UN Human Rights Council: 72 Countries urge greater cooperation to protect academic freedom

Posted March 29, 2023

Scholars at Risk (SAR) commends France, South Africa, and 70 other countries around the globe who came together today before the United Nations Human Rights Council to issue an historic Joint Statement in support of Academic Freedom.

SAR Executive Director Rob Quinn remarked on the statement: “As the signatories acknowledged, attacks against academic freedom are on the rise around the world, imperiling social, political, and scientific progress, political participation, and numerous related rights and freedoms.”

Concerning levels of attacks on higher education and declines in national levels of respect for academic freedom are highlighted in SAR’s Free to Think report series and recent data from the Academic Freedom Index, a tool co-developed by the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi), the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU), the V-Dem Institute, and SAR.

Commenting on the statement’s call-to-action, Quinn notes: “We enthusiastically join the signatories’ call for enhanced international cooperation towards strengthening the protection and promotion of academic freedom, and look forward to working with the UN, member states, and international stakeholders as they redouble their efforts in addressing this issue.”

A copy of the statement can be found below, as published on the website of France’s permanent mission to the UN in Geneva.

Joint Statement on behalf of a group of 72 countries* on Academic Freedom

Mr. President, I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of 72 countries.

As we commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, we recall that it asserts that : “education on human rights and the dissemination of proper information, both theoretical and practical, play an important role in the promotion and respect of human rights with regard to all individuals without distinction of any kind.”

This spirit is embodied within the Abidjan Principles on the Right to Education. It is similarly reaffirmed by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights’ assertion that “the right to education can only be enjoyed if accompanied by academic freedom of staff and students.”

Academic freedom is key to human rights education but also essential for technical and scientific progress and for the development of the creative industries and the arts. It is intrinsically linked to the effective enjoyment of other rights and freedoms, such as participation in public affairs, freedom of opinion and expression and the right to education, demonstrating the indivisibility of all human rights.

Without freedom to teach and research, and without freedom to disseminate and debate the results of research, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals will be compromised. Without academic freedom, there is no safeguard against the manipulation of information or against the distortion of history.

Regrettably, attacks on academic freedom are on the rise. These include : repression, intimidation and harassment of researchers and teachers in connection with their research and public statements ; dissolution of research institutions and the establishment of restrictive legal or financial frameworks.

The UN Secretary General’s commitment to education and science, as reflected in his “Our Common Agenda” report, and UNESCO’s work are critical to protecting and promoting the right to education and the academic freedoms.

We hereby call for enhanced international cooperation towards strengthening the protection and promotion of academic freedom in the spirit of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. We further call on the United Nations human rights system to redouble efforts in addressing this issue, in conjunction with relevant multilateral and regional institutions.

In so doing, let us remember the wise words of Nelson Mandela, “From the poorest of countries to the richest of nations, education is key to moving forward in any society”.

Thank you.