UN side event pushes for academic freedom guidance

Posted August 6, 2023

On July 11th, SAR led a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) side event on academic freedom, as part of the HRC’s 53rd Session, at the UN Palais de Nations in Geneva. The event was co-sponsored by the UN Missions for Uruguay, France, the European Union, and Portugal. The event, titled From words to action: Implementing Academic Freedom under UN Human Rights Standards, was intended to generate authoritative guidance – from states, UN actors, and other stakeholders – on practical implementation of the right to academic freedom.

Jesse Levine, Senior Advocacy Officer at Scholars at Risk, moderates the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) side event on academic freedom

The side event follows from a number of significant recent developments, including most recently the Joint Statement on Academic Freedom led by France and South Africa, and signed on to by more than 70 countries during the March HRC Session. Jesse Levine moderated the panel, which included Eamon Gilmore, the European Union Special Representative for Human Rights; Farida Shaheed, the UN Special Rapporteur for the Right to Education; Mikel Mancisidor, a member of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Hector Ulloa, the outgoing president of the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund; and Ambassador Álvaro Moerzinger Pagan, the Permanent Representative of Uruguay to the United Nations in Geneva.

One significant focus of the event was the draft Principles for Implementing the Right to Academic Freedom, prepared over the course of the past year by the international Working Group on Academic Freedom, co-led by SAR. Special Rapporteur Shaheed in particular noted: “I fully support the process leading to the Draft Principles for Implementing the Right to Academic Freedom, which I think can provide useful guidance to United Nations mechanisms, such as my mandate, but also states and other stakeholders.”

Read more about the ‘Principles for Implementing the Right of Academic Freedom” here.

More broadly, participants acknowledged both the critical importance of academic freedom, and the need for the international community to do more to protect it. As the Special Representative Gilmore stated, “Academic freedom is essential for any healthy democratic society. Without it, critical thinking cannot be cultivated, and critical thinking is key to freedom, prosperity, progress and innovation. People need to be able to share and access information in order to develop new ideas, and the freedom to research and teach, to debase and disseminate, is central to the advancement of knowledge.”

 Representatives of 15 States attended the event, with roughly 85 attendees total (including both on-line and in-person participants). The event establishes a strong foundation for deepening and concretizing the concepts and goals laid out in the Principles of Implementation, through partnerships with States and UN actors. 

A recording of the event is available here. Read coverage in The PIE News here: “Academic freedom “increasingly under threat


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