Roundtable on academic freedom in the Americas with the UNSR on the right to education

On February 21, the Coalition for Academic Freedom of the Americas (CAFA) hosted Ms. Farida Shaheed, UN Special Rapporteur on the right to education, for a dialogue with academics and members of civil society from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the United States and Venezuela, to discuss the challenges to protect, respect and guarantee academic freedom in the hemisphere. The purpose was to provide input for the upcoming report on academic freedom that Ms. Shaheed will present in June 2024 to the UN Human Rights Council.

Participants reiterated the importance of considering academic freedom from a broad perspective, taking stock of what happens across all levels of education, on and off campus, pertaining to what is spoken and written and considering all subjects of the education community: rectors, teachers, students, and other education professionals. Recurrent themes included: the acknowledgement that attacks to academic freedom are driven by states, as well as market forces and religious fundamentalism; students and teachers are being persecuted simply for belonging to universities and schools, within a context of academia delegitimization; women and gender studies are being especially targeted; students and faculty are being prohibited from joining political associations or being asked to sign on to non-political engagement, with rising criminalization of social protest; there is growing surveillance, social media profiling, and even death threats for speaking out on political matters. Regarding autonomy, participants raised that there has been an increase in state authorities installing/appointing political allies within higher education administrations, ultimately leading to shifts in curriculum and lesson plans. Participants reiterated loss of financial autonomy and budget cuts as a central and recurrent problem across the hemisphere.

The meeting closed with a reminder of the importance of the Interamerican Principles on Academic Freedom and University Autonomy, as a central mechanism to set standards and push for progress on this matter.

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