(March 28, 2017 – Buenos Aires) The Second International Conference on Safe Schools opening in Buenos Aires today will contribute to better safeguarding education in war-zones, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). The two-day conference, hosted by Argentina’s Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs, brings together state, international organization, and civil society representatives from around the world to discuss how to implement the Safe Schools Declaration.
The Declaration, which represents a political commitment to protect education from attack and schools and universities from military use during armed conflict, was drafted through a consultative process led by Norway and Argentina and opened for state endorsement at an international conference held in Oslo in May 2015. The Declaration has been endorsed by 62 states to date, with Belgium, the latest to join, announcing its endorsement at the Conference.
“The governments that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration are building a community of like-minded states committed to ensuring that children can learn in safety no matter where in the world they live,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA director. “I urge all countries that have yet to join the Safe Schools Declaration to consider doing so in Buenos Aires.”
Argentina’s Minister of Defense, Julio Martínez, and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pedro Villagra Delgado, as well as Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laila Bokhari, will address the Conference. In addition, endorsing states will share their experiences of implementing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. The Guidelines are a non-binding, practical tool that can help parties to conflict better protect the civilian character of schools and universities by exercising restraint in using them for military purposes.
A toolkit to assist states in implementing the Guidelines will also be launched at the Conference. The toolkit, produced by GCPEA in partnership with the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, comprises practical tools intended as teaching aids, guidance, and aides-memoire for national Ministries of Defense, military trainers, officers, and soldiers involved in the planning and conduct of military operations.
GCPEA research has shown a series of attacks on schools occurring in at least 21 countries experiencing armed conflict and insecurity since 2013. It also finds that, since 2013, armed forces and armed groups have used schools and universities for military purposes such as bases, barracks, firing positions, armories, and detention centers in at least 24 countries experiencing armed conflict around the world. By potentially turning schools into military targets, this practice not only hinders access to education but can endanger students’ and teachers’ lives.
According to GCPEA, the countries most heavily affected by attacks on students, teachers, schools, and universities, and military use of schools and universities are: Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen.
Female students and teachers are particularly impacted and have been directly targeted by armed parties in at least 16 countries since 2013, including through bombings of girls’ schools, and abduction, rape, and harassment at, or en route to, schools and universities.
By joining the Safe Schools Declaration, states pledge to: restore access to education when schools are bombed, burned, and destroyed during armed conflict; deter attacks on students, teachers, and other education staff by promising to investigate and prosecute war crimes involving education; and to minimize the use of schools for military purposes by endorsing and implementing the Guidelines.
“By spearheading the Safe Schools Declaration, the governments of Argentina and Norway have provided a framework for cooperation amongst states concerned with protecting education in armed conflict, “said Nijhowne. “We hope that more countries will join the Safe Schools Declaration to better ensure that education is accessible even to those in the most dangerous and difficult of circumstances – those in the midst of war.”