of COVID-19 on education systems across the world was noted by many speakers, who expressed concern over the disruptions experienced by learners during the pandemic.

Speaking were Finland on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Egypt on behalf of the Group of Arab States, Nigeria on behalf of a group of countries, United Nations Children’s Fund, Qatar, Sierra Leone, France, Paraguay, Indonesia, Libya, Portugal, Cuba, Israel, Czech Republic, Republic of Korea, United Arab Emirates, Senegal, Bahrain, Iraq, Armenia, Burkina Faso, China, India, Maldives,  Morocco, Algeria, Venezuela, United States, Egypt, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Botswana, Namibia, Malaysia, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, Georgia, United Kingdom, and El Salvador.

In the discussion with the Special Rapporteur on physical and mental health, speakers said that COVID-19 had exposed existing fault lines and structural weaknesses in the world’s health infrastructure.  Lack of preparedness and infrastructural deficiencies had made countries unable to respond.  While commending that eight vaccines had been developed and approved by the World Health Organization, vaccine nationalism was condemned, as vaccines were a public good and should be available to all.  Some delegations warned that unilateral coercive measures also had a disproportionate impact on health, including access to vaccines. 

Tlaleng Mofokeng, Special Rapporteur on the right to health, in her interim remarks, said that she was addressing violations to the right to health in relation to the COVID-19 crisis and had engaged with other parts of the United Nations system.  The right to health contained freedoms and entitlements to health protection systems.  Adverse health outcomes were not only consequences of genetics but also the result of the oppressive systems that had set up racial discrimination and it was very important for the intersectional legal frameworks to be set up.  Transparency and use of intersectional legal frameworks were means to achieving equality and leaving no one behind.  Access to medicine was inherently linked to the right to equality and human rights were a bedrock for ensuring universal healthcare. 

Speaking were Bangladesh, India, Sierra Leone, Maldives, Morocco, Algeria, Venezuela, United Nations Population Fund, United States, Egypt, Jordan, Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Namibia, Malaysia, South Africa, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Pakistan, Belgium, Timor-Leste, Georgia, United Kingdom, Chad, Mauritania, Thailand, UN Women, Djibouti, Russian Federation, Ukraine, International Development Law Organization, Panama, Tunisia, Cambodia, Bulgaria, Malawi, Iran, and Eritrea.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Action Canada for Population and Development, Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Inc., Swedish Federation of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights – RFSL, IDPC Consortium, Minority Rights Group, Associazione Comunita Papa Giovanni XXIII, and iuventum e.V.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet at 3 p.m. this afternoon to continue the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity and, time permitting, an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education will resume at 10.m. on Friday, 25 June.

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health

The interactive dialogue with Tlaleng Mofokeng, the Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, started on 23 June and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers stated that COVID-19 had exposed existing fault lines and structural weaknesses in the world’s health infrastructure.  Lack of preparedness and infrastructural deficiencies had left countries unable to respond.  While commending that eight vaccines had been developed and approved by the World Health Organization, vaccine nationalism was condemned, as vaccines were a public good and should be available to all.  The digital divide was impeding people from having access to advanced digital technologies.  The Rapporteur was asked whether it would be a good idea to develop a database that would compile international efforts of assistance and also identify needs.  Some countries warned that unilateral coercive measures also had a disproportionate impact on health, including access to vaccines.  It was underlined that the report emphasised the necessity to address historical disparities that were affecting women and girls, particularly marginalised ones.  The Rapporteur was asked about best ways to address emerging health security threats.  The impact of racial discrimination on health was also underlined. 

Interim Remarks by the Special Rapporteur

TLALENG MOFOKENG, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, said that she was addressing violations to the right to health in relation to the COVID-19 crisis and engaged with other parts of the United Nations system, the specialised United Nations agencies, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and regional instruments.  In addition, she had held consultations with medical professional organizations, academia and civil society.  The right to health contained freedoms and entitlements to health protection systems.  Healthcare practitioners had to be guided by their ethical obligations in the execution of their duties.  Adverse health outcomes were not only consequences of genetics but also the result of the oppressive systems that had set up racial discrimination and it was very important for the intersectional legal frameworks to be set up.  Training at the community level of health providers was necessary for the proper provision of healthcare.  As for best practices, the Rapporteur would work together with the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance to identify actionable recommendations on how to embed best practices in health care.  Transparency and use of intersectional legal frameworks were means to achieving equality and leaving no one behind.  Access to medicine was inherently linked to the right to equality and human rights were a bedrock for ensuring universal healthcare.  The world needed a proper stewardship to ensure no one was left behind as developing countries needed support in scaling up their systems. 

Discussion

Speakers broadly welcomed most of the recommendations provided by the report, agreeing that contextualised human experiences must inform Governments’ efforts to realise the right to health.  The Special Rapporteur’s treatment of sexual and reproductive health was welcomed, including with regard to same-sex relations, with speakers asking her about the ways she would ensure the participation of people experiencing discrimination on multiple grounds throughout her work.  Other speakers noted that the Special Rapporteur was correct to speak about the right of reproductive health, but not about sexual rights, which were not recognised by international law.  It was not correct to delineate a specific protected category of sexual minorities and build Government health infrastructure around it – that resulted in discrimination, according to some speakers.  Explicit naming of racism and coloniality as key factors in perpetuating systems of privilege and disadvantage was welcomed by some speakers who called for the transformation of systems of power that perpetuated and benefitted from these grotesque inequalities.  Some speakers said that transgender and gender diverse people were particularly vulnerable, facing a lack of access to trans-competent healthcare, and transphobic biases in the medical corps. 

Concluding Remarks

TLALENG MOFOKENG, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had had an impact on every single human right.  Innovation, digital technologies, racism, and the right to health were some of the focus areas that the Special Rapporteur would focus on in the future, especially in ways these intersected with sexual and reproductive rights.  It was important to continue using the policy approach to the right to health.  The COVID-19 pandemic had reminded everyone that the realisation of the right to health required global solidarity – vaccines should be available globally. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

Report

The Council has before it the report (A/HRC/47/32) of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education on the right to education: the cultural dimensions of the right to education, or the right to education as a cultural right

Presentation of the Report

KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said she was presenting her thematic report on the cultural dimensions of the right to education and crucial elements for the realisation of the universal right to an inclusive and quality education, as required by the Sustainable Development Goal 4.  This work helped to understand the right to education as a cultural right in its own right.  All States, as well as all other actors in the field of education, were called to adopt this approach because it made the content of the right to an inclusive and quality education more substantial.  Inclusive and quality education allowed the development of cultural diversity and individual cultural rights.  Adopting a holistic approach was relevant both for formal as well as informal education.  Cultural diversity embodied the diversity of peoples and all actors who participated in educational life, diversity of knowledge and disciplines.  Thus, understanding the right to education as a cultural right brought about several shifts in perspective.

Several main principles and lines of action were identified that would allow education to be restored to its full cultural relevance.  These included the ability of actors in education systems to adapt to the diversity of the cultural resources of learners and of those present in the territories, also involving a capacity to appropriate these resources; the capacity for enrichment of all, based on the value of cultural resources, while respecting all human rights; the participation in the educational life of all relevant actors, including learners in all their diversity; and the establishment of participatory and systemic observation methods.  Cultural diversity must be approached by encompassing all the diversities – historical, heritage, social, those linked to gender or disabilities, and also those which were the result of situations of poverty or violence.  The right to participate in quality education meant that everyone had a chance to access, use and contribute to a diversity of knowledge.  All of this required a change of perspective to unlock the cultural potentials of the various groups of people, including the vulnerable. 

Discussion

In the ensuing dialogue, speakers noted that quality education must reflect learners’ identities and lived realities in all their diversity such as gender; gender identity or sexual orientation; ethnic, linguistic or religious background; disability;  diversity linked to socio-economic situation; and migration background.  Thanking the Special Rapporteur for the report, speakers emphasised that educational institutions should take advantage of this diversity and use it as an opportunity to strengthen school curricula.  Cultural diversity, however, could not be used as an excuse for discriminatory practices.  Children and youth must be actively encouraged and enabled to travel through mobility programmes in order to experience different cultures.  Many speakers brought up the ways in which their Governments fostered cultural diversity using educational programmes, while others noted that both homogeneous and heterogeneous societies should be allowed to forge their own paths in this regard.  The devastating effects of COVID-19 on the education systems across the world was noted by many speakers, who expressed concern over the disruptions experienced by learners during the pandemic.

Speakers firmly believed that the right to education for all children was a pillar on which rested the enjoyment of all other human rights and made it possible to fight against exclusion.  Some speakers asked the Rapporteur about how social cohesion could be strengthened through education despite cultural differences.  It was noted that cultural dimensions of the right to education were crucial to achieving the full realisation of the universal right to inclusive and quality education.  Food security, a conducive learning environment, and physical safety were vital pillars for creating an equitable space where children and adults could learn.  Measures to maximise education support had to include the needs of the most marginalised, especially women and girls, children in crisis, and persons with disabilities.  The Rapporteur was asked what actions she would take to support the educational needs of the most marginalised individuals who wanted to learn.  Speakers also outlined their efforts and activities in providing quality education in the midst of COVID-19 and switching to online mode.

Interim Remarks

KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, expressed gratitude to all States that had taken the floor and outlined the ways in which they were organising their education systems to promote cultural diversity.  Many had asked how cultural diversity could be further promoted.  Cultural diversity should be understood in its most broad meaning, including social diversity linked to gender or any form of disability.  It should include cultural resources and all disciplines.  It was necessary to define the societies that all wanted to achieve.  If all wanted just and peaceful as well as resilient societies, they had to provide inclusive education and incorporate education rights with cultural rights.  A child that went to school hungry would not be able to learn.  Open pedagogy allowed harnessing the potential of each child, student, or even elderly person.  As for lessons from the COVID-19 crisis, it was necessary to acknowledge that problems with quality education and access to education predated the pandemic.  COVID-19 had only revealed existing inequalities.  The second lesson was on the capacities of teachers’ networks and students – it was necessary to listen to these stakeholders in order to build peaceful and resilient societies. 

Discussion

Speakers declared that education was their top priority, along with ensuring that there was no discrimination in their education systems.  The populations in occupied territories remained vulnerable, however, specifically those belonging to ethnic minorities.  Girls suffered the most as millions were at risk of not returning to schools in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic – the barriers to girls’ education, which had existed before the pandemic, must be eliminated. 

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/06/conseil-des-droits-de-lhomme-le-manque-de-pertinence-culturelle

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. View in full here.