GENEVA (7 June 2017) - The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting concluded its clustered interactive dialogue with Annalisa Ciampi, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and with Koumbou Boly Barry, Special Rapporteur on the right to education.
In the discussion on peaceful assembly and association, speakers noted with concern the shrinking space for civil society, including in the digital domain. Indeed, increasing constriction was one of the main threats to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. A vibrant civil society was key for maintaining a healthy and participatory democracy, and could only function where free assembly and freedom of speech were guaranteed. The right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association were essential for democracy, and indeed, peaceful assembly was an indispensable condition for progress and democratic debate.
On the right to education, delegations roundly expressed approval and support for non-formal education, especially when it came to ensuring access to education for vulnerable groups such as refugee children. Non-formal education could also help disadvantaged groups to catch up. A multi-stakeholder approach was needed to determine educational needs. Some delegations underlined the importance of education as a precondition for access to other rights, while others noted that access to education was a legal and moral priority. Notwithstanding the importance of non-formal education, one speaker said such education could be misused to spread violent and extremist ideas.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Ciampi noted that there was a shared recognition of the fundamental role of civil society, adding that most statements reflected a general awareness that the space for civil society was shrinking. The main source of that shrinking came from States. Ms. Ciampi therefore called on Member States to stop applying restrictive measures.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Boly Barry thanked speakers for the feedback she had received during the discussion, adding that she was reassured by what she had heard from civil society and States. There was a recognition of non-formal education, literacy and practices; it was important to define the roles of civil society and the Government in the education sector. Each should assume responsibilities in which they performed well or better.
The summaries of the presentations of the Special Rapporteurs’ reports can be read here.
The United Kingdom, United States and Chile spoke as concerned countries at the start of the meeting.
Speaking were Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Tunisia on behalf of the African Group, Viet Nam, Qatar, Malaysia, United Arab Emirates, Estonia, Russian Federation, Czechia, Greece, Saudi Arabia, Montenegro, Maldives, Denmark, Cuba, Belgium, Spain, United States, Togo, Mexico, Switzerland, El Salvador, Sudan, Argentina, Ethiopia, Germany, Pakistan, Kuwait, France, Sweden, Venezuela, Brazil, China, Egypt, Latvia, Afghanistan, Albania, South Africa, Portugal, Iran, Israel, Tunisia, Ecuador, Nigeria, Bolivia, Iraq, Georgia, Indonesia, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, State of Palestine, Ireland, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation, Slovakia, Sierra Leone and Morocco.
Also taking the floor were the following national human rights institution and non-governmental organizations: Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of Azerbaijan, Human Rights House Foundation, Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Comision Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos, European Centre for Law and Justice, American Civil Liberties Union, Conecta Derechos Humanos, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Truth Foundation, Centre Europe Tiers Monde, United Nations Watch, Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l’Homme, World Muslim Congress, InternationalLawyery.org and Action Canada for Population and Development.
The Council will next hold an interactive clustered dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association and the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education
Statements by Concerned Countries
United Kingdom, speaking as a concerned country, said it continued to take its role as a global leader in the area of human rights seriously. The United Kingdom was pleased that the Special Rapporteur had welcomed the initiative on undercover police and the introduction of the code of ethics as a standard practice in the police force in the country. The United Kingdom had a long-standing tradition of peaceful protests as evidenced by several hundred demonstrations that took place in the country every year. There was a balance to be found between the right to demonstrate peacefully and the right of those who wished to go about their business undisturbed by the demonstrations. Many demonstrations and peaceful protests in the country did not require police presence. The police often facilitated protests scheduled on short notice, often outside of the legally set timeframes.
United States, speaking as a concerned country, said it was pleased to host the visit by the Special Rapporteur, adding that the complete prohibition of demonstrations in some places was not contrary to international law, which also did not require toleration of the disruption to ordinary life. The report had other problematic assertions, and the United States had provided 17 pages of comments shedding clarity on the United States laws, particularly those related to labour and terrorism. The report’s criticism concerning restrictions with charity groups was not constructive, and the United States had provided several mechanisms for those organizations to seek clarifications from the Government. The labour rights of all workers were respected regardless of their migratory status, stressed the United States.
Chile, speaking as a concerned country, recalled that a deep reform had been undertaken in the country in order to transform the education system and allow the recognition of education as a social fundamental right, providing adequate safeguards for people in education. This reform had strengthened the role of the State as a promotor of educational rights and social inclusion and was in full compliance with the Sustainable Development Goals and the Agenda 2030 that aimed at making education a real public good.
Clustered Interactive Dialogue
Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, outlined that non-formal education had been playing a substantive role in educating the poor and vulnerable segments of the society in developing countries. The implementation of coherent, integrated and compatible recognition of non-formal education would give further employment opportunities to learners. Tunisia, speaking on behalf of the African Group, focused on the role played by civil society in ensuring the participation of people to the realization of general interests. On the right to peaceful assembly, the African Group stated that it was necessary to ensure that this right was used in a non-abusive way. European Union stated that civil society played a crucial role in promoting freedom, dignity and development. Non-formal education was an important tool to promote life-long education and basic education for adults.
Viet Nam stated that it had successfully realized the Millennium Development Goal on ensuring universal primary education before the 2015 deadline. It had also paid great attention to non-formal education, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. Qatar said that the realization of the right to education rested squarely on the shoulders of States, in particular when it came to ensuring access to education for refugee children. Malaysia appreciated the focus on non-formal education by the Special Rapporteur and agreed that a multi-stakeholder approach was needed to determine educational needs. As for peaceful assembly, Malaysia would continue to engage with civil society. United Arab Emirates stated that formal educational systems could not respond alone to the needs of modern societies. Non-formal education would help disadvantaged groups to catch up.
Estonia regretted the narrowing of space for civil society, including in the digital domain. Non-formal education could be an important tool to provide the right to education to children, adolescents and adults, especially disadvantaged groups. Italy noted that the shrinking of the space for civil society was one of the main threats to the right to peaceful assembly and association. It appreciated the focus on non-formal education for those who were not able to access formal education pathways. Russian Federation qualified the information received from civil society as questionable as it was often fanned with assistance from abroad. It noted that non-formal education was frequently the only way for individuals to achieve their right to education.
Czechia shared the view that civil society played an important role in the context of elections by supporting the participation of citizens in public affairs. It offered a suitable channel to get involved and take action on issues to resonate with them. Greece highlighted the importance of informal education, notably in conflict zones. Greece made considerable efforts in guaranteeing the right to education for migrant children at all levels, free of charge. An Emergency Action Plan for their education had been established, including the participation of non-governmental organizations and local administrations. Saudi Arabia said that it provided basic education without any forms of discrimination in order to combat illiteracy. The budget of education in 2017 represented 22 percent of the overall budget of the State. Furthermore, national programmes promoting education had been launched.
Montenegro said that education was provided for every child regardless of their origins. Regular activities in education were conducted in line with three main strategies for inclusive education, early and pre-school education, and for improvement of the Roma and the Egyptian populations. Montenegro had adopted a National Strategy for Sustainable Development that encompassed the Sustainable Development Goals. Maldives voiced concern over the negative impacts that had arisen from measures implemented to regulate freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Civil society played a major role in ensuring accountability and building better communities. Denmark shared the conclusion of the Special Rapporteur that civic space was increasingly under pressure. Much still needed to be done to ensure that civil society could meaningfully participate in policy processes.
Cuba regretted the actions of the Special Rapporteur on peaceful assembly and association, who had sidestepped information provided by some Governments. The evaluation of each specific situation should be based on facts rather than on preconceived notions. Belgium stressed that a vibrant civil society was key for maintaining a health and participatory democracy. It could only function where free assembly and freedom of speech were guaranteed. Spain stated that the existence of a free, vibrant and active civil society strengthened the credibility of a democratic society. It regretted the recent trend of restrictions on civil society.
United States remained concerned that the rights to peaceful assembly and association were under constant threat. It strongly supported the right to education and providing equal access to education. Togo underlined the importance of education as a precondition for access to other rights. Even though non-formal education was desirable, its premise rested on voluntary participation. Mexico noted that access to education was a legal and moral priority. Peaceful assembly and association were essential for democracy.
Switzerland asked the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association about the three priorities she intended to give to her mandate, and whether she would give particular commitment to the management of assemblies. El Salvador spoke about domestic achievements within the area of schooling, having created an online university and broadened educational coverage to more than 37,000 boys and girls. Sudan urged the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association to correct her report and include the information that there were 6,000 non-governmental organizations working throughout Sudan in all areas, and dozens of daily newspapers.
Argentina said non-formal education was a complementary tool for adults and children who did not have access to formal education. Argentina informed the Council about domestic efforts aimed at increasing educational access. Ethiopia said education should be universal, accessible, and adaptable, and commended the Special Rapporteur for focusing on non-formal education as a valuable way for children and adults to access the right to education. Germany said that civil society remained of paramount importance in the global effort to ensure an effective implementation of human rights. The international community had to strive to protect, retain and enlarge civil space. Germany asked Special Rapporteur Ciampi to enumerate the most urgent measures States should take to facilitate and protect the work of civil society, and asked the Special Rapporteur Boly Barry how non-formal education could met quality standards while respecting local culture, languages and human rights.
Pakistan said that it was urgent to provide pre-school and primary education to all children regardless of their origin and gender and that Pakistan deployed efforts to provide basic and pre-school education to poor children in all regions of the country. Pakistan also outlined that ensuring the existence of an active civil society benefited every society. Public expenditure for education in Kuwait represented more than five percent of the gross domestic product. Kuwait had adopted a strategic vision aimed at developing the education system and promoting values respectful of the Sharia. France recalled that the right to access to quality education was a foundation of its education policy, which was also enshrined in the Agenda 2030. It was thus extremely worrisome that 263 million children still had no access to education. France stressed that the right to peaceful assembly was an indispensable condition for progress and democratic debate.
Sweden was deeply concerned about the declining democratic trend worldwide and serious threats to civic freedoms that existed in almost 100 countries today. The growing resistance to ensuring access to comprehensive sexuality education to the youth was an issue of concern. Venezuela recalled that the right to peaceful assembly was deeply enshrined in the principles of the Bolivarian revolution and said that today, this right was being threatened by repeated meddling in Venezuela’s sovereign policy, specifically targeting the current Government with the support of the United States. Brazil was fully committed to providing an education consistent with a holistic approach to human development and thus promoting an adaptable and accessible education to all children living in rural areas and in indigenous communities remained a priority. Brazil shared the Special Rapporteur’s view on the fundamental role of civil society in the promotion of human rights.
China noted that everyone was entitled to peaceful assembly and association, but it should not be interpreted as the right to undermine the human rights of any group, or to undermine State stability. China took the necessary steps to promote access to education. Egypt stated that it had amended its law on protests, adding that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association should not be politicized. As for education, the Government had intensified its literacy campaign. Latvia strongly concurred that the rights to peaceful assembly and association underpinned democracy. Unfortunately, the space for civil society had a tendency to shrink worldwide. Afghanistan stated that promoting the right to education was a key element in reducing poverty. Notwithstanding the importance of non-formal education, such education was misused to spread violent and extremist ideas in some parts of Afghanistan. Albania noted that civil society played an important role in monitoring democratic societies. Education frameworks should facilitate access for the most vulnerable groups. South Africa underlined that it was essential that civil society was not instrumentalised to advance the agendas of States by proxy. Life-long learning encompassed both the formal and informal approaches.
Portugal welcomed the focus on the achievements of civil society in recent years, and in that context expressed concern that the report noted a trend of closing civic space. Regarding education, the Special Rapporteur was asked in which direction the mandate ought to be steered, and how all stakeholders could be included. Iran said the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association were essential components of democratic societies. Regarding education, it was observed that the steadily decreasing shelf-life of new knowledge had created a need for people to continually learn throughout every stage of their lives. Israel said civil society provided avenues through which citizens could influence their societies, but it was not an absolute freedom and must be reconciled with other needs. Regarding education, non-formal education played a crucial role in the lives of children who were out of school, and Israel had a law providing schooling for sick children who were out of the formal system.
Tunisia thanked the Special Rapporteurs and noted that the Tunisian constitution reflected the importance of civil society, which had been part of the move toward democratization of the country. Tunisia gave great importance to education, and had set up a strategy along with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to provide education for all, including girls. Ecuador highlighted the fact that State and non-State bodies had been focused on with regard to civil society and its space in society. Regarding the matter of education, non-formal education should be taken into account, and that kind of learning was complementary to formal systems. Nigeria said the right to peaceful assembly and association was guaranteed under the Nigerian constitution, and noted that the citizenry was used to exercising their rights. In general, education was an indispensable attribute of any society, and non-formal education programmes provided flexible, learner-centred ways of teaching.
Bolivia agreed with the Special Rapporteur that it was necessary to “destigmatize” non-formal education and to facilitate access to education for rural and indigenous populations living in isolated areas. Bolivia asked the Special Rapporteur about the optimal avenues to reverse the stigmatisation of non-formal and alternative education. Iraq expressed great concern about children living in the territories occupied by the extremist group Daesh and outlined that thousands of children in Iraq today were deprived of access to school, including in refugee camps. Iraq had constructed 500 schools for displaced children and migrants. Georgia stated that non-formal education was an essential component of the lifelong learning concept. Georgia was worried about a number of restrictive measures to the right of education in the native Georgian language in the country’s occupied territories such as Abkhazia, where the language of instruction had change from Georgian to Russian in the first grades since September 2016.
Indonesia outlined that the rights for peaceful assembly and association were guaranteed by the Constitution. However, this right could not be separated from the need to respect public order. Turning to the right to education, Indonesia reiterated its commitment to fulfil the rights of education of its citizens, inside and outside its territory. Republic of Korea outlined that it was of utmost importance that governments took into account the role of non-formal education. The Republic of Korea ask the Special Rapporteur to give further details on the means to build a national qualification framework while promoting local language learning and local educational programmes. Ukraine stressed that thousands of Ukrainian children living in the illegally occupied Crimea and in Donbass were discriminated against in the sector of education. Ukraine had filed a lawsuit against the Russian Federation with the International Court in order to obtain full recognition of crimes of discrimination committed against Ukrainian citizens.
State of Palestine noted that while Israel boasted of its adherence to democratic principles, it had since its birth violated Palestinians’ rights to peaceful assembly and association. Any gathering of 10 or more persons in public or private space required military permission. Ireland noted the coordinated partnership of State and non-State actors in education. The suppression of civil society was destructive and counter-productive. Lithuania highlighted the role of civil society in seeking Government accountability, and asked how the continuous attempts to restrict civil society’s engagement in the work of the Council could be addressed. Botswana stated that non-formal education could help achieve appropriate literacy levels, noting that it was looking to address the gender gap in education. Azerbaijan said that the right to education was essential to the economic, social and cultural development of societies. Armed conflict was one of the factors that had an extremely negative effect on the right to education. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said that non-formal education was important for offering wide educational options to vulnerable groups by adapting to their particular needs. Slovakia underlined that accessible and quality education was an essential condition for the general well-being of the society, including economic prosperity and sustainable growth.
Sierra Leone said the successes of the anti-slavery and anti-apartheid movements would not have been possible without the participation of activists and civil society intent on preserving fundamental rights. Regarding education, Sierra Leone concurred with the importance of non-formal education as a cost-effective means of improving education outcomes, especially for girls in vulnerable situations. Morocco said civil society was an essential player in promoting human rights and the socio-political role of women, and in many other areas. Non-formal education provided an alternative way to give education to children who had dropped out, as well as rural children and children in precarious situations.
Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights (Ombudsman) of Azerbaijan shared some views on education, noting that a good practice in human rights education was hierarchic education with regard to child rights. Human Rights House Foundation welcomed the report highlighting civil society achievements, and said a world without civil society would be bleak, adding that developments in Hungary and Poland were of particular concern. Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain said that in Bahrain, there was an ongoing dissolution of civil society, and the authorities had restricted freedom of movement and were imposing internet blackouts. Asian Legal Resource Centre called for the Human Rights Council’s intervention in Bangladesh, China, Thailand and Cambodia, where the Governments had complete control of peaceful assembly.
Comision Mexicana de Defensa y Promocion de los Derechos Humanos, Asociacion Civil agreed with the statement of the Special Rapporteur outlining the increasing undermining of the rights of civil society. Journalists investigating government corruption had also seen their rights to peaceful assembly undermined. Three journalists had been assassinated in Mexico in the past year. European Centre for Law and Justice drew the attention of the Council to the stigmatization by States of non-formal education, stressing that such restrictions amounted to a violation of parents’ right to freely educate their children. In many European countries, formal education was of lower quality. American Civil Liberties Union stated that in past years, police killing of black people, water contamination, the adoption of travel bans and the construction of the wall at the Mexican border had given birth to numerous protests in the United States. It was worrisome that in response, many states legislators had sought to undermine the right to protest by adopting legal restrictions.
Conectas Direitos Humanos voiced concerns about the increasing use of force against protests and demonstrations in Brazil and was worried that such acts would become a common trend in the country. Conectas Direitos Humanos urged Brazil to ensure the protection of protesters and to regulate the use of force. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development shared concern with the Special Rapporteur on narrowing political space for civil society. In the Maldives, worrisome legal restrictions to street protests and peaceful assembly had been adopted recently. Truth Foundation raised the case of the numerous restrictions it faced in relation to its right to freely meet and associate. Individuals participating in meetings of the Truth Foundation were regularly threatened of being arrested for delivering assistance to victims of torture.
Centre Europe Tiers Monde drew the attention of the Council to Standing Rock, United States, where water protectors fought a police state and were facing inflated and bogus legal charges. The United States Government was called on to rescind certain laws. The Special Rapporteur should visit the United States to investigate those violations. United Nations Watch said the United States and the United Kingdom had been the only countries visited by the former Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, asking the new Special Rapporteur for her methodology for deciding which country to investigate. Conseil International pour le soutien à des procès équitables et aux Droits de l’Homme said Gulf States were setting strict limits and preventing their populations from exercising their rights, noting that demonstrators had been killed in Bahrain and stating that the international community’s silence on the situation in that country was deafening.
World Muslim Congress drew the attention of the Special Rapporteur to the situation in Indian-occupied Jammu and Kashmir, where excessive force was being used against people making use of their right to freedom of assembly. InternationalLawyery.org said in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya, teachers were subject to deadly attacks. All States were urged to ensure education as a central responsibility of the State. Action Canada for Population and Development said the report presented an incomplete analysis of a phenomenon where States were blocking civil society from playing its role. Some governments were using both legal and illegal practices to shrink civil society’s space. CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation noted that civil society should be seen as an ally rather than an adversary, and urged all States to explicitly acknowledge the integral role of civil society in ensuring international human rights commitments.
ANNALISA CIAMPI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, noted that there was a shared recognition of the fundamental role of civil society. Most delegations had stated their commitment to ensure an enabling environment for civil society. However, most statements reflected a general awareness that the space for civil society was shrinking. The main source of that shrinking came from States. Ms. Ciampi therefore called on Member States to stop applying restrictive measures. She assured that she would remain objective in the exercise of her mandate. She had started dialogue with the new Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings. Her mandate covered the right to peaceful assembly and she would not advocate for anything that was not peaceful. She would also follow up on the rights of political parties in the context of elections. The risk of abuse and instrumentalization would never be credible justification for curbing the right to peaceful assembly and association. Ms. Ciampi urged all States to engage with her mandate and to respond to her communications. She expressed gratitude to non-governmental organizations that had taken part in the discussion. No matter how compelling the general interest of the society was, the essence of democratic values could not be impinged on, she emphasized. Ms. Ciampi said that she wanted to engage with States that had not been in the focus of the mandate before.
KOUMBOU BOLY BARRY, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, thanked speakers for the feedback she had received during the discussion, adding that she was reassured by what she had heard from civil society and States. There was a recognition of non-formal education, literacy and practices that already existed in countries. Ms. Boly Barry stated her readiness to work together with all stakeholders in the exercise of her mandate. On how to ensure that the view of non-formal education was no longer derogatory, she said it should be called “alternative formula for education.” On how to move forward in teaching and pedagogical terms, and in assessment, States had to ensure that research in the educational sector changed the way in which teachers taught, which would give rise to innovation. The creative potential of students should be released. As for how to cooperate with civil society, she said it was important to define the roles of civil society and the Government in the education sector. Each should assume responsibilities in which they performed well or better.
With regard to future priorities of the mandate, Ms. Boly Barry said she would focus on the issue of discrimination, building on the work of the previous mandate holder, and the migration and refugee aspect. She underlined that she was of nomadic background, which exemplified that education could be accessed by those who were in theory disadvantaged
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