The United Nations and UNESCO have been responsible for initiating the majority of legal texts concerning education adopted since the end of World War II.
A large number of standard-setting instruments - conventions, declarations, recommendations, frameworks for action and charters - elaborated by UNESCO, the United Nations as well as those developed at regional level provide a normative framework for the right to education. These legal texts attest to the great importance Member States accord to normative action to realize this right.
These international standard-setting instruments are of great importance because:
- They define norms, reaffirm main principles and give them concrete substance; otherwise, they would remain "principles" whose application is not clear.
- They give shape to Member States' commitment to the right to education to be translated into concrete national-level action.
They fall into two categories:
- Those having legally-binding force, since they are adopted and ratified by the Member States (mainly conventions and treaties)
- Those which, though they do not have legally-binding force, embody a great political and moral authority (notably declarations, recommendations)
UNESCO Legal Instruments
In order to realise the right to education, and based on a number of fundamental principles, the Organization has drawn up numerous standard-setting instruments – mainly conventions and recommendations – relating to this right.
UNESCO’s Convention against Discrimination in Education, which came into force on 22 May 1962, and has been ratified by 104 States, is the first major international UNESCO instrument having binding force in international law. Other UNESCO legal instruments on education include recommendations and specific international and regional Conventions, and cover issues such as the status of teachers and of higher-education teaching personnel, technical and vocation education and training, education for international understanding, co-operation and peace and education relating to human rights, adult education and learning, and the recognition of studies and qualifications.
According to UNESCO’s Constitution, Member States have the obligation to regularly report on measures taken to implement standard-setting instruments.
The periodic reports submitted by countries inform the Organization and all the States of the international community of the measures they have taken to fulfil their obligations under the instruments. More information
The latest Consultation of Member States on measures taken to implement UNESCO’s Convention and Recommendation against Discrimination in Education, the Ninth Consultation (2016-2017) was completed and its results were submitted to UNESCO’s governing bodies at the end of 2017.
The Committee on Conventions and Recommendations, part of UNESCO’s Executive Board, examines the outcome of the consultations and follow-up is given to decisions accordingly adopted by UNESCO’s Governing Bodies – the Executive Board and the General Conference.
The Committee on Conventions and Recommendations is entrusted:
- to consider all questions relating to the implementation of UNESCO's standard-setting instruments entrusted to it by the Executive Board
- to examine communications relating to cases and questions concerning the exercise of human rights in UNESCO's field of competence.
Read more on UNESCO’s Conventions and Recommendations in Education and on Standards and Norms.
UNESCO strategy on Standard-Setting Instruments
UNESCO’s Strategy concerning standard-setting instruments, which covers the period 2015-2021, aims to improve visibility, ratification, implementation, monitoring and cooperation in the context of education-related standard-setting instruments as well as achieve the targets of the Education 2030 agenda.
UN Legal Instruments
The United Nations has many standard-setting instruments relating to the right to education, ranging from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to various conventions, declarations, recommendations, Frameworks and Programmes of action, aimed at ensuring the implementation of this right or particular aspects of it.
The specific dimensions of the right to education are especially covered by the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (1979) and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (2006).
Another treaty, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), requires the States Parties to eliminate ‘racial discrimination in all its forms’ in regard to ‘the right to education and training’, among several other rights.
Certain instruments or texts, notably Articles 13 and 14 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, are clearly more comprehensive than others. Article 13 of the Covenant has been interpreted as being the most comprehensive on the right to education. The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published a General Comment on Article 13 to detail the content of state obligations in relation to the right to education.
Human rights monitoring mechanisms in the United Nations system have been established and mandated to monitor States Parties' compliance with their treaty obligations. They organize periodic sessions to review the state of implementation of human rights, including the right to education, by countries. Within this framework, UNESCO collaborates with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on matters that relate to the right to education. UNESCO provides regular and country-specific contributions regarding progress and challenges addressed to Human Rights bodies and mechanisms. In addition, UNESCO cooperates with the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.
- More on the Right to education: Scope and implementation