Right to Informational Self-Determination of The State and The International Human Right to Education

Mariann Rikka, global education magazineMariann Rikka

European Inter-University Center, E.MA

e-mail: mariannkajak@gmail.com

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Abstract: The article aims at discussing the relationship between the sovereignty of the state and an international human right to education with a focus on informational self-determination, including collective identity building and history education. In the first part the content of the international human right to education is discussed, the second part concentrates on history education and the question about the right to truth in it. In conclusion it is argued that the state’s right to informational self-determination might be restricted by individual’s right to truth in history education.

Keywords: identity, history education, right to education, right to truth, self-determination.

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Introduction

“We are slowly accepting the idea that people have the right to information self-determination. This right could, and should, be extended to all self-aware entities, which may include many people – for example, families, communities, villages, clubs and definitely nation states. A nation state’s right to information self-determination means, inter alia, that it has the right to secrets and lies.” [emphasis added, M.K]

The quote belongs to former minister of defence of Estonia, Jaak Aaviksoo. In his article about informational and emotional confrontation and self-defence he argues that acknowledging and practicing the right to informational self-determination by states is necessary for psychological self-defence because instead of conventional attacks the informational ones are much more evident today, the informational opposition always exists and “the ‘sword of truth’ is not enough for self-defence.” (1)

State security and the field of self-defence are very evident examples of how global situation and actors from outside the state affect people’s lives within the state. The strength of a state lays in first place in a strong collective identity. William Somerset Maugham in his essay collection “Strictly personal” published in 1942 shares deliberations and memories about France and Great Britain, he claims inter alia that the reasons for France’s defeat by Germany in 1940 were not so much in weaponry or military strength but in society itself: as patriotism and protection of homeland for ordinary citizens, he says, had become a mere catchphrase, valid only for protection of rich people’s assets, the hope for people uniting for the defence of France in case of foreign attack, was crashed (2). Somerset Maugham talks about the alienation of citizens from the state in context of unequal and unjust socio-economic standards but it illustrates very vividly the interdependence between the strength of the state and attitudes of its people on the one hand and between the state security and security and welfare of the people on the other.

Based on that example it is in the interest of the state and for security reasons of its citizens to have a strong national identity. But, as will be elaborated below, there might also appear a conflict between those, a conflict illustrating a question about relationship between state sovereignty and human rights – the two main cornerstones of international law. The state has on the one hand freedom and obligation to develop and sustain its collective national identity and on the other hand an obligation not to do that by e.g. “brainwashing” of people. The main and probably most powerful state controlled collective (sic! and at the same time individual) identity formation takes place in schools. Let us call that an interconnected identity formation. Therefore the right to education contains both of the mentioned obligations, setting at the same time criteria on how a state can and should fulfil them.

As a last element to this dynamic picture global level needs to be brought in. In the education process the students are prepared to become citizens not only of one country but of the world (global citizens). Drawing from that and the fact that education is a prerequisite for reasoned exercise of civil and political liberties, “well-educated population may also be a prerequisite to maintaining democratic structures and ideals” (3), education has a pivotal role in sustaining peace in the world (according to democratic peace theory at least)(4). So creating and implementing curriculums and education policy is not only an internal matter but has important impact also on global level. The main subjects of education are people whose lives and fates are directly affected by and dependent on it, therefore human rights law has an important role to play. As historical picture of one’s country forms an integral part of both, individual’s and state’s identity, I will set my focus on history education and pose a maybe a little provocative question: if a state’s right to self-determination contains a right to “secrets and lies”(5) then does the individual’s right to education and self-determination include the right to historical truth?

The role of the right to education as an international human right in people’s lives

The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (hereinafter Vienna Declaration) from 1993 states that the universal nature of human rights (being “the birthright of all human beings”) “is beyond question” and at the same time that “the significance of national and regional particularities and various historical, cultural and religious backgrounds must be borne in mind.” (6)

The right to education contains, besides the mentioned general paradox of human rights, also a twofold purpose in itself: it “may be regarded as a commodity to which an individual is entitled both as an end in itself but also as a means to other welfare rights.”(7) A similar perception was described by early natural law philosophers as J. J Rousseau and J. Locke already (8). The developments in 19th century – the emergence of socialism and liberalism – placed education more firmly than before in the catalogue of human rights but also in a twofold way: from social side as a positive obligation of the state to secure economic and social well-being of the community; from liberal side as a right “formulated to defend and advance the freedom of science, research and teaching against interference by the Church and state”. (9)

I would say that the right to education in its twofold nature overarches the general twofold of all human rights: not only its implementation is twofold (having to be universal and particular at the same time) but the particularities actually can be and are created and sustained by implementing the right to education. Cultural or regional particularities do not come from outside, they are created by the people and are therefore in the first place dependent on the identity (individual and collective) of people, which’s main state controlled part of creation takes place in school. As a result education influences, inter alia, the perception of the world, human rights and international order by people. These perceptions gathered into collective consciousness create legitimatisation for the policies, including education and foreign policy, of the state. In that way the content and implementation of the right to education, by influencing the behaviour of states, influences the enjoyment, universality and credibility of all human rights not only in one country but in the world.

The first proclamation of the right to education on international level took place in Universal Declaration of Human Rights (hereinafter UDHR) in 1948.  Art 26 (2): “Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.”(10) The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (hereinafter ICESCR) has stayed in principle with the same definition with some additional key-points such as “sense of one’s dignity” and “enabling effective participation in a free society”.(11)

It might be said the international legal definition of the right to education contains all the above mentioned levels: individual, national and global. The global dimension is well described by the idea of “international education” – the term brought up by the United Nations Educational Social and Cultural Organisation (hereinafter UNESCO) (going in line with abovementioned human rights acts) gathering together different connotations of terms ‘international understanding’, ‘co-operation’ and ‘peace’ as an indivisible whole (12). That is a vivid example of the statement in Vienna Declaration that the protection of human rights is not only an obligation for the state but, parallel to that, also a “legitimate concern of the international community.”(13)

The legitimate concern does not mean that state’s responsibilities have diminished. A research group GEPS (Globalisation, Education and Social Policies) of Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) have initiated a petition draft concerning the future developments of UNESCO’s Education for All framework, it includes inter alia the following critique: “[…] efforts that would outsource the role of elected and accountable governments to provide free quality education to the private sector and for profit companies are neither equitable nor democratic.”(14) So at the same time states remain and, from the social point of view, should remain the main duty bearers in providing education in the best interests of its citizens. Therefore the ideas of “international education”, “legitimate concern of international society” but also human right dimension can be reflected and implemented prima facie through changing of state’s obligations and extent of sovereignty. As stated in a report Deepening Democracy in Fragmented World: “Empowering people to influence decisions that affect their lives and hold their rulers accountable is no longer just a national issue.“ (15)

UDHR as well as ICESCR set out the full development of the human personality as a central aim of education. At the same time “an international dimension and a global perspective in education at all levels and in all its forms; understanding and respect for all peoples, their cultures, civilizations, values and ways of life, including domestic ethnic cultures and cultures of other nations; awareness of the increasing global interdependence between peoples and nations“ (16) should be the objectives of education.

This idea is well concluded in the following formulation: “The right to education thus refers to a person placed in a specific context but also to a subject with the ability to distance himself or herself from and above the cultural frameworks.”(17) In my opinion these dimensions of the universal right to education are compatible, interdependent and necessary to achieve the aim of full development of one’s personality and potential in respect of human dignity.

History education and the right to truth as part identity formation

“Done well, the study of history provides a framework for exploration and analysis, for pondering contingencies of the present and past.”(18) History “teaches that there is no such thing as a self-made man or woman, that we are all shaped by the influences of others.”(19) By corresponding to these characteristics, history education would meet the criteria of the global-individual education described above. The content of education (and memory politics) highly depends on cultural, historical and social specialities of the country. We cannot give one definition of historical truth or write identical history books for all countries. But the way history education is conducted and textbooks written must not inhibit individuals from being able to think critically and hold different perspectives as global citizens. Based on the deliberation above, I claim that the aim of full development of one’s personality cannot be achieved through the education (and memory) policies lacking the provision of impartial information (which is one of the cornerstones of democratic society) about one’s history and therefore the right to education also contains right to truth.

Taking into account the very sensitive and culturally various historical consciousness and respect of state sovereignty, what could be constituted as the minimal level of truth which a state has to provide in order not to infringe individual’s right to self-determination and education – what are the limits for “secrets and lies” in history education as a part of state’s informational self-determination? Besides the above described criteria for education it has been recognised by international community that there is a right to human rights education (20). I consider history and citizen education as the most directly focused and influential subjects in that sense. Therefore teaching about crimes against humanity in history lessons is in my opinion an absolute necessity to achieve the objectives of the education described above, thus fulfil the right to human rights education.

According to the definition in article 7 of the widely accepted Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court crimes against humanity are murder; extermination; torture; rape; political, racial, or religious persecution and other inhumane acts if they are part of a widespread or systematic practice (21). Looking at the number of ratifications of the statute, it might be said that there is an international consensus on this definition. In many European countries it is prohibited to deny crimes against humanity. European Court of Human Rights (hereinafter Court) has in one of its decisions (upholding the previous case-law) said the following:

“There can be no doubt that denying the reality of clearly established historical facts, such as the Holocaust, […] does not constitute historical research akin to a quest for the truth. The aim and the result of that approach are completely different, the real purpose being to rehabilitate the National-Socialist regime and, as a consequence, accuse the victims themselves of falsifying history.” (22)

Therefore the Court found that expressing this kind of opinions does not fall under the protection of the freedom of expression according to article 10 (1) of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The Court continues:

“[…]The denial or rewriting of this type of historical fact undermines the values on which the fight against racism and anti-Semitism are based and constitutes a serious threat to public order. Such acts are incompatible with democracy and human rights because they infringe the rights of others.”(23)

The prohibition of denial of clearly established historical facts about crimes against humanity constitutes in itself a protection of truth (which the victims of crimes against humanity have a right to claim in the court). It is also clear from the decision referred that a state has a positive obligation to protect this right by legal and judicial means. This protection would be vain, however, if a state would at the same time violate this right itself on the very basic level – in school education – by either not having the topic in the programmes or teaching it in the way which actually diminishes or denies the crimes. Therefore, we can claim that the right to education includes the right to truth about crimes against humanity.

In one of the Russian study materials Bolscheviks’ terror is depicted as “a measure to improve the management of the society”. It is also emphasised that Stalin acted as a manager totally rationally in a specific critical historical situation which could destabilise the country from inside and outside:

“as security guard of the system, as consistent advocate for the transformation of the country into industrial society managed from united centre, as leader of the country that faced a great war in the nearest future.” (24)

If the previously described could be taken as more or less an interpretation, the following is undoubtedly a falsified presentation of facts:

“regarding the number of people repressed, the author included only people who were executed. Repressions during World War II are presented as a necessary means in preventing looting and alarmism, thereby strengthening the labor discipline and social order. The author indicated that every country uses such measures during wartime.” (25)

Leaving aside the question about justicability, it could be claimed that the right to education (especially right to self-determination and right to receive impartial information in education) is being infringed because of the inconformity of the described practice with state’s obligations under international law described above.

Conclusion

A strong national identity should serve interests of people, as described before, people capable of critical thinking and reasoned participation in a free society. As the world has become “compressed in time and space” (26), this participation also includes global level and the identity building of one country influences the whole world. Therefore the right (and obligation) of the state to develop its national identity exists in an interconnected framework of global accountability and international human rights law. The dynamics could be summed up with the following scheme:

A distinction has to be made between national identity building legitimate under international human rights law and a propagandistic ideology formation serving limited interests of people in power. The right to truth about crimes against humanity in history education, taken in coherence with the objectives of education under international human rights law, sets limits and obligations for the state. The truth about these crimes needs to be provided for the protection of victims of those crimes but also people and society (national and international) in general: the identity formation taking place in schools touches upon individual and collective (national) identities at the same time, the objectives of education under international human rights law demand putting a student, an individual, in the centre of the learning process to fully develop his personality and at the same time take into account the demands of democratic society in state and in the world – the world in which a person needs to manage and which needs good peaceful citizens. So the influence of international norms and principles on people’s lives is expressed on a very existential level – identity formation: the state has no right to secrets and lies as far as people have the right to truth, exact limits of which are not completely clear yet but existence, however, (at least concerning crimes against humanity) subsists.

Notes

(1)  Aaviksoo, J “Information Confrontation and Self-defence” Diplomaatia, March 2011.

(2) Sommerset Maugham, W Strictly personal, reference in Aasmäe, H „Rangelt isiklik. Sotsiaalpoliitiline arvustus” (“Strictly personal. Socio-political criticism”)

(3)  Hodgon, D The Human Right to Education Ashgate Publishing, Limited, 1998 p 18.

(4) “Democratic peace is the proposition that democracies are more peaceful in their foreign relations.” Reiter, D “Democratic Peace Theory” Oxford Bibliographies.

(5)  Aaviksoo, J ref. 1.

(6) World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 25 June 1993, A/CONF.157/23 art I (1) and (5).

(7) Wringe, C. A Children’s rights: A philosophical study, p 146, 1981, reference in Hodgon, D, ref 4 p 20

(8)  John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau talked about “the parental obligation to educate their children […] Education was perceived as being of such vital importance for human life that it was conceived as pre-existing or natural right […]“: see Hodgon, D, ref 4 pp 7-8.

(9) Hodgon, D, ref 4 p 9.

(10)  UN General Assembly, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, art 26 (2).

(11)  UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, art 13 (1).

(12) 10 UNESCO Commission for Education, Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 19 November 1974, art 1(b).

(13) Vienna Declaration art I 1 (5), ref 3.

(14) Globalisation, Education and Social Policy Research Center, petition “Toward an Equitable Quality Education For All Framework“, 2013

(15) United Nations Development Agency, report “Deepening Democracy in Fragmented World”, 2002.

(16) UNESCO recommendation art III 4 (a-c), ref. 10.

(17) Jover, Gonzalo “What Does the Right to Education Mean? A Look at an International Debate from Legal, Ethical, and Pedagogical Points of View” Studies in Philosophy and Education 20, pp 213–223, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001.

(18) Brown, J. H. “Opinion: History, civics and balancing ‘STEM’“ The CT Mirror 1 November 2013.

(19) Ibid, quote by David McCullough.

(20)  UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, 19 December 2011, A/RES/66/137.

(21)UN General Assembly, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (last amended 2010), 17 July 1998,  ISBN No. 92-9227-227-6

(22-23)Garaudy vs France (24/06/2003) no. 65831/01,  para. 1(i)

(24-25)  Korostelina, K. “War of textbooks: History education in Russia and Ukraine”. Communist and Post-Communist Studies 43, pp 129–137, 2010.

(26) Quote from Prof.  Jernej Pikalo in lecture about economic globalisation and human rights in EIUC, Venice 19/11/2013.

Bibliography

Books

Hodgon, D The Human Right to Education Ashgate Publishing, Limited, 1998

Sommerset Maugham, W Strictly personal, reference in Aasmäe, H „Rangelt isiklik. Sotsiaalpoliitiline arvustus” (“Strictly personal. Socio-political criticism”) Sirp 7/11/2013.

Wringe, C. A Children’s rights: A philosophical study (1981) 146, reference in Hodgon, D, ref 4 p 20.

Articles

Aaviksoo, J “Information Confrontation and Self-defence” Diplomaatia, March 2011. http://www.diplomaatia.ee/en/article/information-confrontation-and-self-defence/

Brown, J. H “Opinion: History, civics and balancing ‘STEM’“ The CT Mirror, 1 November 2013. http://www.ctmirror.org/op-ed/2013/11/01/history-civics-and-balancing-stem

Jover, G “What Does the Right to Education Mean? A Look at an International Debate from Legal, Ethical, and Pedagogical Points of View” Studies in Philosophy and Education 20, 213–223, Kluwer Academic Publishers, 2001.

Korostelina, K “War of textbooks: History education in Russia and Ukraine” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 43, pp 129–137, 2010.

Reiter, D “Democratic Peace Theory” Oxford Bibliographies. http://www.oxfordbibliographies.com/view/document/obo-9780199756223/obo-9780199756223-0014.xml

Legal acts and soft law

UN General Assembly, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, 16 December 1966, art 13 (1). http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CESCR.aspx

UN General Assembly, Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (last amended 2010), 17 July 1998,  ISBN No. 92-9227-227-6,  available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3a84.html [accessed 19 November 2013].

UN General Assembly, United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Education and Training, 19 December 2011, A/RES/66/137, http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/N11/467/04/PDF/N1146704.pdf?OpenElement

UN General Assembly, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 10 December 1948, art 26 (2), https://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/

UNESCO Commission for Education, Recommendation concerning Education for International Understanding, Co-operation and Peace and Education relating to Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 19 November 1974, art 1(b). http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0011/001140/114040e.pdf

World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, 25 June 1993, A/CONF.157/23 art I (1) and (5). http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/vienna.aspx

Case law

Garaudy vs France (24 July 2003) no. 65831/01, para. 1(i) http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/sites/eng/pages/search.aspx?i=001-23829

Other

Globalisation, Education and Social Policy Research Center, petition “Toward an Equitable Quality Education For All Framework“, 2013 http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/toward-an-equitable-quality-efa

United Nations Development Agency, report “Deepening Democracy in Fragmented World”, 2002. http://hdr.undp.org/en/media/HDR_2002_EN_Overview.pdf

Quote from Prof. Jernej Pikalo in lecture about economic globalisation and human rights in EIUC, Venice 19 November 2013.

This article was published on 10th December: Human Rights Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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