Meeting human rights obligations in a situation of conflict
: The right to higher education in the occupied Palestinian territories

  • Lucy Royal-Dawson

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


The study examines the realisation of the right to higher education in the occupied Palestinian territories. It investigates the protections afforded to higher education by the international human rights framework, a perspective that has received little attention despite the right's guarantee in several international human rights instruments. A framework for the right to higher education is developed from the international treaties and applied to a situation of conflict, the occupied Palestinian territories. Despite being under Israeli occupation since 1967, higher education in the occupied territories has developed into a sophisticated sector to meet the demand for a socially and culturally significant endeavour. It is entirely administered and delivered by Palestinian authorities, but is limited by the impact of the occupation regime. As occupier, Israel is understood to hold obligations for the humanitarian protection of the Palestinian population of the occupied territories, and both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority are understood to be accountable for the human rights of the Palestinian population, thereby instituting two duty-bearers. The study aims to assess the ways in which higher education is obstructed in ~he occupied Palestinian territories, and, in so doing, to interrogate the utility and potential of framing higher education as a human right and to reflect on invoking human rights in this situation of conflict.

An account of the obstacles to the realisation of the right to higher education is compiled from 31 semi-structured interviews conducted with higher education and school students, higher education and school managers and people who had left formal education. The interviews were guided by the framework for the right to higher education but the interview schedules were designed to capture the participants' lived experience of and views on higher education. The account indicates a higher education sector which is flourishing and accorded a deep social value. It confirms many of the reported obstacles to the realisation of the right arising as a result of the Israeli occupation, but it also records obstacles arising from the policies and practice of the higher education institutions and the social and cultural context. Attributing obligations for the obstacles to the duty-bearers indicates the contingency between the actions of the occupier and the efforts of the Palestinian authorities to realise the right. While some breaches are clearly attributable to one side or the other, others are not. Actions to mitigate the effects of the occupation give rise to additional, separate breaches, as do interactions between the occupation regime and cultural practice. The study contributes an analytical framework for the right to higher education and its application to the occupied Palestinian territories is the first full consideration of the sector to incorporate conflict-related, educational, cultural and social factors. The obstacles to its realisation suggest the campus as a site of struggle for the realisation of the right, thus giving substance to higher education formulated as a human right.

The study adds to the understanding of breaches of an economic, social and cultural right in a situation of military occupation by describing the contours of the contingency between the two duty-bearers. Even though the dominance of the occupier removes full agency and autonomy from the occupied authority, there are still opportunities for them to be exercised.
Date of AwardJul 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorLaura Lundy (Supervisor) & Lesley Emerson (Supervisor)

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