UN expert: Academic freedom is as important as freedom of the press or an independent judiciary

Эксперт ООН: академическая свобода так же важна, как свобода прессы или независимая судебная система

Demonstration near Columbia University, New York. (Archive)) UN expert: Academic freedom is as important as freedom of the press or an independent judiciary Human rights

In every region of the world, people who exercise their academic freedom face reprisals, an independent UN expert has warned. Today, Farida Shahid, Special Rapporteur on the right to education, presented a report to the Human Rights Council in which she stated that attempts to control public opinion undermine freedom of thought and limit academic and scientific debate.

What is at stake, according to Shahid, is democracy and the international community’s ability to collectively respond to the crises facing humanity today.

“Academic freedom must be understood and respected for its role in our society, which is as important as the role of a free press or an independent judiciary,” Shahid said. 

The Special Rapporteur noted that academic freedom comes with special responsibilities to seek truth and disseminate information in accordance with ethical and professional standards, and to respond to contemporary issues. “We should therefore not politicize its implementation,” she said.

“The restrictions involve many actors: from governments to religious or political groups or figures, paramilitary and armed groups , terrorist groups, drug traffickers, corporate organizations, philanthropists, influential individuals, and sometimes educational institutions, school boards, staff and students, and parent associations,” she emphasized.  

Shahid said institutional autonomy is critical to ensuring academic freedom. However, academic, research and teaching institutions must also respect it.

“Institutions must respect freedom of expression on campus in accordance with international standards and have a special responsibility to encourage debate in up to academic standards when there is controversy on campus,” Shahid said. 

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Referring to the student protests over the Gaza crisis that have occurred in several countries, Shahid noted that she is deeply concerned about the brutal suppression of peaceful demonstrations, arrests, detentions, police violence, surveillance and disciplinary measures, as well as sanctions against representatives of the educational community exercising their right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression.

Shahid called on the international community to endorse the “Principles for the implementation of the right to academic freedom” developed by the by a group of UN experts, scientists and representatives of civil society, based on international law. 

“I believe that the implementation of these Principles will improve the state of academic freedom throughout the world “, she said. 


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