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Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict: Remarks by Ms. Virginia Gamba, SRSG for Children and Armed Conflict, 10 September 2020

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Security Council Open Debate Children and Armed Conflict: Attacks against Schools as a Grave Violation of Children’s Rights

Remarks by Ms. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

10 September 2020

Mr. President,

Excellence Ambassadeur Abdou Abarry, Excellencies,

I thank Niger for convening this open debate and I also welcome our young briefers. This debate is timely and relevant.

Yesterday we celebrated the first International Day to Protect Education from Attack. In 2011, Security Council resolution 1998 called to ensure that schools are protected and expanded the listing criteria of the Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict to include attacks on schools, and attacks and threats on education personnel. In 2014, in Resolution 2143, the Council recognised that the military use of schools is critically affecting children’s access to education but decided not to expand listing criteria, calling instead for Member States to take “concrete measures” to deter from the military use of schools. Some member states took up this challenge and launched the Safe Schools Declaration in 2015, which today boasts 105 signatories demonstrating that where there is a will, there is a way. Such progress is welcome but, unfortunately, it is not enough.

I am concerned that this violation does not decrease over the years; on the contrary, there seems to be an emerging tactic of war, particularly in the Sahel, where schools are targeted precisely because they are schools, and even more if they cater to girls. In the last two years in Mali, for example, teachers were threatened and killed; education facilities demolished, and learning material burnt leading to the closure of over 1,260 schools, even before COVID-19. Similarly, the last twelve months have seen a rise in attacks against schools and protected personnel in Burkina Faso, including the burning of schools and the kidnapping of teachers forcing 2,500 schools to shut down, depriving hundreds of thousands of children from education. In other parts of the world, such as Asia and Latin America, we are also seeing an increase in attacks to education in indigenous communities. While some conflict- affected states, such as The Philippines, Myanmar and the Central African Republic, have adopted legislation protecting schools from attack and criminalizing the six grave violations, they are still at the early stages of implementation and more needs to be done to speed delivery.

The present pandemic has made things worse. Closed schools and crumbling economies generate push and pull factors that favour recruitment and use, sexual exploitation and child marriage. Lockdowns have restrained and diminished children’s access to essential services. Empty schools may be an incentive for parties to conflict to loot or use schools for military purposes.

Mr. President,

Cycles of violence against schools affect students, teachers, parents and communities alike. Parents are fearful of sending children to school, teachers leave schools due to insecurity and children are denied an education, the single most important tool they need to overcome despair and build a future. This must stop. Schools must remain safe havens where girls and boys can obtain education, without discrimination and without fear. Even at times of war and pandemic, we must do our utmost to ensure that all children -including those undergoing reintegration processes- receive quality education. Education is not a choice but a right.

Attacks against schools and their military use, is an attack on education producing negative effects on children and societies in multiple ways. I therefore urge all parties to conflict to better protect students and education personnel and to respect the civilian nature of school infrastructures and I remind governments that they have a duty to protect education, even at times of war and pandemics.

It is to be hoped that these measures and initiatives, including this open debate, will increase the momentum for action to improve the protection of schools and end attacks on education. Let us act now. Thank you.