UN Forum on Minority Issues – Statement of the NGO Platform on the Right to Education

1eae3d4e-0a44-432d-bee4-90b2450ed65d.jpg Last week on the 29th and the 30th of November, OIDEL participated in the 11th Session of the UN Forum on Minority Issues, which focused on the topic of statelessness. You can find the report of the Special Rapporteur in the following link. Here you have the oral statement delivered on behalf of the NGO Platform on the Right to Education within the context of item 2 “Root causes and consequences of statelessness affecting minorities: preventing statelessness through a human rights approach”. The key points of this declaration are lifelong learning as an essential part of the right to education and education as a cultural right.

“Thank you Madame Chair,

The NGO Platform on the Right to Education welcomes the organization of this Forum. We consider it urgent to offer mechanisms to guarantee the realization of the right to education to stateless people.

Today, we would like to highlight two dimensions: lifelong learning as an essential part of the right to education and education as a cultural right.

As the former Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education pointed out, “right to fundamental education is not limited by age or gender, it extends to children, young people, adults, including older persons”.

Statelessness disproportionately affects vulnerable groups such as women, children, migrants and people on the move, who do not receive appropriate education, either for the lack of identification documents or for not having a stable position. Lifelong learning programs should be made available for those stateless adults without fundamental education. As stated in the Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, the promotion of education for stateless individuals should happen at all levels.

Secondly, education is also a cultural right. Educational programs for stateless people should focus on the development of personal identity. Alfred Fernandez, who has been the coordinator of the Platform since its foundation, used to say that denying such right means depriving someone of his humanity.

The Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues highlighted that education allows for a better integration of minorities into society and protects their identity. It would be beneficial to take into consideration minorities’ cultures, languages and traditions when drafting school curricula to boost inclusiveness and respect for diversity among younger generations.

We advocate for the eradication of practices that arbitrarily deny people a nationality on the basis of discriminatory parameters such as ethnicity, religion or language and we endorse the implementation of specific stateless determination procedures (SDPs).

We align with the call of this Special Rapporteur to engage all spheres of society for the correct implementation of these rights, with due regard to those of stateless people. The cooperation of national and international human rights institutions, private actors and civil society is essential for the achievement of this goal.”

Julie Mendola



What does the General Comment n° 21 has to tell us concerning education as a cultural right?


In 1966, through Article 15 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the International Community recognized Cultural rights as follows:

The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone:

(a) To take part in cultural life”

Years later, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights decided to draft a General Comment in order to provide for better accountability and defence of this right. Finally, in 2009, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) released the General Comment no° 21.

Alfred Fernandez, former director of OIDEL, used to say that education is primarily a cultural right, but which role does education play within the framework of cultural rights according to the CESCR? To clarify this point, let us observe how the Committee has assessed this right.

It is first of all important to recall that according to the CESCR “the right of everyone to take part in cultural life is also intrinsically linked to the right to education, through which individuals and communities pass on their values, religion, customs, language and other cultural references” (par. 2).  In this regard, it must be emphasised that these rights play a crucial role in the protection of persons belonging to minorities and indigenous people (par. 3), however they apply to each “person as an individual, in association with others or within a community or group” (par. 9).

When considering the relation between the right to education and cultural rights, it is important to highlight that the latter present two dimensions. The first one is a freedom approach that concerns the non-interference of the state in the realization of this right. The second one encompasses positive actions that the state has to undertake to ensure the enjoyment, the participation and the promotion of these rights (par. 6). This second sphere ought to include financial measures (par. 52). These two dimensions should not be perceived as separated but rather as interdependent.

Among the three interrelated components of the right “to take part in cultural life”, there are two that relate specifically to the right to education, namely participation and access. “Participation” is understood as “choosing his or her own identity” and “to engage in one’s own cultural practice” (par. 15.a). “Access”, on the other hand, “covers the right of everyone to know and understand his or her own culture and that of others through education and to receive quality education training with due regard for cultural identity” (par.15.b). It is hard to imagine the accomplishment of these two dimensions without a proper realisation of the right to education.

Moreover, cultural rights share and the right to education share four of the five necessary conditions for the full realisation of the latter: availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability (par. 16). With regard to education, it is crucial that the State provides citizens who do not belong to the mainstream culture with the chance to enjoy their cultural rights, extending such opportunities to the following generations as well and promoting the acceptability and adaptability of these rights. In this respect, the General Comment no° 21 recalls Habermas, who encouraged to guarantee « to all citizens to have equal access to cultural contexts, interpersonal relationships and traditions to the extent that it is necessary for their development and the strengthening of personal identity» (J. Habermas, 2003, p. 12)[1]

It is also interesting to observe what the comment has to say about children. “Children play a fundamental role as the bearers and transmitters of cultural values from generation to generation”. In this regard, the General Comment reminds the States that “the fundamental aim of educational development is the transmission and enrichment of common cultural and moral values in which the individual and society find their identity and worth”. In this respect, culturally appropriate education must include human rights and has to “enable children to develop their personality and cultural identity and to learn and understand the cultural values and practices of the communities to which they belong” (par.26).

In addition to this, the document also mentions and clarifies the different obligations that non-state actors and international organisations have within the domain o education.

To conclude, states’ duties in the field of education can be summarized in two core obligations. First of all, to ensure that public educational systems are respectful and non-discriminatory towards the different cultures. Secondly, “to respect and protect the right of everyone to engage in their own cultural practices, while respecting human rights which entails (…) freedom to choose and set up education establishments” (par. 55.c).

Ignasi Grau

[1] J. Habermas (2003) De la tolerancia religiosa a los derechos culturales, in Claves de la Razón Práctica, n. 129, Madrid.

The contribution of Muslim education to the American society: a study by Charles L. Glenn

Between 2014 and 2016, within the project Case Studies in Character and Citizenship Education, Professor Charles L. Glenn from Boston University conducted a study in seven Islamic secondary schools to clarify their role in the development of moral sensibility and public virtue and to investigate which aspects of education are mostly significant for citizenship formation. This resulted into the publication of Muslim Educators in American Communities (2018).

An essential part of any immigration process is the creation of educational institutions to help children deal with the new surroundings and their challenges. The successes achieved over time by Catholic, Jewish, Lutheran and Dutch Reformed schools in the United States are well known, but the same cannot be said about the recent establishment of Islamic institutions. Being the creation of Islamic schools in the US quite a recent and heterogeneous phenomenon, the study does not allow for long-term predictions on their contribution to the American society, therefore the results should not be overgeneralized. Nevertheless, to counter the spreading unfounded and distorted concerns about Muslim presence in the US, it is worth mentioning that a common aspiration in these schools is to foster Islamic identity while guiding the students towards successful integration into American life.

Most Muslim immigrants in the US have an interest in settling down and becoming fully-fledged members of the American society. Therefore, Islamic schools have the crucial task to help students find a balance between the assimilation into the host society and the maintenance of their identity. Just like Christians and Jews before them, some Muslims experience a tension between certain dominant features of the American culture and their religious convictions. This explains why, according to the study, the choice of an Islamic school is often the result of scepticism towards popular American youth culture and of the aspiration to have continuity of worldview between house and school. As a matter of fact, moral coherence among staff, students and parents represents a key element to achieve promising results, and the fact that faith-based schools can choose teachers according to their commitment to a specific religious or moral framework makes it easier to deliver a consistent and comprehensive moral understanding to students.

Even though all the schools included in the study are based on an explicitly Islamic moral framework, part of their mission is to differentiate between Islam’s cultural norms and its transcultural requirements, in order to bring to the surface the compatibility between being a good Muslim and a good American citizen. As a matter of fact, the educational target of these schools is not limited to measurable performance results but it also involves the development of personal and civic virtues. In order to provide the basis for critical thinking and active societal engagement, many school leaders encourage discussions on the way in which the practice of Islam could and should affect students’ future as citizens and participants of the American society. The pursuit of this goal should not be discouraged by the distortive and negative rhetoric about Muslims that is currently taking hold, both in the US and internationally, and that students are determined to counter.

A recurrent educational dilemma is that, while improving academic quality, Islamic schools also need to help students develop a sense of rootedness within an ever-changing culture, a common challenge for many faith-based institutions. This explains why the schools under consideration prioritize character formation over specific academic goals and aim at cultivating civic virtues and students’ active participation in the American society, encouraging them to see beyond the binary opposition believers-non believers.

Interestingly enough, confronted with the choice between their parents’ Islam and American popular culture, most of the interviewed students opted for a third option, shaping an Islam adapted to American norms and expressing their sense of belonging to a new, multi-ethnic Muslim American generation. In some notable cases, interviewees perceived their being Muslim as a distinctiveness that made them unique and they had learned to take advantage from it, instead of seeing it as a barrier to integration.

Even though the nature of the study does not allow for a definitive conclusion on the success of Islamic schools in forming engaged American citizens, it is possible to highlight their common aspiration to foster both private and public virtue. Islamic students reported that they almost never perceive their religious beliefs as an obstacle to active American citizenship; on the contrary, they believe that it is precisely through their faith, and not in spite of it, that they can become active members of the society and fully integrate into their new community. In conclusion, based on the outcomes of the study, Islamic schools do not seem to threat American society but they rather provide positive contributions to public life and civic values, shaping a pluralistic educational system as well as a truly pluralistic society.


Cecilia Litta Modignani

Fallecimiento de Alfred Fernández, Director General de la Organización Internacional para el Derecho a la Educación y Libertad de Enseñanza (OIDEL) y fundador del Colegio Universitario Henry Dunant (CUHD)

Desde nuestra más profunda tristeza quisiéramos informarles del fallecimiento de Alfred Fernández, Director General de la Organización Internacional para el Derecho a la Educación y Libertad de Enseñanza (OIDEL) y fundador del Colegio Universitario Henry Dunant (CUHD). Alfred falleció el lunes 29 de octubre a las 13:05h debido a un tumor cerebral que se desarrolló rápida y violentamente en pocos meses.

Alfred Fernández fue miembro de la Cátedra UNESCO de la Universidad de Rioja (España) y de la Universidad de Bérgamo (Italia); profesor de Educación comparada en la Universidad de Ginebra y director de la Oficina de la UNED (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, España) en Suiza. Ejerció diversos cargos en Organizaciones No Gubernamentales, entre las que destacan la Plataforma de ONG por el Derecho a la Educación y la Plataforma de ONG por la Diversidad y los Derechos Culturales.

Durante toda su vida, se dedicó tanto en lo profesional como en lo personal, a la promoción y protección de los derechos humanos. Trabajó especialmente por la promoción del derecho a la educación y la libertad de enseñanza como derecho humano fundamental para el desarrollo de la persona. En este sentido, Alfred participó como experto o representante de la sociedad civil en cientos de reuniones internacionales relativas al derecho a la educación, así como a los derechos económicos, sociales y culturales en Naciones Unidas, UNESCO, Consejo de la Europa, Unión Europea, Comisión de Derechos Humanos, entre otros foros internacionales. A lo largo de su carrera organizó más de veinte programas de capacitación en derechos humanos y formó a más de 2.000 participantes de más de 110 países diferentes.

Todos aquellos que tuvimos el inmenso honor de trabajar o colaborar con él, le recordaremos como una persona humilde, alegre y de gran apertura de espíritu. Dotado de un intelecto extraordinario, bondad natural y educación exquisita, Alfred fue muy respetado y querido por todos nosotros. Su amabilidad y magnanimidad dieron aliento a muchos corazones inquietos.

Su optimismo y buen humor nos harán mucha falta en estos momentos difíciles. A pesar de la tristeza, el equipo de OIDEL mantendrá ese empuje que siempre nos inculcó para llevar a cabo las actividades propias de nuestra entidad, tal y como le hubiera gustado y continuar así, con su legado.

El funeral se celebrará el próximo viernes 2 de noviembre a las 14,00h en la parroquia de Sainte Thérèse (Avenue Peschier 12, CH-1206, Ginebra). Asimismo, se podrá velar el cuerpo de Alfred a partir de esta misma tarde en la capilla funeraria Murith (Boulevard de la Cluse, n°89 CH-1205, Ginebra)

Vuestra presencia servirá para rendir el homenaje que merece este gran hombre.

El equipo de OIDEL

“Muy bien, servidor bueno y honrado; ya que has sido fiel en lo poco, yo te voy a confiar mucho más. Ven a compartir la alegría de tu patrón.” (Mateo, 25, 21)

Passing of Alfred FERNANDEZ, General director of the International Organization for the Right to Education and Freedom of Education (OIDEL) and founder of the Collège Universitaire Henry Dunant (CUHD)

It is with deepest sadness that OIDEL informs you of the passing of Alfred FERNANDEZ, General director of the International Organization for the Right to Education and Freedom of Education (OIDEL) and founder of the Collège Universitaire Henry Dunant (CUHD). Alfred died last Monday 29th of October at 13h05 due to a brain tumor that developed rapidly in a few months.

Alfred was a member of the Chair UNESCO of the University of La Rioja (Spain) and the Chair UNESCO of the University of Bergamo (Italy), he was a professor of Comparative Education at the University of Geneva and director of the UNED (Open National University, Spain) in Switzerland. He served in various positions in NGOs, among them we can highlight the coordination of the NGO Platform on the Right to Education and of the NGO Platform on Diversity and Cultural Rights.

Mr. Fernandez devoted all his life, both professional and personal, to the promotion and protection of human rights. He worked for the right to education and freedom of education, with the conviction that this right was fundamental for the full development of the person. Alfred has participated as an expert or representative of civil society in hundreds of international meetings on the right to education, as well as on economic, social and cultural rights at the United Nations, UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the European Union, and particularly in the Council of Human Rights, among other fora. Throughout his whole career, Alfred created more than twenty human rights training programs, involving more than 2,000 participants from over 110 different countries.

For those who have had the immense honor of working and collaborating with him, we will remember him as a humble, bright and open-minded person. His kindness and magnanimity have comforted many hearts. It was a person with an extraordinary intellect, great kindness and sensibility, Mr. Fernandez was well respected by all those who worked with him.

Mr. Fernandez with his great sense of humor and optimism will be missed a lot. Yet, the OIDEL team wishes to keep up with the good work as a way to pay tribute to a great man.

The funeral Mass will be held on Friday the 2nd of November 2018 at 2pm in Sainte Thérèse Church (Avenue Peschier 12, CH-1206, à Genève). From now on, it is possible to pay him a last tribute to his remains at Murith funeral chapel (Boulevard de la Cluse, n° 89 CH-1205, Geneva).

The OIDEL Team

“Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.” (Matthew, 25, 21)

Décès de M. Alfred FERNANDEZ, directeur général de l’Organisation Internationale pour le Droit à l’Education et la Liberté d’Enseignement (OIDEL) et fondateur du Collège Universitaire Henry Dunant (CUHD)

OIDEL a le profond regret et l’immense tristesse de vous faire part du décès de M. Alfred FERNANDEZ, directeur général de l’Organisation Internationale pour le Droit à l’Education et la Liberté d’Enseignement (OIDEL) et fondateur du Collège Universitaire Henry Dunant (CUHD). M. Fernandez s’est éteint, le lundi 29 Octobre à 13h05 enlevé de notre tendre affection des suites d’un cancer foudroyant au cerveau.

Alfred Fernandez était membre de la Chaire UNESCO de l’Université de la Rioja (Espagne), et de l’Université de Bergame (Italie) ; Professeur d’éducation comparée à l’Université de Genève, et directeur du Bureau de l’UNED (Université nationale d’enseignement à distance – Espagne) en Suisse. Il était également le coordinateur de Plateformes à l’ONU pour le Droit à l’éducation et de la Plateforme pour la Diversité et les Droits Culturels.

Alfred a travaillé toute sa vie, professionnelle et personnelle, pour la promotion et protection des droits de l’homme¸ notamment pour le droit à l’éducation et la liberté d’enseignement, un droit humain fondamental pour le développement de la personne. Alfred a participé comme expert ou représentant de la société civile à des centaines de réunions internationales sur le droit à l’éducation, les droits économiques, sociaux et culturels dans le cadre des Nations Unies, de l’UNESCO, du Conseil de l’Europe, de l’Union Européenne, au Conseil des droits de l’homme, parmi d’autres. Au cours de sa prestigieuse et longue carrière, il a créé plus d’une vingtaine de programmes de formation en droits de l’homme et formé plus de 2000 participants de plus de 110 pays différents.

Pour celles et ceux qui ont eu l’immense honneur et bonheur de travailler ou collaborer avec lui, nous gardons le souvenir d’une personne humble, lumineuse, d’une grande ouverture d’esprit. Alfred était toujours à l’écoute et sa bonté infinie a réchauffé le cœur de plusieurs personnes en détresse. Pourvu d’une intelligence hors pair, d’une bonté naturelle, d’une gentillesse et d’une sensibilité exquise, Alfred était naturellement très respecté de tous.

La bonne humeur et l’optimisme d’Alfred vont beaucoup nous manquer, particulièrement dans ces moments difficiles. Malgré tout, l’équipe de l’OIDEL souhaite continuer à aller de l’avant avec ses activités et rendre ainsi hommage à Alfred.

Les obsèques auront lieu à la paroisse de Sainte Thérèse, (Avenue Peschier 12, CH-1206, à Genève) le vendredi 2 Novembre à 14h00. A partir d’aujourd’hui après midi on peut veiller sa dépouille à la chapelle funéraire Murith (Boulevard de la Cluse, n°89 CH-1205, Genève).

Votre présence sera la bienvenue si vous avez la possibilité de rendre un dernier hommage à ce grand homme.

L’équipe de l’OIDEL

“Son maître lui dit: C’est bien, bon et fidèle serviteur; tu as été fidèle en peu de chose, je te confierai beaucoup; entre dans la joie de ton maître.” (Matthieu, 25, 21)

The importance of the cultural approach for quality of education for indigenous people

The UN 2030 Agenda includes a Goal for Sustainable Development aimed at ensuring “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. This Goal encompasses several dimensions of the Right to Education and one of its targets, Gender Equality and Inclusion, explicitly refers to indigenous peoples and children in vulnerable situations who, despite significant progress, are still denied access to education.

As for Indigenous peoples, policies for inclusive and equitable quality education should not merely focus on educational performance indicators such as attendance and literacy but they should also include concerns about indigenous cultures, languages and traditions, as well as integrating approaches and principles associated with indigenous communities into policymaking and school reforms. In this way, education would enhance Indigenous students’ personal and professional development and foster their integration into schools and societies, with due regard to their worldviews and cultural identity.

One of the key notions to achieve this is well-being, a multi-layered condition that encompasses several dimensions (cognitive, psychological, physical and social inter alia). The attainment of integral well-being stems from a holistic approach that considers the human being as a whole. This is why it figured among the guiding principles of a collaborative project that Alberta Education started with OECD in 2015 to improve learning outcomes for Indigenous students. The study involved schools from Canada, New Zealand and Australia and the results are illustrated in the OECD report Promising Practices in Supporting Success for Indigenous Students. In Canada, Indigenous students can choose between on reserve and off reserve schools, with the latter being either private or public. Off reserve private schools can be fully funded, partially funded or receive no public funding at all, depending on the jurisdiction, while public funding for on reserve schools comes from the Federal Government. In Australia, the Government has special responsibilities as for Indigenous students’ and migrants’ education, whereas in New Zealand the largest share of management responsibilities is entrusted to schools.

Although there are no dramatic differences between the well-being of Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, the results of the study still give rise to concerns. Data show that Indigenous students generally present lower levels of confidence, weaker cultural identity and worse self-esteem. This may lead to decreased motivation, earlier school leave, worse school performance and, on the long term, exacerbated socio-economic inequalities. Tackling this problem is possible by understanding indigenous culture, language and identity as integral components of students’ well-being and by including the latter in educational policies. One of the best ways to increase Indigenous students’ well-being, and thereby school performance, is to promote their engagement. Feeling safe, well liked, integrated, and happy at school is the sine qua non for personal and educational development. To achieve this, it is crucial to incorporate indigenous values and approaches within the framework of each school.

The study aimed at identifying promising strategies to ensure better learning outcomes for Indigenous students. Some successful policies include increasing the visibility of indigenous cultures in schools, e.g. by decorating classrooms with indigenous symbols or by adopting indigenous cultural practises, as a school in Alberta did, where eagle-feather rituals were included in students’ graduation ceremonies. Moreover, it is desirable to increase the visibility of Indigenous people who play leadership roles within school and to actively involve Indigenous families and communities. As far as learning materials are concerned, one strategy is to include indigenous history, science and philosophy in the curricula and to use books and other resources developed by Indigenous people. Given the difficulties faced by many Indigenous students, some schools decided to provide a room dedicated for them, a “safe space” where to support and assistance, yet making sure that this does not evolve into a form of segregation. Providing learning opportunities in Indigenous languages turned out to be beneficial too, especially during the first years of education, when the student might feel the most vulnerable and alienated.

OECD report Doing Better for Children (2009) warns against deficit thinking in relation to education, namely the idea that Indigenous students lack of fundamental skills and assume that the main target is to rectify their shortcomings. A focus on disparities and deficiencies is surely necessary; however teaching should also build on those strengths and resources that children have already acquired in their everyday life. In this respect, the study highlighted that Indigenous students in Canada are more likely to be assessed with learning difficulties than non-Indigenous students. If provided with targeted support, the results can be stunning, while if they face lower expectations, their performance is seriously compromised.

Despite their heterogeneity, Indigenous students all face similar difficulties. I order to fulfil their right to education, it is essential to identify common challenges and build policies on resources that they all share, providing them with promising learning opportunities and better chances for the future. Societies must acknowledge the value that Indigenous communities represent in terms of pluralism and reciprocal cultural enrichment; similarly, educational systems should bear in mind that Indigenous peoples often have their own aspirations and definitions of success, thus the role of schools should be to provide children with the opportunity to realise their own ambitions and dreams, in accordance with their identity and their socio-cultural background.


Cecilia Litta Modignani