Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Racial discrimination, religious intolerance and education 1/9

1. Wars and all forms of discrimination and intolerance are borne in the minds of men and action should thus be taken as a matter of priority at this level more than at others. This sentence, which is based on the preamble of the Constitution of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, eloquently sums up the cause-and-effect relationship between education, racial discrimination and religious intolerance.

 2. The role of education is, in fact, much broader. As the key to a nation’s development, education is one of the basic indicators used to measure the extent of the success of a country, a region or a particular group. As the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights stated in its General Comment No. 13 (twenty-first session, 1999) on the right to education (article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights), “increasingly, education is recognized as one of the best financial investments States can make” (E/C.12/1999/10, para. 1). The reports of United Nations specialized agencies and programmes give it pride of place among the factors which contribute to a country’s human development.
 3. Education is a very broad concept and was defined by UNESCO in 1974 as “the entire process of social life by means of which individuals and social groups learn to develop consciously within, and for the benefit of, the national and international communities, the whole of their personal capacities, attitudes, aptitudes and knowledge”. This constant and ongoing process of the training of the mind thus does not involve only children and members of national communities. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that “everyone has the right to education”. Education does not, moreover, take place only in school. It has a more global significance and involves several participants, whose importance varies, of course, according to the age of the person being educated, the type of society and the level of development of the country concerned, etc., but all of which go to make society as a whole responsible for the education of citizens. The family, taken both in the broad and in the narrow senses, schools, the media, religion, politicians, trade unions and the environment in general thus take part in one way or another in the process of education.
 4. For the purposes of this study, however, education, as it relates to racial discrimination and religious intolerance, has a more restrictive and at the same time decisive meaning. From the time he starts school, the future adult builds the basic elements of how he views himself and others. The concepts of teaching, instruction and schooling are more restrictive, of course, and, in principle, relate only to the transmission of knowledge and the intellectual training of children and even of adults (basic education), but it is mainly during the transmission of knowledge that society, through the intermediary of teachers and the educational system in general, imparts its beliefs, its dominant values and, in particular, its negative or positive ideas of the racial and religious diversity of the human race to children and adolescents. Schools - and families - are thus not only a context for instruction and the transmission of knowledge, they are also vehicles for “moral and social attitudes calculated to promote the egalitarian and pluralistic ideal”.

5. Article 5 of the World Declaration on Education for All (Jomtien, Thailand, 5-9 March 1990) summed up the importance of what is at stake in this regard in the following terms, which are entirely relevant to the purpose of the present study: “The main delivery system for the basic education of children outside the family is primary schooling. Primaryeducation must be universal, ensure that the basic learning needs of all children are satisfied and take into account the culture, needs and opportunities of the community”. In addition to “essential learning tools”, article 1 of the Declaration defines basic needs as “the basic learning content (such as knowledge, skills, values and attitudes) required by human beings to be able to survive …”. The importance of primary education is also demonstrated by the position it occupies in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 14 refers to “the progressive implementation of the principle of compulsory education free of charge for all”) and in the mandate of Ms. Katarina Tomaševski, Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on the right to education, as defined in resolution 1998/33 of 17 April 1998 (the mandate is reproduced in paragraph 1 of the Special Rapporteur’s preliminary report (E/CN.4/1999/49)).
 6. All in all, school education, especially primary (or elementary) and secondary education, makes it possible to tackle the root causes that may lead to racial discrimination and religious intolerance or to tolerance and non-discrimination; it will thus be the focus of our attention. 

7. Education plays a key role, particularly in societies which are diversified along ethnic and/or religious lines. Far from being an exclusively technical or pedagogical matter or one involving the transmission of knowledge or know-how, it may also heighten or mitigate tensions, may promote confrontation or strengthen the cohesion and integration of groups within society and may build tolerance or be the seat of intolerance of all kinds. As Joseph Yacoub rightly points out, “it all starts in the head. A soldier fighting in a war starts out as a schoolboy fighting in the schoolyard”.4 

 8. It is therefore understandable that education must be based primarily on the principle of equality of opportunity and non-discrimination. These are the foundations of the transition from education as a global objective to a “right” inherent in it, i.e. “the right to education”, the implementation of which will establish a number of obligations for society in general and schools in particular, the highest ranking of which is respect for the principle of non-discrimination. Education is thus a key characteristic of the subject matter of the present study.
9. “Education is both a human right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights”.5 It enables economically, socially and culturally marginalized persons and groups to break out of the cycle of poverty and exclusion, play a useful role in society and develop their sense of dignity. It is not only an instrument for learning and communicating in a given language within an ethnic, religious or cultural minority, but is also indispensable for the very survival of the group.6 The multifaceted nature of the objectives of education are reflected in the nature of the resulting right. The right to education is typically a cross-sectoral right, at one and the same time a civil and political right and an economic, social and cultural right belonging to the first, second and even third generations of human rights (solidarity rights). It is a shining example of the indivisibility of human rights.7 As far as racial discrimination and religious intolerance are concerned, the realization of this right will therefore be a matter of concern to several categories of persons and, as will be seen, comes within the jurisdiction of several United Nations human rights bodies (treaty and non-treaty bodies).

10. The right to education is provided for in a large number of international instruments. However, the attention it has been given, particularly in terms of its relationship with the problem of racial discrimination and religious intolerance, does not appear to reflect the importance of the stakes described above. The study of legal aspects (chap. I) will enable us to understand the content and scope of these instruments, particularly the universal aspects, the contribution of which will have to be determined, especially as it relates to the practical foundations of racial non-discrimination and religious tolerance. The factual aspects (chap. II) will enable us to work out a typology and then make the necessary recommendations (chap. III) in the light of gaps in the legislation and the realities of discrimination itself.

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