UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore's remarks at the Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on Protection of Education in Conflict

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FILE PHOTO: On 15 May 2019, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore addresses the United Nations Security Council. © UNICEF/UN0312130/Elias, UN Photo

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NEW YORK, 6 December 2021 - "Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Special Representative Gamba. It is very good to be with you here in person today.

"On behalf of UNICEF, I extend our appreciation to Norway and Niger for their leadership on protecting education, including as penholders on Security Council Resolution 2601. This broadly supported Resolution is an enormous achievement and will be a key tool for all of us as we work to make its provisions and protections a reality for children and education personnel on the ground.

"While the adoption of this Resolution is a milestone, it is the implementation of concrete and meaningful change for children that I want to focus on here today. We applaud the 112 states that have already endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and call on those who have not done so to follow suit. But we must now shift from making commitments to creating change.

"Change for the more than 127 million children out of school due to conflict. Change for the parents forced to make the impossible decision between sending their children to schools they know may be attacked or depriving them of education. Change for students and teachers afraid that armed groups or forces will occupy their safe space of learning. And change for the girls who are targeted simply because they want to learn.

"But change requires courage, preparedness, military discipline and political will, and it requires that we do more than the bare minimum. It requires leadership that promotes military doctrine that goes beyond legal obligations and focuses on restraint to ensure the maximum protection for children and their education. The question should not be whether a school can be targeted or occupied but rather what will be the human cost from these acts.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has only underscored what we already knew to be true – that conflict-affected children - and those disproportionally affected such as girls, the displaced and those with disabilities - are the first to lose out on education and the last to have their access to education restored. This is one reason that UNICEF continues to invest so heavily in digital learning opportunities. This is also why UNICEF advocates across the world to keep schools open and ensure they are safe places for learning.

"Today, we reiterate our call on States who have not already done so – particularly members of the Security Council and those involved in military operations – to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. For those States who have endorsed the Declaration, we encourage you to take concrete steps to implement the Declaration including incorporating the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed conflict into military doctrine and operation frameworks.

"We also call on parties to conflict to go beyond strict legal interpretations of international humanitarian law in the conduct of hostilities and consider the short- and long-term humanitarian consequences of military conduct on children and communities. This includes avoiding the use of educational facilities for military purposes.

"And finally, we call on Member States to lead by example and leverage their influence over parties to conflict to enhance the respect and protection of education and to adapt their domestic laws and military doctrine to ensure the highest standards of protection for students, teachers and educational facilities.

"The time is now to act decisively to protect children and their right to education from conflict.

"Thank you."

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