Education International
Education International

Human Rights Day: EI gives voice to teacher union activists’ rights

published 9 December 2010 updated 9 December 2010

As teacher trade unionists around the world mark International Day for Human Rights on 10 December, EI salutes the bravery of teachers who strive to tackle the violation of peoples' basic rights to live with human dignity and respect.

Since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed in 1948, a range of instruments and networks have ensured the primacy of human and trade union rights. EI has been effective in using supervisory mechanisms like the Human Rights Council, International Labour Organisation, and regional bodies, to confront violations, but widespread abuse of teacher unionists’ rights persist.

On this day, teacher trade unionists around the world, give testimony to continuing abuse of human and trade union rights which lead to colleagues losing their jobs; being threatened, harassed, defamed, imprisoned, exiled or, murdered. Some human rights activists secure international note but many teacher unionists remain anonymous and face increased danger. Examples include:

Colombia: where EI’s affiliate member, FECODE,deplores the murder of 927 teacher unionists since 1990 – with 27 killed in 2010 alone. EI and FECODE denounce rampant infringements of teachers’ social, political, civil and collective rights and demand that the Government takes prompt action to reinstate and protect the full rights of Colombian teachers.

Iran: where university professors, teachers and students remain behind bars or threatened with execution because of their political, religious or trade union affiliations. EI abhors the abuse of Iran's education system which has increasingly become the target of government efforts to stifle dissent.

Ethiopia: where teachers must affiliate to the ruling political party or face penalty. In 2009, laws were enacted to further curb individuals’ right to exercise free association and expression without fear of reprisal. The authorities continue to deny registration to the independent National Teachers’ Association (NTA). Its members continue to be branded disloyal and outcast by school management.

Turkey: where limits on freedom of movement and speech have been put on 31 Egitim Sen teachers’ union members since their bailed release from six months detention in November 2009. The verdict in their case has been delayed three times so they are prevented from leaving Turkey for union events.

Zimbabwe: where six teacher unionists face prosecution for affiliating to the restive teacher union, PTUZ.

South Korea: where 19 teachers were suspended and 164 face disciplinary action for joining a KTU teachers’ union campaign to extended civil and political rights to all teachers.

EI continues to advocate for human and trade union rights of teachers and their organisations, and gives voice to thousands of education union activists fighting for strong laws to defend human rights, democracy, social justice, sustainable development, and quality public services and education. These are the best way to end discrimination on grounds of gender, race, origin, social status, disability, sexual orientation, age, religion, political affiliation or opinion.

In 2009, EI launched a trade union rights manual for its affiliate member organisations. In 2010, EI adopted a declaration for schools to be safe sanctuaries. In 2011, EI’s World Women’s Conference will focus on teacher unions’ plans to promote gender equality, and EI’s World Congress will adopt policies to strengthen the collective global voice of teachers’ rights.