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Drafting committee welcomes the recognition of the Abidjan Principles by the United Nations Human Rights Council

Professor Ann Skelton, chair of the drafting committee, handing over the Abidjan Principles to the Minister of Education in Abidjan on 13 February 2019.

Professor Ann Skelton, chair of the drafting committee, handing over the Abidjan Principles to the Minister of Education in Abidjan on 13 February 2019.

The members of the committee that drafted the Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education welcome the adoption last week by the United Nations Human Rights Council of a resolution recognising the Abidjan Principles.

The Abidjan Principles drafting committee was made up of nine international experts from six continents, and was chaired by Professor Ann Skelton. The committee led the drafting of the Abidjan Principles on the right to education based on the consultations, background information and other experts’ inputs. The Abidjan Principles were eventually adopted by over 50 of the most eminent experts worldwide on the right to education.

Other members of the committee included Professor Aoife Nolan (Ireland, University of Nottingham), Dr Jacqueline Mowbray (Australia, University of Sydney), Jayna Kothari (India), Dr Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona (Chile), Dr Maria Smirnova (Russia), Roman Zinigrad (Israel), Professor Sandra Fredman (South Africa, University of Oxford), and Sandra Epal-Ratjen (France). 

Professor Ann Skelton, the UNESCO Chair for education law in Africa and a professor at the University of Pretoria, who was chairing the drafting committee, said: “The committee worked to ensure that the Abidjan Principles provide a rigorous legal analysis of existing standards, and respond to the needs and realities of States, children, parents, and other education stakeholders. We are delighted that States value this effort, and we look forward to continuing a dialogue with them about the implementation of the Principles.” 

Professor Sandra Fredman added: “Everyone, whatever their economic or social circumstances, has a fundamental right to quality education. The Abidjan Principles reassert the State's duty to fulfil this right equitably both in the public and private sector. By endorsing the Principles, the Human Rights Council has taken a crucial step towards making this right a reality for countless children who are still being denied quality education.

According to Jayna Kothari, “the Abidjan Principles make an important contribution to elaborating the right to education especially with regard to the role of private actors. These Principles will provide guidance to State authorities, institutions and courts in protecting and implementing the right to education.”

Dr Jacqueline Mowbray said: “An important aspect of the Abidjan Principles is clarification of the right to public education, and guidance for States on their obligations to provide such education. It is wonderful to see States, through the Human Rights Council, embracing this important element of the Principles.”

The Human Rights Council's recognition of the Abidjan Principles and strong statements on private actor involvement in education are to be welcomed. They reflect growing global concern with the implications of the commercialisation of education - both for the realisation of the right to education and for the  achievement of SDG4 on education,” said Professor Aoife Nolan. 

Dr Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona reacted: "The global contribution and relevance of the Abidjan Principles have been demonstrated by their rapid endorsement. In the few months since their adoption, they have been recognised by several human rights monitoring mechanisms, including the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Human Rights Council. We expect that their implementation will mark a turning point in ensuring the right to education for all."

Dr Maria Smirnova concluded: “The Abidjan Principles strived to achieve the delicate balance between the freedom of education, in particular, the liberty to establish or choose educational institutions other than public schools, and the State’s obligation to provide good quality public education to all eligible children under their jurisdiction. This year’s Human Rights Council resolution on the right to education adopted by consensus is an excellent confirmation of the fact that most States agree with the balance achieved in the Abidjan Principles.”

The Abidjan Principles on the right to education unpack existing human rights standards on the right to education in order to provide more guidance about the right to education in a changing context, marked in particular by the growth of private actors’ involvement in education. Following their adoption in February 2019 in Côte d’Ivoire, the Abidjan Principles were recognised in a resolution of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, analysed by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education in her latest report,  and noted in a document of the Global Partnership for Education, the main global multilateral fund for education.

As a text detailing existing human rights obligations already binding on States, the Abidjan Principles do not require formal adoption by States. They seek to support States and other stakeholders in implementing the right to education by providing more detailed guidance based on the analysis of decades of jurisprudence, legal practice and scholar analysis, as well as feedback from government officials, education practitioners, and civil society on the ground. 

For more information on the Abidjan Principles, see: https://www.abidjanprinciples.org/