Canada's Original Think Tank

International Human Rights Day

International Human Rights Day

International Human Rights Day

Hon. Jane Cordy: 

Honourable senators, I rise today in recognition of the seventieth anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which happened this past Monday. Of course, our world looked very different in 1948 than it does today, but the fundamentals of the declaration still hold true. Since its adoption, we have had many treaties to legally reaffirm and guarantee those rights.

One very important aspect of the declaration, and the one that will be the focus of this statement, is the right to education.

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that “Everyone has the right to education.” This has since been widely recognized and elaborated upon by numerous United Nations’ initiatives, including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 1966; the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989; and the UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education in 1960.

Rights to education have additionally been reaffirmed in other treaties as they relate to specific groups, including women and girls, persons with disabilities, migrants, refugees and Indigenous peoples, as well as within specific contexts such as education during armed conflicts.

What is perhaps one of the most crucial aspects of the right to education is how it acts as a means of realizing other rights. It is a tool for empowerment, and it enables those who have access to develop fully as human beings. It acts as a catalyst to lift marginalized groups out of poverty, and it is of benefit both to individuals and to society as an element to achieve peace and sustainable development.

The 4As that were developed by Katarina Tomasevski, the first UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, describes essential features that make the right to education meaningful. These were adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and appear in General Comment No. 13, on the right to education. The 4As are as follows.

Available: Education is free, and there is adequate infrastructure and trained teachers able to support the delivery of education. Accessible: The education system is non-discriminatory and accessible to all, and positive steps are taken to include the most marginalized. Acceptable: The content of education is relevant, non-discriminatory and culturally appropriate, and of quality. Schools are safe and teachers are professional. Adaptable: Education evolves with the changing needs of society and challenges inequalities such as gender discrimination. Education adapts to suit locally specific needs and contexts.

Honourable senators, I am very proud to have been a teacher for so many years. I have seen first-hand the benefits of a quality education to students, families and communities. As we celebrate 70 years of human rights and rights to education, let us remember to be vigilant in our commitments so that we continue to evolve and adapt as our world changes.