ACLU Statement on UN Special Rapporteur Visit on US Implementation of Right to Education

May 10, 2024 12:25 pm

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WASHINGTON – UN Special Rapporteur Farida Shaheed today concluded her 10-day visit to the U.S. to assess education rights issues like academic freedoms, safety in schools, and classroom censorship. The visit concluded days after the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights raised serious concerns about actions taken by universities and law enforcement to disperse and dismantle peaceful protests against the war in Gaza across university campuses.

The UN expert said in her end of visit statement that she was “deeply troubled by the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, arrests, detentions, police violence, surveillance and disciplinary measures and sanctions against members of the educational community exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.” The Special Rapporteur also called on federal and state authorities to recognize education as a fundamental human right, ensuring equitable access for all, irrespective of background or identity, level of income, place of residence or other personal circumstances.

The UN expert held meetings with federal, state, and local officials, as well as with civil society organizations in Washington D.C., Indiana and Colorado. She has also held virtual meetings with students and faculty from several academic institutions, including New York University and Columbia University, and visited a student encampment at George Washington University. Her final report will be submitted to the UN Human Rights Council next year.

During the visit, experts from the American Civil Liberties Union briefed the Special Rapporteur on several issues including educational equity, as well as First Amendment issues related to classroom censorship, free speech, and academic freedom violations on college campuses.

The following statement can be attributed to Jamil Dakwar, Director of the Human Rights Program at the ACLU:

“The Special Rapporteur’s visit to the U.S. is more important than ever as students and universities across the country grapple with increasing classroom censorship, discrimination, and free speech violations. Universities must protect all students from discriminatory harassment and violence while protecting free speech and academic freedoms.

“At the same time, universities must uphold their obligation to protect the right to education by refraining from discriminatory and extreme punitive actions, including the use of law enforcement, to target students engaging in peaceful protests. Such actions not only undermine the integrity of our country’s academic institutions, but also its compliance with international human rights law.”

The UN Special Rapporteur’s end of visit statement is here.

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