100 Countries Now Commit to Ending Attacks on Education

Incidents of the Military Use of Schools Decline in Countries Endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration

November 20, 2019

Incidents of military use of schools decline in countries endorsing Safe Schools Declaration

100 Countries Now Commit to Ending Attacks on Education

(New York, November 20, 2019) The recent endorsements by Morocco, Vietnam, the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Ukraine bring the total number of states that have joined the Safe Schools Declaration to 100, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said today. Ukraine became the 100th country to endorse the declaration today.

“More than half of all United Nations members have now joined the Safe Schools Declaration, representing a critical mass of countries committed to protecting students, teachers, their schools and universities from attack,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA’s Executive Director. “The remaining governments should also sign on and fully implement the Declaration if the UN Sustainable Development Goals are to be achieved, not only for education but all the goals, as they are inextricably linked to safe education for all.”

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment to protect education in armed conflict led by the governments of Argentina and Norway and launched in May 2015, with GCPEA’s active support. By endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, governments commit to improve monitoring and reporting of attacks on education and military use of schools, assist victims of attacks, prosecute perpetrators, and promote measures that enable safe education to continue during war. By joining the Declaration, governments also endorse and commit to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Between 2015 and mid-2019, GCPEA identified nearly 10,000 reported incidents of attacks on education harming over 17,800 students, teachers, and education personnel across all levels of education. GCPEA identified a systematic pattern of attacks on education in 37 countries in this period, and collected reports of military use of schools and universities in 32 countries.

The Safe Schools Declaration has highlighted the extent and severity of attacks on education globally and offered a coordinated, international political response to save lives and ensure the right to education for all. And the Declaration has been effective in safeguarding education.

In its new fact sheet, Practical Impact of the Safe Schools Declaration, GCPEA presents a growing body of evidence showing how the Safe Schools Declaration is helping to protect education from targeted and indiscriminate attack during armed conflict. It also underscores a significant decline in schools and universities being used as bases and barracks, weapons stores, detention centers, and for other military purposes.

In 2018, GCPEA found at least 80 reported incidents of military use of schools and universities, a drop from 2015, when GCPEA identified at least 160 reported incidents, among the 12 countries that endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in 2015 and experienced at least one incident of military use of schools.

In addition, GCPEA has not identified any reports of military use of schools or universities by United Nations peacekeeping forces since early 2017. During that year, the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations issued a complete ban on the use of schools and universities by peacekeepers, drawing from the Safe Schools Declaration and the  Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Following endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration, several countries have increased protections for schools against military use in national policy and practice. For example, in Somalia, in 2017, the African Union Mission to Somalia handed educational facilities it had used for military purposes, back to the government, including a university it had used for ten years. As another example, in 2018, following an order prohibiting the use of schools for military purposes issued the previous year, the Sudanese government security forces vacated three schools.

In Nigeria, one of the first countries to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration in 2015, a working group chaired by the Ministry of Education has proposed an amendment to the Armed Forces Act which, if accepted, would legally ban the military use of schools by the armed forces. Such a ban would help to prevent attacks on education by opposing armed groups, and limit disruptions to students’ learning.    

Most recently, in 2019, sources reported the withdrawal of Yemeni armed forces from schools in line with the commitments in the Safe Schools Declaration, which was endorsed by Yemen in 2017.

“The Safe Schools Declaration is a proven tool for defending the right to education during armed conflict.” said Nijhowne. “Endorsement by 100 states shows remarkable progress in gaining traction on this issue in less than five years and will have a significant impact on the safety and futures of students and educators across the globe.”