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Law versus political commitments

Differences between human rights law and global targets



Obligations of the state

International human rights obligations form part of international law. They pertain to the state and are not affected by changes of government.


Political commitments of governments

The MDGs and the EFA and similar outputs of international conferences are often discarded when governments change. A new government is not bound by the political commitments of a previous government.



All human rights for all

Universal human rights standards apply globally. The key principle of non-discrimination mandates all equal rights for all.


Quantitative targets

An increase in school enrolments from 40 to 60% is applauded as a success, not recorded as a violation of the right to education of the 40% of children who remain excluded from school.


What if not?


Internationally guaranteed rights can be claimed by individual subjects of rights (including children) as well as by other states since they form a part of international law. The state which violated human rights is obliged to right wrongs.



Impunity for failure

Political commitments can be broken with impunity. When promised targets are not attained, there is no access to justice for those who should have benefited.



Minimal global human rights standards are binding upon governments who speak and act in the name of their states. Human rights obligations are continuous because human rights protection is a permanent process.



Postponement into the future

The year 2015, when the goal of universal primary education is to be attained, takes away the immediacy characterizing human rights obligations. Today’s children are openly denied their right to education with a promise that future generations might fare better.

How long?

Free and compulsory education for all children until the minimum age of employment

The rule whereby education should be free and compulsory until children reach the minimum age of employment was set in 1921 in order to move towards the elimination of child labour. At the time, the minimal school-leaving age was 14: today’s standard has moved to 18 for the worst forms of child labour.


Undefined completion of undetermined primary school

The process of consensus-building lowered globally agreed targets to a minimum that all could agree to, “feasible in even the poorest countries”. The primary school promised in a long-term perspective has not been defined and it may even be as short as three years. Children may complete it by attending school without actually learning, and be ‘graduated’ into labouring, soldiering or marriage at the age of nine.



Human rights are universal, monitored and litigated throughout the world

Monitoring governmental human rights performance and complaints of human rights violations reach all corners of the world. The wealth or the poverty of any country does not prevent its government from being held to account for human rights violations.


Targets refer only to poor countries and only their performance is monitored

 Monitoring progress regarding the MDGs or the EFA encompasses only poor countries. They are subjected to monitoring while the wealthy countries define the yardstick and assess the performance of the poor but exempt themselves from any monitoring of their own performance.


Source: Katarina Tomasevski - Free or Fee: 2006 Global Report