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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Education and International Law

Education is a human right and should be guaranteed and protected for all people, at all times.

However, in emergencies, states often encounter difficulties in guaranteeing and protecting people’s human rights particularly the rights of members of already marginalised groups, such as persons with disabilities. This may be due to loss of power and the lawlessness that ensues, the destruction of infrastructure or because of the redirection of resources. In any case, emergencies lead to an increased likelihood that the right to education will be violated. It is therefore important that international law and the international community act to minimise and ameliorate the harmful effects of emergency situations.

In emergencies, human rights law applies in all contexts; people do not lose their human rights because of conflict, famine or natural disasters. However, depending on the nature of the emergency, different regimes of international law also apply. Vis-à-vis the right to education these are: international human rights law, international humanitarian law (or the law of armed conflict), international refugee law and international criminal law.

Click to read more about human rights and the Right to Education.

Treaties provide the strongest guarantee

Treaties are binding and create legal obligations whereas soft law only creates moral obligations for States. However, to be legally bound by a treaty, a State has to ratify it - its signature is not sufficient. The difference between ratification/accession and becoming a signatory is akin to the difference between soft law and hard law, by ratifying a treaty a State is consenting to being legally bound by a treaty and by signing, a State is signalling its intention to ratify, thus only morally obligating a State to comply. In addition, most multilateral treaties will require a certain number of States to ratify it before it enters into force. Once this threshold is met, the treaty is legally binding on all State parties. It is also important to note that States may lodge reservations or declarations, which can change the nature of the obligations on the State.

Some treaties guarantee the right to education generally, others apply to specific groups or contexts. UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights guarantee the right to education generally, that is, for all people. Other treaties apply to specific groups (children, women, persons with disabilities, refugees and migrant) or for specific contexts (for example, education in armed conflicts and education and child labour).

Human rights mechanisms monitor and protect the right to education as enshrined in treaties. Most of the time, human rights bodies attached to these treaties monitor their implementation through reporting mechanisms and complaint mechanisms in cases of violations. They are also responsible for providing authoritative interpretations – and so better understanding – of treaties’ provisions through the adoption of General Comments, Recommendations to States and decisions.

Right to education reaffirmed in treaties at international and regional level

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted in 1948, states in Article 26: “Everyone has the right to education”. Since then, the right to education has been reaffirmed in various international treaties including:

The right to education has also been recognised in ILO Conventions and international humanitarian law as well as in regional treaties.

Click to download a comprehensive collection of core international and regional legal instruments recognizing the right to education in crisis contexts: International Instruments - Right to Education.
(Right to Education Initiative)

EiE-specific resolutions, conventions, and discussions


UN Resolution on the Right to Education in Emergencies (2010)

On 9 July 2010 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a first-of-its-kind resolution on the right to education in emergencies. This resolution reaffirms that everyone shall enjoy the human right to education, and urges Member States to ensure access to education in emergency situations for all affected populations, while implementing strategies and policies to ensure and support the realization of this right as an integral element of humanitarian assistance and response. This historic resolution followed a 2009 UN General Assembly Debate on Education in Emergencies.

UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education

2010 UN Report on the Right to Education for Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers

The 2010 annual report of the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education focused on the right to education of migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers.

2008 UN Report on the Right to Education in Emergencies

In 2008, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education focused his mandate on the right to education in emergencies. Many INEE members contributed to the contents of this Report through questionnaires developed by the Special Rapporteur and disseminated on the INEE Listserv and Website. Visit the INEE webpage on the 2008 UN Report on the Right to Education in Emergencies for a summary of the report, the full text for download in Spanish and English, and highlights relating specifically to INEE and the INEE Minimum Standards.

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC)

The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a foundational document for INEE. The right to education is set out in Article 28 and Article 29, and many other articles are also relevant to INEE's work, including those relating play and recreation (Art. 31), and non-discrimination (Art. 2)

Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion (2008)

In 2008, the Committee on the Rights of the Child devoted its Day of General Discussion (DGD) to the right of children to education in emergency situations. The purpose of the Days of General Discussion is to foster a deeper understanding of the contents and implications of the Convention in relation to specific articles or topics. Visit the INEE webpage on the 2008 Committee on the Rights of the Child Day of General Discussion for a summary of the report hightlights, and to download the report.

ECOSOC Resolution on Emergency Humanitarian Assistance (2010)

Around the same time the UN General Assembly resolution on EiE was passed in 2010, ECOSOC adopted a resolution on strengthening the UN’s coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance. Although there are a few articles that could be interpreted in conjunction with the GA resolution, article 7 specifically “encourages efforts to provide education in humanitarian emergencies, including in order to contribute to a smooth transition from relief to development.”

The content on this page was developed in collaboration with the Right to Education Initiative.