The 52nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, held in Geneva between 27 February - 4 April 2023, saw the presentation of a joint statement on academic freedom by France on behalf of 72 countries. The statement reaffirms the vital importance of academic freedom and calls on all states to protect and promote it as a cornerstone of democracy and human rights. The joint statement specifically references the Abidjan Principles, a definitive reference text on the right to education which clarify the human rights obligations of states regarding the provision of public education and the regulation of non-state actors.
The Principles were adopted in 2019 by a group of international scholars and legal experts, and have been endorsed by a growing number of countries and organisations. They recognise the right to education as a fundamental human right, and clarify the obligations of states to eliminate discrimination, ensure adequate funding, provide appropriate infrastructure and support, and ensure academic freedom and autonomy.
The joint statement recognises the critical role that universities and academic institutions play in fostering critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, and highlights the importance of protecting academic freedom as a bulwark against authoritarianism and as a means of promoting open and democratic societies.
The recognition of the role of the Abidjan Principles by 73 states is a significant step forward in the promotion and implementation of this reference text on the right to education, and an additional signal of their importance and the widespread recognition of the role they play in guaranteeing the right to education.
For more information about the Abidjan Principles, view the Abidjan Principles website
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 73 countries* on Academic Freedom
Mr. President, I have the honour to deliver this statement on behalf of 73 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”.
*South Africa, Albania, Germany, Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cabo Verde, Cambodia, Cameroun, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Colombia, Comoros, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Spain, United States of America, Finland, France, Georgia, Greece, Equatorial Guinea, Guinea, Hungary, India, Ireland, Iceland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Lebanon, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxemburg, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Malta, Monaco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Palestine, Paraguay, the Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Dominican Republic, Czech Republic, Romania, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, The Gambia, Ukraine, Uruguay, Vanuatu