Skip to main content
Sixty-ninth session,
29th & 30th Meetings (AM & PM)

Privatizing Education Cripples Universality of Right to Education, Third Committee Hears during Dialogue with Experts

Special Rapporteur Tells Delegates ‘Education Is Not a Privilege of the Rich’, but Every Child’s ‘Inalienable Right’

Private education choices must help, not hinder, the public system and the achievement of inalienable rights for all, the Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) heard today as it continued discussions on the protection and promotion of human rights, hearing from eight United Nations experts and delegates participating in interactive debates on a range of issues, from the right to adequate housing to physical and mental health.

“Privatization in education cripples universality of the right to education”, Kishore Singh, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, told delegates.  Having a strong voice against the commercialization of education, he said often private institutions were not based on merit or capacity, but on the ability to pay.  Hence, privatization negatively affected the right to education, both as entitlement and as empowerment.

Governments, he emphasized, had a responsibility to monitor private education institutions to ensure that they met quality standards, as it was a key emerging issue regarding the realization of the right to education.  “Education is not a privilege of the rich and well-to-do,” he said.  “It is an inalienable right of every child.”

Governments must ensure that private education providers respected quality standards and norms that met its essential objectives, he told delegates in the interactive dialogue following his presentation.  Supporting a human rights-based approach to educational policies and practices for marginalized groups as part of the post-2015 development agenda, he called on Member States to overcome limitations on public education systems to provide quality basic education for all, free of costs.

Health was another inalienable right, delegates heard during a presentation by Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.  Calling for serious analysis of the root causes of Ebola outbreaks, he said one main reason was “a global lack of will” to implement a rights-based approach in health policies.

Despite significant progress that had been made over the past two decades in the promotion and protection of the enjoyment of the right to health globally, he observed insufficient attention of global institutions to diseases, alongside inequalities within and between States and regions, that had produced detrimental and essentially unfair outcomes.

Other experts shared some suggestions on solutions.  Fiscal policies and debt management could prevent human right violations, said Juan Pablo Bohoslavsky, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights.  To achieve progress, an improved legal framework based on tested international principles was needed, he said.

Also addressing the Committee today were Leilani Farha, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living; Maria Soledad Cisternas Reyes, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; Alfred de Zayas, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Virginia Dandan, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity; and Michael Addo, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises.

Participating in today’s interactive dialogue were speakers representing Pakistan, Brazil, Mauritania, Qatar, Indonesia, Mexico, Maldives, Czech Republic, Ethiopia, Mongolia, United States, Israel, Chile, Bulgaria, Norway, Sierra Leone, Cuba, Russian Federation, Argentina, China, Switzerland, United Kingdom and South Africa, as well as the European Union Delegation.

The Third Committee will meet again at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 28 October, to continue its discussion on the protection and promotion of the human rights.


The Third Committee met this morning to continue its consideration of the protection and promotion of human rights, with eight experts expected to present reports and engage in interactive dialogues.  For background, see Press Releases GA/SHC/4108 of 22 October and GA/SHC/4109 of 23 October.

LEILANI FARHA, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, presented her report outlining priority areas.  Systemic homelessness, substandard housing conditions, unaffordable rentals and insecure tenure were serious problems, and could not be detached from one another or addressed in isolation.  Hence, it was imperative to focus on how international human rights norms related to housing could be transformed into domestic law and policy.

Four key areas of her report were supporting national-international interaction, clarifying the obligation of progressive realization, equality, non-discrimination and the right to adequate housing, and engaging the evolving nature and role of the State.  To achieve progress, she intended to be part of an ongoing dialogue between States, and to assist civil society in ensuring the implementation of the right to adequate housing and related human rights.

She was committed to seeking out proper channels to engage constructively with a variety of actors to promote more effective partnerships in the implementation of the right to an adequate standard of living.  In that regard, her first report to the Human Rights Council would be in March 2015, to discuss the responsibilities of sub-national governments with respect to the right to adequate housing.  Concluding, she looked forward to visiting countries in the coming years.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked questions and made comments about a lack of access to adequate housing, human rights-based approaches to addressing housing problems, international cooperation to implement the right to adequate housing, best practices, and the post-2015 development agenda.

Ms. FARHA said there was a direct relationship between homelessness and mental health issues.  The implementation of the right to adequate housing relied on a joint commitment by all levels of governments, as well as engagement of community organizations, private actors and international institutions.  A human rights-based approach, she emphasized, would help all stakeholders better understand the need for tools for action.  In that regard, she was committed to seeking out all forms of collaborative and constructive work.  On the question of best practices, she noted that States could benefit from learning from others.  Since the adoption of the Millennium Development Goals, there had been some improvements related to the right to adequate housing, yet more work needed to be done in that regard, she concluded.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Pakistan and Brazil, as well as the European Union Delegation.

DAINIUS PŪRAS, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, said the division of rights between civil and political on the one hand, and economic, social and cultural on the other, was “artificial”.  There was nothing intrinsically different between those rights, and all of them demanded positive actions by the State.  The report also focused on the accountability deficit of transnational corporations, which had directly or indirectly perpetrated some of the worst human rights violations, especially in developing and least developed countries.

Turning to future priorities, he added that he would continue the work of his predecessors in “unpacking the right to health” by promoting principles, such as non-discrimination, equality, autonomy and transparency.  It was vital to reduce the implementation gap so that policies were evidence-based and human rights-friendly.  Special attention must be paid to the health-related rights of people belonging to groups in vulnerable situations, such as children and adults affected by poverty, children with developmental disabilities and adults with psychosocial disabilities.

Regarding the Ebola crisis, he added, the international community should not only react effectively, it should also seriously analyse the root causes of such outbreaks, and recognize that “there is a global lack of will to implement a rights-based approach in health policies”.  Global institutions needed to pay more attention to diseases of poverty.  Health care systems needed to be “vaccinated” so that they developed immunity against well-known challenges, such as a lack of transparency, accountability and independent monitoring, as well as an excessive focus on narrow biomedical models and specialized services.  The “vaccine” for such threats had been identified and it was a rights-based approach, he concluded.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, a representative of the European Union Delegation asked about the conflict between the right to health and the reliance on States’ limited resources, specifically how judges could evaluate the budgetary allocations made to health by executive and legislative powers.

Responding, Mr. PŪRAS noted that the report had been prepared by his predecessor and, therefore, he could not respond in depth to that question.  The progressive realization of the right to health added complexities, and the term “available resources” should be better defined.  “I am not a lawyer, but a medical doctor”, he added, saying that it was vital to implement and operationalize good national laws that already existed, rather than making new ones.

KISHORE SINGH, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, said it was a State’s responsibility to safeguard education and preserve it as a public good.  Taking advantage of the limitations of government capacities to cope with rising demands on public education, he added, the privatization of education and the phenomenon of education as an attractive business was assuming alarming proportions, with scant control by public authorities.  Quoting his report, he said privatization had negatively affected the right to education, both as an entitlement and as empowerment.

“Privatization in education cripples universality of the right to education as well as the fundamental principles of human rights law by aggravating marginalization and exclusion in education, creating inequities in society,” he noted.  Education was, therefore, not a privilege of the rich, but an inalienable right of every child.  The provision of basic education free of costs was not only a core obligation of States, he added, but was a moral imperative.  In addition, the State was the legitimate authority enjoying full prerogatives for exercising regulatory power covering all aspects of the education system.

His report stressed the need for regulating privatization in education, bearing in mind the principles and norms underpinning the right to education and a State’s responsibility under human rights law.  Governments must ensure that private providers in education respected quality standards and norms, and that the education provided met essential objectives.  If the private sector had to be made a partner in development, he continued, then public policies should be put in place to safeguard social interests in education, while encouraging corporate social responsibility schemes.  The principles of social justice and equity should be kept in the forefront when introducing reforms in the education system, he said.

In the ensuing dialogue, delegates asked questions and made comments about the realization of the right to education for all, privatization, ownership of public schools, policies, monitoring private providers, best practices, safeguarding the right to education for girls and persons with disabilities, and the post-2015 agenda.

Mr. SINGH emphasized that the privatization of education and the lack of ownership of public schools was alarming.  States had a responsibility to safeguard education, as privatization led to the marginalization and exclusion of some communities, creating inequities in society.  In that regard, he said it was fundamentally important to include education in the post-2015 agenda, and that there were both national level action and political commitment.

Governments needed to ensure that the right to education was enjoyed by all, as it was one of the inalienable rights, and that private education institutions met quality standards.  In addition, all governments should be committed to the principle of public good and social justice in order to safeguard education.  Public-private sector cooperation was essential to eliminate the mercantalization of education, and to generate social interest.  Looking at the best practices, he said Europe had an excellent tradition of a high-level public education system.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Mauritania, Pakistan, Qatar, Indonesia, Mexico, Maldives, Czech Republic, Ethiopia and Mongolia, as well as the European Union Delegation.

MARIA SOLEDAD CISTERNAS REYES, Chair of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, said that her Committee had produced a total of 9 concluding observations, and had reviewed 19 States parties reports.  Noting with satisfaction the inclusion of the rights of persons with disabilities perspective in the zero draft prepared by the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, she added that her Committee had decided to continue to offer a simplified reporting procedure for States parties whose initial reports had already been considered.

Further, she added, her Committee had interacted with various relevant bodies within and outside the United Nations system at various levels, from international to national.  It was a priority to maintain partnerships with the Conference of States Parties to the Convention, through suggesting topics for official panels and experts being available to participate as speakers.  The Committee had also delivered its vision to other sister committees of the international system for the protection of human rights.

Noting that in October 2014, her Committee had received an award for its human rights work from the Telefonica Foundation, Repsol Foundation and DOWN Madrid at the University of Comillas, she called on States that had not yet ratified the Convention to join the large international consensus on human rights for people with disabilities.

In the dialogue that followed, delegates asked questions about working methods, capacity building in the form of technical assistance to various countries, the post-2015 agenda and assistance to women and girls with disabilities.  They also sought more information on urgent and short-term solutions needed to promote the rights of people with disabilities, and the scope for international cooperation in this field.

Responding, Ms. Reyes said that having sessions extended by a week had increased the Committee’s productivity enormously.  Reporting procedures had also been simplified.  The Committee held inter-sessional meetings, and used the main session only for substantive discussions.  Turning to capacity building, she said that the Committee had assisted States in the implementation of various aspects of the Convention, at the request of the States parties themselves.  The technical assistance areas ranged from drafting initial reports to establishing independent monitoring mechanisms.

The Committee had prepared two statements for the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals, she noted. The high-level meeting held on disabilities also emphasized the rights of people with disabilities perspective.  More targets and indicators were required, and inclusive and accessible education should be a key component.

As many as 80 per cent of persons with disabilities lived in developing countries, she stated, and made up the poorest of the poor.  Harmonizing legislation and public policies was an urgent step.  Given that boys and girls with disabilities were extremely vulnerable, inclusive education was an immediately-needed solution.

Turning to women with disabilities, she said that it was vital to level the playing field, as they faced different challenges at different stages of their lives.  The Committee was taking steps to ensure the adoption of a gender approach, and was collaborating with other committees to raise awareness.

Participating in the dialogue today were the representatives of United States, Israel, Chile, Bulgaria, Qatar, Mexico, Brazil, Norway, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, and the delegation of the European Union.

ALFRED DE ZAYAS, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order, said self-determination was an expression of democracy which, when ignored, led to conflict and death.  He recognized that universal realization of self-determination was a fundamental condition for the effective guarantee and observance of human rights.  The progressive development of international law could not ignore the fact that countless new countries and new members of the United Nations owed their existence to a process of self-determination, he added, such as the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the wars in the former Yugoslavia, Eritrea, South Sudan, and Timor Leste, the friendly separation of countries such as Czechoslovakia, or the democratic unification of Germany.

Turning to any process aimed at self-determination, he said it should be accompanied by participation and consent of the peoples concerned.  Where there was a compelling demand for separation, he said, it was most important to avoid the use of force, which would endanger local, regional and international stability and further erode the enjoyment of other human rights.  Therefore, good faith negotiations and the readiness to compromise were necessary, he said.

On recommendations given to States, he proposed they would treat all populations under their jurisdiction in accordance with internationally accepted human rights norms, enabling their participation in decision-making, consulting with them, providing legal remedies for violations of their rights and ensuring enforcement of judicial decisions.  To the General Assembly, he suggested to consider tasking the Human Rights Council with the examination of self-determination issues as a permanent item in its agenda or as part of the Universal Periodic Review procedure, especially from the functional perspective of using self-determination as a tool to promote international peace and security.  He then emphasized his conviction that a peaceful, democratic and equitable international order was best served by a symbiotic accommodation of the principle of territorial integrity, vindicated by States, and the right of self-determination held by peoples.

In the ensuing interactive dialogue, delegates asked questions on promoting the right to self-determination, as well as a democratic order to further the post-2015 agenda, sovereignty over natural resources and the right to peace, and on the right to development.

Mr. DE ZAYAS called for bilateral meetings with States to discuss his mandate.  Conscious of a convergence of civil, political, economic and social rights, he said he had worked closely with other mandate holders, as he did not believe in overlapping or duplicating efforts.  He said the sustainable development goals and the post-2015 agenda were close to his mandate.  On the right to self-determination, to sovereignty over natural resources and the right to peace, he noted that they were present in the resolution that had created and continued his mandate.  He then stressed his belief in the added value of the right to peace as an essential precondition to the enjoyment of civil, political, economic and social rights.

On the right to self-determination, he believed it was regrettable that it used to be a permanent item in the Human Rights Council and that it was not anymore, calling on the General Assembly to address a resolution to give that issue more importance.  “Self-determination is not an issue of the past and should be understood in relation to conflict-prevention,” he said, noting that if claims to self-determination were addressed, conflicts could be avoided.

Turning to the issues relating to indigenous peoples, he noted the recommendations made in the report inviting States to recognize and support their legal system.  They should have special status to represent their communities nationally and internationally, he added.  He also invited the General Assembly to listen to the advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on the sovereignty of natural resources, as well as on restitutions and reparations.

Turning to the right to development, he said a normative framework was already in place, including in several outcome documents of United Nations conferences.  Despite their non-legally binding nature, they carried the consensus of the international community.  Governments, politicians and civil society needed to be educated on the advantages of the right to development as a conflict prevention strategy.

Participating in the debate were representatives of Cuba and the Russian Federation.

VIRGINIA DANDAN, Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity, said that she had developed the draft declaration on the right of peoples and individuals to international solidarity, taking into account the views of States, United Nations agencies, independent human rights experts, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and local communities.  It was crucial to build on mutually reinforcing relationships between the proposed declaration and the future post-2015 agenda.  It was also important to bear in mind that the right to international solidarity was drawn from the freedom and entitlements already codified in international human rights treaties.

Poverty, she added, was fundamentally interconnected to all forms of inequality and discrimination, and, therefore, was now increasingly considered as a denial of human rights.  The proposed sustainable development goals 1 to 11 dealt with aspirations relevant to social and economic development that transformed into entitlements when given a human rights perspective, such as the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all human rights.  A rights-based approach required that priority attention should focus on marginalized and vulnerable groups, including those that lived in poverty.  The right to international solidarity called attention to marginalized groups that were frequently neglected, or not even considered to be groups at all.

International cooperation, she added, was a core feature of international solidarity, reaching beyond cooperation among States and their international organizations to also include people and individuals.  Further, international agreements between States should be consciously oriented towards the benefit of peoples through the realization of human rights.  Concluding, she noted “the apparent disconnect in the formulation of the proposed sustainable development goals”, stemming from the claim that people were at the centre of sustainable development.  As presently shaped, “the proposed goals considered people as passive beneficiaries, rather than active agents of transformative change”.  To be truly people-centred, the future sustainable development agenda and its goals should directly refer to, and not merely imply, human rights.

As there were no questions when she finished her remarks, she took the floor again, and added that she hoped to hold regional consultations next year on the text of the proposed draft declaration.  At those meetings, governments would be able to comment on it, enabling her to consolidate their inputs and move forward.  “Very few understand what the right to international solidarity is really about,” she added.  At the end of the consultations, she hoped to produce a draft that would be acceptable to the entire international community.

JUAN PABLO BOHOSLAVSKY, Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, said that policies and management strategies implemented by governments and monitored by international financial institutions rarely took into consideration the human rights implications of debt portfolios.  Therefore, it was vital to continue to monitor how debt burdens and adjustment programmes affected the enjoyment of those rights.

International investment arbitration, he added, was increasingly used to solve disputes, despite the legal gaps and inconsistencies in foreign investment law.  It would be useful to monitor the evolution of those arbitration cases and to explore what role international human rights should have in dealing with sovereign debt disputes.  Further, the international community needed to prevent private or official financial assistance being provided to governments and non-State actors committing gross human rights violations.  The Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals had included in its proposal a goal to reduce illicit financial flows.  As a general principle, more transparency in financial markets, including improved access to information, was required to prevent illicit financial flows and their negative human rights spill-over effects.

It was also necessary, he added, to consider international human rights law when identifying rules that governed debt restructuring.  If a court decision in one country might lead another country to default or have insufficient funds to pay for adequate education, health or social services, then there was a human rights concern.  “Vulture fund litigation” had already complicated debt restructuring processes, and had undermined the ability of some indebted countries to combat extreme poverty and to realize progressively economic and social rights.  The problems posed by debt restructuring processes needed to be addressed by an improved legal framework based on tested international principles, he concluded.

In the interactive dialogue, delegates asked questions on the need to address the issue of sovereign debt and whether he would, within his mandate, have time to address that specific issue.  Another question related to possible measures to put in place to monitor illicit financial flows in countries where there had been flagrant human rights violations.  The possibility of the work of the mandate to be enriched through the cooperation with other special mandate holders was also addressed.

Mr. BOHOSLAVSKY said foreign debt was related to development, which allowed him to engage with the post-2015 agenda.  Turning to measures to monitor illicit financial flows, he said more transparency in financial markets was needed both from countries of origin and destination.  He then thanked China’s representative for receiving his visit.  Turning to cooperation opportunities with other mandate holders, he noted the potential for it to be considerable.  He also highlighted the debt restructuring work already being done by the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, and the efforts being made by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Participating in the debate were representatives of Brazil, Sierra Leone, Argentina and China.

MICHAEL ADDO, Chairperson of the United Nations Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, presented his report, which focused on national action plans for the implementation of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  Such plans were sufficiently flexible to allow States to respond to a range of business and human rights challenges.  Developing a national action plan, he continued, should be based on the coordinated involvement of all relevant stakeholders, and should include an analysis of existing practices and remaining gaps in laws, regulation, policy and action.

Turning to the structure of a national action plan, he said, States might wish to develop a stand-alone document dedicated to business and human rights, or to include specific chapters on those issues to be included in government strategies.  The Working Group took a strong view that all plans should be underpinned by the key human rights principles of non-discrimination and equality, participation and inclusion, accountability and the rule of law.

Furthermore, it was a pleasing development that the number of national action plans was increasing, as national human rights institutions and civil society organizations were also engaging in that area.  Concluding, he said the Working Group would continue to support efforts and to use its convening power to bring stakeholders together on the issue of national action plans.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, questions were asked about how best to mainstream human rights into business practices, resources for developing national action plans and cooperation between the Working Group and States.  Questions also dealt with regulatory discrepancies between countries, and ways to incentivize business enterprises to engage with human rights organizations.  Mr. ADDO said that from the beginning of its mandate, the Working Group had prioritized reaching out to businesses.  “Companies will listen to each other,” he said, so the Group had established relationships with business associations that could act as catalysts in disseminating the guiding principles.  The forthcoming Business and Human Rights Forum in Geneva would include participants from the business community.

The development of national action plans was an organic opportunity to involve businesses and persuade them to engage with human rights.  Therefore, the Working Group encouraged States to focus on a multi-stakeholder process in developing action plans.  A number of countries had initiated mechanisms to oversee compliance, he added, and it was vital that business enterprises reported on their overall international activities.  That would ensure oversight, he said, noting that host States and home States must begin sharing information.

Participating in the dialogue were representatives of Norway, United States, Switzerland, United Kingdom and South Africa, as well as the European Union’s delegation.

For information media. Not an official record.