A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not United Nations staff nor paid for his/her work. The Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
For more on Special Rapporteurs, please refer to Fact Sheet N° 27: Seventeen Frequently Asked Questions about United Nations Special Rapporteurs.
The human right to education
As defined by General Comment No. 13 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the body in charge of monitoring the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in the States which are party to it), “education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. Education has a vital role in empowering women, safeguarding children from exploitative and hazardous labour and sexual exploitation, promoting human rights and democracy, protecting the environment, and controlling population growth. Increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make. But the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence”. According to the Committee, “education in all its forms and at all levels shall exhibit the following interrelated and essential features: a) availability; b) accessibility; c) acceptability; and d) adaptability”.
For more on the human right to education, please refer to International Standards.
The obligations of States
The legal obligations of Governments concerning the right to education consist of (i) the duties found in article 2.1 of the Covenant; and (ii) the more specific obligations to recognize, respect, protect and fulfil this and other rights. In turn, the obligation to fulfil incorporates both an obligation to facilitate and an obligation to provide.
Three phrases in article 2.1 are particularly important for understanding the obligations of Governments to realize fully the rights recognized in the Covenant, including the right to education:
(a) "undertakes to take steps . . . by all appropriate means"
In addition to legislative measures, administrative, judicial, economic, social and educational steps must also be taken. States parties are also obliged to develop policies and set priorities consistent with the Covenant. They are also required to evaluate the progress of such measures and to provide effective legal or other remedies for violations.
(b) "to the maximum of its available resources
The obligation of States is to demonstrate that, in aggregate, the measures being taken are sufficient to realize the right to education for every individual in the shortest possible time using the maximum available resources.
(c) "to achieve progressively"
This obligation "to achieve progressively" must be read in the light of article 13 of the Covenant. The obligation of progressive realization, moreover, exists independently of any increase in resources. Above all, it requires effective use of resources available.
The additional obligations that Governments have to fulfill in order to implement the right to education are:
The obligation to respect the right to education. It implies that States must avoid measures that hinder or prevent the enjoyment of the right to education.
The obligation to protect the right to education. It implies that States parties must take measures that prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the right to education.
The obligation to fulfil (facilitate) the right to education. It implies that States must take positive measures that enable and assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to education.
The obligation to fulfil (provide) the right to education. As a general rule, States parties are obliged to provide a specific right in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights when an individual or group is unable, for reasons beyond their control, to realize the right themselves by the means at their disposal.
For more on the obligations of States, please refer to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 13 on the right to education and to General Comment No. 3 on the nature of States parties’ obligations (art.2 (1)).
Implementation of the mandate by the Special Rapporteur
The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the right to education was originally established by the Commission on Human Rights in April 1998 by resolution 1998/33. Subsequent to the replacement of the Commission by the Human Rights Council in June 2006, the mandate was endorsed and extended by the Human Rights Council resolution 8/4 of 12 June 2008. For more information on the history of the mandate, please refer to Overview of the mandate .
- In the fulfilment of his mandate, the Special Rapporteur:
- Undertakes Country Visits (see Country visits);
- Responds to information received on allegations concerning violations of the right to education in particular countries (see Individual complaints);
- Develops constructive dialogue with Governments, civil society and other relevant actors with a view to identify solutions for the implementation of the right to education.
- Submits annual reports to the Human Rights Council and to the General Assembly covering the activities relating to the mandate (see Annual reports).