State Obligations

UNESCO Headquarters

©UNESCO/Dominique Roger
UNESCO Headquarters

Like all human rights, the right to education imposes three levels of obligation on States:

The obligation to respect, protect and fulfil each of the “essential features” (availability, accessibility, acceptability, adaptability) of the right to education. The obligation to respect requires States to avoid measures that hinder or prevent the enjoyment of the right to education.

The obligation to protect requires States to take measures that prevent third parties from interfering with the enjoyment of the right to education. In turn, the obligation to fulfil incorporates an obligation to facilitate and to provide. Facilitation requires States to take positive measures that enable and assist individuals and communities to enjoy the right to education.


Responsibility of States

The responsibility of governments has been upheld by the World Declaration on Education for All (1990). By adopting this Declaration, the participants in the World Conference on Education for All (March 1990) committed themselves “to act co-operatively through our own spheres of responsibility, taking all necessary steps to achieve the goals of education for all”.

The Governments, which participated in the World Education Forum (April 2000), reiterated their collective commitment that the right to education be adapted to the realities of today and of tomorrow. The responsibility they subscribed to at the Dakar Framework for Action has legal implications, the scope of which must be appreciated in the international law of human rights.

The importance of such a responsibility has been recalled at the first meeting of the High-Level Group on Education for All (EFA), organized at UNESCO on 29-30 October 2001. During this meeting, the participants underlined “the core responsibility of governments for education, and especially to provide free and compulsory quality basic education for all”.

A special study commissioned as part of the EFA 2000 Assessment demonstrated the nature of this responsibility. This study documented the extent to which displaced populations and others suffering from chronic insecurity lack educational services. In some situations an entire generation of children may miss out on basic schooling. The study stressed the responsibility of the international community to affirm the fundamental human right to education, even under conditions of emergency, and to provide resources. A key recommendation was that education in emergency situations should be built into a country’s development process from the outset, not seen as a ‘relief’ effort. (Final Report, World Education Forum, Dakar, Senegal, 26-28 April 2000, UNESCO, 2000 (p. 24).

Governments have a duty to ensure that the goals and targets of education for all are realized in a durable way. As the Dakar Framework for Action Expanded Commentary states, the right to education means that the State has an obligation to ensure that all citizens have the opportunity to meet their basic learning needs. All children must have the opportunity to fulfil their right to quality education in schools or alternatives programmes at whatever level of education is considered ‘basic’.


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