CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD GENERAL COMMENT ON ARTICLE 29(1) – THE AIMS OF EDUCATION Introduction Earlier this year the Committee on the Rights of the Child published the first General Comment on an article on the Convention. This paper is an introduction to General Comments for national child rights coalitions and other interested organizations and groups on children’s rights issues. It succinctly explains what is the General Comment, outlines the CRC Article 29 (1) on which the General Comment was written, and briefly outlines the General Comment on the Aims of Education. In the final there is a case study of how the General Comment was used in Sweden. Accompanying this briefing paper are the General Comment on the Aims of Education and copies of the papers used for the discussion at the seminar in Sweden. What are General Comments? A General Comment is a formal statement of the treaty body’s (Committee’s) understanding of a provision of the Convention which reflects that treaty body’s understanding gained over time through their examination of several state reports. The General Comments are prepared with a view to promoting the further implementation of the Convention and assisting State Parties in fulfilling their obligations to the Convention. In this instance, the General Comment No.1 (2001) on article 29 (1), entitled ‘The Aims of Education’ of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in an interpretation of that article by of the Committee on the Rights Of the Child. Other human rights treaty bodies have also made General Comments on various articles and are widely regarded as useful contributions to the development and understanding of the treaties. According to Andrew Clapham ‘The production of General Comments on the scope of the treaties and the reporting duties of states parties has proven invaluable in giving the treaty bodies wider impact beyond the periodic examination of state’s reports. Because many constitutions either incorporate international law or draw inspirations from international human rights instruments, national courts will often have to apply wither to the treaty provisions or constitutions based on the language found in the UN treaties. In this context, NGOs have found it useful to be able to point to the General Comment as authoritative interpretations of the rights in question.’ 1 1 ‘Defining the role of Non-Governmental Organizations with regard to the UN Human rights Treaty Bodies’ by Andrew Clapham in The UN Human Rights Treaty System in the 21st Century edited by Anne F. Bayefsky (2000 Kluwer Law International) General Comments are not fixed interpretations that never change. On the contrary over time they may be revised and updated in light of the experience of State Parties and the conclusions that have been drawn from these experiences. NGOs have a pivotal role not only in promoting the application of General Comments, but also to give ‘attention to the evolving nature of human rights law, as defined by the General Comments (to prevent them becoming) fossilised and break on progressive interpretation.’2 General Comments are not legally binding documents and State Parties (countries that are have ratified the CRC). However State Parties have committed themselves to implementing the Convention and are expected to respect its principles and provisions. Article 29(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child State Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) the development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential: (b) The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations ; (c) The development of respect of the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilisations different from his or her own ; (d) The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin ; (e) The development of respect for the natural environment. Article 29 is the Convention’s central and guiding statement of respect for the child’s potential and commitment to assuring the child’s full and healthy development and functioning. General Comment on article 29 (1) – The Aims of Education The Committee on the Rights of the Child with the support of an experienced human rights consultant drafted the first General Comment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Among other things the General Comment is the Committee’s contribution to the UN’s deliberations on the elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance. The General Comment is a document of 28 paragraphs and four sections, namely: The significance of article 29(1); four paragraphs on the importance of the rights to education to fulfilling the core values of the Convention; ‘the human dignity innate in every child and his or her equal and inalienable rights’. 3 2 ibid 3 First paragraph of the General Comment 1 (2001): The aims of Education The functions of the article 29(1) ; ten paragraphs which analyses and discusses each section of the article Human Rights education - two paragraphs, which make the argument that human rights education, should be lifelong and comprehensive whether in peace, conflict or emergency situations. Implementation, monitoring and review; seventeen paragraphs that discusses how and who ought to be responsible. It includes a range of actors and mechanisms beginning with the governmental legislative and policy making systems, educational systems and curricula, schools, children and youth, the media, parents, human rights monitoring mechanisms, the Committee, United Nations bodies and agencies and other competent bodies (including NGOs) In the attachment is a full copy of the General Comment on article 29(1). How can National Coalitions use the General Comment? (A case study – Report on a seminar in Sweden) In May 2001 Save the Children Sweden and the Swedish International Development and Co-operation Agency arranged a seminar on Child Rights in Education. Corporal punishment was taken as an example of whether human rights documents such as General Comments could have an impact on education related issues. The purpose of the seminar was to raise awareness of the General Comment as a human rights document of advocacy and revitalise the debate on a rights perspective in education. It was also an opportunity to put the General Comment to the test and use it in the Swedish educational context.4 Participants at the seminar were mainly from Swedish NGOs, human rights organizations, the university and various Swedish authorities. Two experts made presentations on the General Comments. Thomas Hammarberg, ambassador and former member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, elaborated on the need and rational for a development of the General Comment, followed by an analysis of the document. Professor Eugeen Verhellen of Ghent University in his presentation made similar comments and outlined a framework for a rights perspective on education: - rights to education (article 28 of the CRC and other treatie s) - rights in education (article 28(2) of the CRC, GC 2001 :1 of art. 29) - rights through education (article 29 in CRC and other treaties). Both experts agreed that the General Comment was not sufficient without national interpretation and ways found to test and apply it in the national context in order to assess its impact. The seminar was interactive as participants had the opportunity to study aspects of the General Comment in working groups. There were four working groups that covered the topics of environmental education, and teacher’s training, participation in the classroom and corporal punishment. Each group had a facilitator who presented an excerpt of the 4 Report from the Seminar in Stockholm, May 7, 2001 by Malin Lijunggren Elisson of Save the Children Sweden. General Commentary and questions to guide the discussions. See the attachment for copies of the questions. The seminar participants explored both the opportunities and limitations on the General Comment in relation to various topics and this was the outcome of their discussions: • Corporal punishment – The group agreed that human rights instruments and the General Comments could be useful for decision-makers at the policy level and the reporting process to the Committee. But participants were clear that there is need for other measures to be taken at grass-roots level. It was agreed that donors should have an important role in promoting a cessation to corporal punishment without necessarily applying it as a ‘condition’ for disbursing grants. • Participation in classroom and teacher’s training – The group agreed the human rights instruments and the General Comment were valuable to policy makers. It was agreed that methods about children’s participation are needed in teacher’s training and therefore it is important that knowledge about participation and different aspects of democracy are given greater attention. Children’s participation is not an issue of adults loosing their power to the children but rather a way of respecting each other’s points of view. • Peace education and tolerance training – that group agreed that there was a need to find out wha t is taking place in this area. A systematic approach was needed which identifies best practices and facilitated a rights perspective on peace education. This ought to be placed higher on the Swedish agenda. • Environment education – The group thought that the sustainable development approach expressed in the General Comment is a breakthrough for the ‘rights’ perspective in education. Normally, the biology and chemistry teachers address environment education. With a notion of a sustainable approach other teachers will also have to look into aspects such as population growth, gender inequalities to name a few. They thought that although many children feel engaged in environment issues, few knew about their rights in this respect and how to influence decision-makers. With a stronger ‘rights’ perspective children will not only be aware of their rights but will also be in a position to promote changes to environmental education. A positive side effect of the seminar is that representatives from various organizations, especially the Swedish authorities, had the opportunity to meet in many cased for the first time. Even though one day was a short time to arrive at concrete steps forward, it is a beginning of many potentially fruitful contacts. For instance the participants of the environment group, representatives of the Environment Authority, youth and environmental groups, agreed that it was the beginning of ongoing collaborations. The case study serves to illustrate how the General Comment on the Aims of Education can be used. We hope that your national coalition/organisation/group will be motivated to use the General Comment in even more creative ways. Prepared by the Liaison Unit of the NGO Group for the CRC In collaboration with Save the Children Sweden. November 2001.
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