The Abidjan Principles on the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education (October 2018)
GSF, with the Education Partnerships Group, provided an expert legal opinion on the draft text of The Abidjan Principles that highlighted inaccurate interpretations of human rights law pertaining to the role of private actors in education
- The issue: in October 2018, an online consultation was launched on the then ‘Guiding Principles on the human rights obligations of States to provide public education and to regulate private involvement in education’.
- GSF response & outcome: GSF welcomed in principle a process to synthesise international human rights law to help guide countries in their stewardship of the private sector. But we have had five reservations about this process:
- the Secretariat for this process has been led by organisations with active campaigns against private sector engagement in education (including the Global Initiative for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, the Initiative for Social and Economic Rights,
and the Right to Education Initiative); nor has the process had representation from private school associations or membership bodies such as GSF (in spite of us raising this issue with them by letter),
- the legal basis of some of the Abidjan Principles is neither clear – e.g. the insistence that public funding to private education institutions is a time-bound measure only (Para 65.a) – nor has it yet been published 18 months after
- the Principles propose unreasonable obligations and compliance requirements (e.g. insisting that any public funding of private institutions must be subject to ex-ante, on-going and ex-post human rights impact assessments (Para 69),
- the Principles are being consistently, and misleadingly, communicated as definitive legal opinion in favour of the assertion that education must be publicly delivered; we have observed this in countries such as Ghana and Uganda as
well as at the global level,
- in draft form, and even after 3 years of ‘expert drafting’, the then Guiding Principles sought to insist that governments could not fund for-profit providers (“Para 56. States must not fund or support, directly or indirectly, any private
educational operator that…b. is commercially-orientated or for-profit” Guiding Principles (Consultation draft) – the key campaign ask of the anti- private sector campaigns – despite this position having no basis in international
Together with the Education Partnerships Group
, in October 2018 GSF sought the expert opinion
of a human rights
law firm and wrote to the Secretariat
of the then ‘Guiding Principles’, pointing out where the interpretation
was inconsistent with human rights law. As a result of this intervention, adjustments were made in substance and tone, including the removal of Para 56 cited above. GSF continues to engage in the Abidjan Principles, including participating
in an October 2019 debate
hosted by the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning (IIEP).
When it comes to restricting and regulating the role of non-state education actors, it is our view that the final set of Principles go above and beyond what is mandated in international human rights law. Regardless, the Abidjan
Principles continue to be widely used and cited as an accurate interpretation of law, though the underpinning legal justification is still to be published.