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Book TitleThe Protection of the Right to Education by International Law
Book AuthorBeiter, Klaus Dieter
Bibliographic InformationMartinus Nijhoff Publishers (Brill Publishers), 2006, Pages : 752, $250.00, ISBN 9004147047

Review Title
Reviewer(s) George, Erika

Short review

The Protection of the Right to Education by International Law. By Klaus Dieter Beiter. Leiden, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 2006. Pp. 752. $250.00.

Reviewed by Erika George, University of Utah, S.J. Quinney College of Law



The global discourse on education has gained in prominence in recent years through a variety of efforts to reduce illiteracy and facilitate economic development sponsored by United Nations agencies and others. In his exhaustively researched book, The Protection of the Right to Education by International Law, Klaus Dieter Beiter makes an important contribution to this discourse.  Beiter posits that addressing global illiteracy is not so much a matter of meeting basic needs, developing human resources or achieving objectives of socioeconomic development. Rather, he urges readers to recall that efforts to improve and expand education are most centrally a matter of observing rights protected by law. Beiter argues that recent global and national education initiatives which principally take education as a “human need” render education vulnerable to being understood as a commodity which may be traded against a price. Beiter “aims to rescue the right from extinction.”  To that end, the book embarks upon an ambitious task to explain the nature of the education right and what the right to education demands of states under international law. 


As an initial matter, Bieter sets out do demonstrate that education is a widely recognized human right under international law. He accomplishes this task by discussing travaux prepratoires of relevant instruments and by reviewing the subsequent interpretive materials produced by various human rights monitoring bodies offering additional content to the education right. Beiter understands the right to education to possess social aspects which require affirmative performance on the part of the state as well as, often overlooked, freedom aspects which allow individuals and groups to set up and run private educational institutions.


The book is divided into two parts. Part A offers a general analysis of the protection of the right to education by international law. These chapters discuss the history and nature of the right to education, detail how socioeconomic rights came to be and remain a disputed category of rights, and outline international and regional legal instruments supporting the education right. Finally, this portion of the book presents instruments and statements of specialized U.N agencies and reviews recent promotion efforts which, while largely laudable, have tended to shift the education discourse away from a rights perspective. Part B provides a systematic analysis of the right to education as protected in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which Beiter takes to be “the most important” formulation.


Perhaps the most significant contribution of Beiter’s work is his careful parsing of ICESCR Article 13. He analyzes the general right to education; explains the motivation behind the explicitly articulated aims of education; explores both the individual or social nature of the aims of education; and, argues for the legally binding character of the Article’s provisions and the obligations it places upon governments to ensure that education is available, accessible, acceptable, and adaptable. 


Granted, Beiter’s decision to focus on one specific instrument makes it possible to thoroughly describe various state obligations flowing from the right to education, but the project could have been enhanced by devoting greater attention to the education formulation in the more widely ratified, if not most important, Convention on the Rights of the Child as well.


Nevertheless, Beiter’s work will prove a comprehensive reference resource for those scholars and practitioners seriously interested in the right to education in that it offers a typology of state obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to education. Additional distinguishing features of the book include a discussion of education rights protection for those most vulnerable, the disabled, the detained, the elderly, refugees, migrants and minorities.  More than merely a survey of the relevant legal instruments, Beiter’s book provides normative grounding for the content of the education initiatives contesting the human capital approach to education and its consequences for respect for education in bilateral and multilateral development cooperation activities.  Beiter has succeeded in the ambitious task set for the project. He provides an accurate map of the terrain and has cleared the ground for further exploration by future scholars and policy makers.