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Rights Archives: Right to education

Decision C-376/10 of the Colombian Constitutional Court

Year: 2009 (Date of Decision: 1 November, 2009)

Forum, Country: Constitutional Court; Colombia

Standards, Rights: Core content; Right to education; Children

Summary Background: The plaintiffs filed a constitutional claim challenging the imposition of fees for public primary education.

Holding: The Court ruled that charging tuition for public primary school was a violation of the Constitution and ordered that all such schools in the nation must cease charging students tuition fees [para. VII].

The Court also referenced the Constitutional National Assembly discussions and found that the authors of the Colombian Constitution intended that primary education in the country would be free [para. VI 8.1]. This approach was seen to be in conformity with Colombia’s obligations under international human rights treaties, which constitute a basis for the Constitution.

Additionally, the Court expressed concern that the levy of fees for primary education could pose an obstacle to accessing the education system and realizing the right to education [para. VI 6].

Citing a wide array of international human rights law instruments, the Court concluded that the State has a clear, immediate obligation to guarantee free primary education, while in the case of secondary and higher-level education, the obligation is of a progressive nature [paras. VI.3].

Additional Comments: This case addresses the State duty to respect the human right to education.

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Case of the Yakye Axa Indigenous Community

Year: 2005 (Date of Decision: 17 June, 2005)

Forum, Country: Inter-American Court of Human Rights; Paraguay

Standards, Rights: Procedural fairness and due process; Right to life; Right to adequate standard of living; Right to adequate housing; Right to adequate food; Rights to water and sanitation; Right to health; Right to education; Indigenous people

Summary Background: The Yakye Axa community, a Paraguayan indigenous community, has traditionally lived in the lands of the Paraguayan Chaco, large parts of which were sold through the London stock exchange at the end of the 19th century. In 1979, the Anglican Church began a comprehensive development program and fostered resettlement of the indigenous groups to Estancia El Estribo, where the natural environment and resources are different from those of the place of origin of these indigenous groups. While they stayed there, the community lacked adequate access to food and water, health services and education. Sixteen persons died due to these living conditions.

Holding: The Court found that Paraguay had violated various provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights (ACHR) in relation to article 1(1) (the obligation to respect rights), such as the right to a fair trial and judicial protection (article 8 and 25) [para. 119], the right to property (article 21) [para. 156] and the right to life (article 4) [para. 176], since it failed to adopt the necessary positive measures required to ensure the community lived under dignified conditions during the period they had to do without their land [para. 168-169]. The Court considered that Paraguay had failed to adopt adequate measures to ensure its domestic law guaranteed the community’s effective use and enjoyment of their traditional land and concluded that the State had the obligation to adopt positive measures towards a dignified life, particularly when high risk, vulnerable groups that require priority protection were at stake [para. 162]. The Court ordered the State to submit the traditional land to the community at no cost [para. 217], to establish a fund for the purchase of land for the community [para. 218], and to provide basic goods and services necessary for the community to survive as long as the Community remained landless [para. 221].

Moreover, the State was ordered to create a community development fund and a community program for the supply of drinking water and sanitary infrastructure. In addition, the Court ordered the State to allocate 950,000 US dollars to a community development program consisting of the implementation of education, housing, agricultural and health programs [para. 205]. Pecuniary damage had to be compensated and costs and expenses reimbursed within one year [para. 233].

Additional Comments: The Inter-American Court stated that it would supervise enforcement and ordered the State to submit a report on measures adopted within one year after the decision was notified [para. 241].

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