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Statements Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Education can transform the future, Türk says at Mideast and North Africa regional dialogue

75th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

18 October 2023

Delivered by

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


MENA Regional Dialogue Forum: The Future of Education and Education on Human Rights in the Arab region: for a New Social Contract

Distinguished delegates,
Colleagues and friends.

Every child is born with boundless curiosity and an openness to the world.

It is through education that they are offered a profound route to a deeper understanding of self and of others.

And to unlock their unique potential to contribute to society.

It is particularly fitting that today’s dialogue is focused on building a new social contract for education, given the exceptional contribution the Arab region, so rich in its histories and culture, has made to the collective knowledge of humanity.

Fitting and timely.

When we consider the urgent need to accelerate progress on the 2030 agenda.

And as we celebrate 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, mindful of Article 26 which enshrines the right to education.

Today’s Forum complements four regional dialogues my Office is hosting as part of our Human Rights 75 initiative. The outcomes of your discussions today will help shape our Vision Statement for Human Rights that we hope will be released at our High-Level Event in December, and which will hopefully inform 2024’s Summit of the Future.

The Declaration, emerging from a period of terrible suffering and darkness, was resolute in calling out ignorance as the enemy of peaceful, just and thriving societies.

In our ever more complex world, where we face multiple challenges - from the triple planetary crisis, to conflict and instability, deepening inequalities, and the disruptive impacts of new technologies - we must recommit to the Declaration’s vision of the power of education. It’s an investment in the future.

Every child, girl and boy, has the right to an education that will allow them to reach their full potential.

That empowers them with the skill of critical reflection and capacity to empathise with different perspectives.

And which enables them to stand up for their rights as well as those of others.


Distinguised delegates,

My Office has a particular mandate for Human Rights Education.

This includes coordinating the World Programme for Human Rights Education, a global framework for action which this year is focused on youth.

We also facilitate the sharing of best practice between States and deliver human rights education ourselves through the work of our field presences.

As recognised over a decade ago by the UN General Assembly, education around rights is a ‘priority’ not an ‘optional extra’.

We see the truth of this every day.

Human rights education equips our children with the necessary skills to navigate an era where division is fuelled through pervasive disinformation and algorithm-driven echo chambers.

And it is vital in efforts to erase gender, age and diversity stereotypes that continue to scar our societies.

It empowers children to grow into active and informed citizens, suitably equipped to participate meaningfully in decision-making at all levels.


Today, I call upon all Arab States, to redouble their efforts to meet Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Through making free, equitable and quality primary and secondary education a reality for every child, and to aim for affordable vocational and higher education throughout the region.

I also urge all those with responsibility for education policy, along with other stakeholders, to develop approaches and tools to ensure human rights concepts, including gender equality, are firmly embedded in school curricula.

This includes paying urgent attention to the removal of gender stereotypes in textbooks, with the aim of enabling an environment where girls and women are truly free to participate in society on an equal footing with men.

In all these efforts, I look forward to deeper cooperation between States, partners within UN agencies, including UNESCO and UNICEF, and international, regional and national and local institutions.

And my Office is ready, as ever, to support you.

The outcomes of this Forum will have the power to transform the lives of children in this region for decades to come.

I wish you all a fruitful discussion.

And thank you for your attention.