Four New States Join the Safe Schools Declaration, Bringing the Total to 95

August 2, 2019

(New York, August 2, 2019)—Recent new endorsements of the  Safe Schools Declaration demonstrate a growing commitment to protect education in armed conflict, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), today. Benin, Croatia, Palau, and Samoa all signed the Declaration ahead of the UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict to be hosted today by Poland, which currently holds the Presidency of the Council.

The debate will focus on the findings in the UN Secretary-General’s 2018 report on six grave violations committed against children in armed conflict, including attacks on schools. The report documents a total of 1,023 verified attacks on schools and hospitals, affecting thousands of children, and notes that in the Syrian Arab Republic, the number of attacks on schools and medical facilities was the highest recorded since the beginning of the conflict (225).

The report lists in the Annex, parties in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and Nigeria as having committed attacks on schools or hospitals. Listing of a party for grave violations triggers the establishment of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism, through which members of the Country Task Forces on Monitoring and Reporting document and report on grave violations and can engage with parties to armed conflict to end them.

“The Secretary-General’s new report paints an alarming picture of increasing attacks on schools in some countries, particularly in Afghanistan and Syria, as well as military use of schools in eleven countries,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Executive Director. “These staggering figures show a dire need for more countries to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.”

In his report, the Secretary-General repeats his recommendation for all member states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration, calling on the governments of Pakistan, Philippines, and Thailand, specifically, to join. The Secretary General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, has repeatedly urged all UN member states to endorse the Declaration, and protecting schools from attack and military use is an integral part of her office’s new campaign, “ACT to Protect children affected by conflict”.

This year marks the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1882, which included rape and other sexual violence against children as criteria for listing parties to the conflict in the Annex of the Secretary General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Sexual violence frequently accompanies attacks on schools, child recruitment, and abductions from schools and along school routes. Military use of schools increases the risk of sexual violence.

GCPEA has documented sexual violence at school, or along school routes, by parties to conflict in at least 17 countries in the last five years. In its latest report, “All that I have Lost,” GCPEA documents the impact of sexual violence during attacks on schools or recruitment from schools, primarily by Kamuina Nsapua,  a party in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo listed in the Secretary General’s annual report. The Safe Schools Declaration offers important tools for shielding children from the devastating physical and psychological consequences of sexual violence connected with school attacks.

The Security Council debate today provides an opportunity for states to join the 25 African Union, 24 European Union, and 18 Organization of American States members in taking concrete action to protect children in armed conflict by announcing their endorsement of the declaration.  

“New endorsements of the Safe Schools Declaration demonstrate accelerating commitment and momentum in protecting education in armed conflict,” said Nijhowne. “Almost half of all UN member states have now endorsed the declaration. Those remaining should not lag behind but instead take advantage of the upcoming Security Council debate to entrench this commitment.”