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A balance must be found

Sep 10,2019 - Last updated at Sep 10,2019

The National Human Rights Centre (NHRC) has decided to investigate alleged police mistreatment of striking teachers during their demonstrations. So far so good. But what the NHRC ignored and glossed over was the bigger issue, namely, whether the striking teachers have legitimate complaints in law and fact, and whether these complaints warrant boycotting classrooms and leaving students without teachers, especially at the start of the school year.

These are the bigger and overriding issues that the NHRC should be occupied with; not only with whether demonstrators were mistreated. Besides, may we ask how the NHRC is going to conduct its investigations and by whom, as probing the conduct of the police and the demonstrators requires a certain level of expertise.

Teachers carry out essential services for the public, and, like nurses and doctors, they may not arbitrarily resort to open-ended strikes. Normally, strikes in essential services are partial and not total and for a limited, short duration to get the demonstrators’ points of view across.

The right to education is sacrosanct under international human rights law. So is the right to strike. A balance must be found between these two basic human rights. This is what the NHRC should also focus on in order to carry out its mandate in a fair and balanced manner.

It is never too late to expand the role of the NHRC in the complicated issues pertaining to teachers going on strike. Focusing on the immediate issues and bypassing the broader issues will not do justice to the complications involved in this matter.

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