Colombian Constitutional Court Orders the Government to Provide Free and Compulsory Primary Education
(Washington, D.C. -- June 3, 2010) The Colombian Constitutional Court recently announced an unprecedented decision to recognize the right to free education for all children. This decision is one step forward in the effort to end the practice of charging students tuition fees in public primary schools.
The Court’s ruling was in response to a petition supported by the Colombian Coalition for the Right to Education challenging the constitutionality of Article 183 of the General Education Law, which allows the local administration to charge primary school enrollment and other fees. The Court acknowledged that to interpret Article 183 to allow the government to charge for primary education would violate the Colombian Constitution and its international human rights obligations.
“Colombia was one of the few countries in Latin America, indeed in the Americas, which until today had failed to provide free primary education to all children. We welcome the court’s decision which now requires the Colombian government to ensure that all children have access to free primary education,” said Monika Kalra Varma, Director of the Center for Human Rights at the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights (RFK Center).
In November 2009, the RFK Center, Cornell University Law School International Human Rights Clinic, and Association NOMADESC filed one of many Amicus Briefs in support of the petition for free education before the Constitutional Court of Colombia.
Berenice Celeyta, 1998 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award Laureate and president of NOMADESC, witnesses daily how difficult it is for children to access education. According to her, “this is truly a huge victory.” She adds that “now the next step is to ensure that the ruling is effectively implemented and enforced.”
“The Constitutional Court’s decision reaffirms the international human rights treaty obligations that require Colombia to provide free and compulsory primary education to all Colombians,” said Sital Kalantry, Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic at Cornell Law School.
The RFK Center’s Right to Education project began with a report addressing the challenges that face Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples in realizing their right to education in Colombia, Guatemala, and the Dominican Republic. The Report was produced in collaboration with RFK Laureates Amilcar Mendez Urizar from Guatemala, Berenice Celeyta from Colombia, Sonia Pierre from the Dominican Republic, and the International Human Rights Clinics at the Cornell University and University of Virginia Schools of Law and was presented before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in a hearing held on March 12, 2008. For more information, please visit our website http://rfkcenter.org/righttoeducation.
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