If Europe Can Unite Over Eurovision, Why Not Safe Schools?
Human Rights Watch, May 8, 2018
By Zama Neff, Executive Director, Children’s Rights Division
Millions of viewers will be drawn to Portugal this week for a tradition unlike any other: the Eurovision Song Contest that started more than 50 years ago to help unite Europe after the devastation of World War Two.
Today more than 43 countries join in a dramatic, emotional, occasionally quirky, but never boring competition that still brings Europeans together. The contest is designed to force people to look beyond their own borders – you can’t vote for your own country.
Away from the dance floor, on the floors of parliaments and the United Nations, countries in Europe are also uniting around another effort to protect and rebuild nations from the devastating effects of war. The Safe Schools Declaration is a non-binding agreement that schools should be safe, even during war. Countries agree to work together to prevent schools from being attacked, including by avoiding use for military purposes, and by working with others to rebuild when they are.
In Syria, Nigeria, Afghanistan, and in Europe, Ukraine, among other countries, schools, teachers, and students have been intentionally targeted by armed forces and rebel groups. Over the past five years, 28 countries have experienced a pattern of such attacks, according to a forthcoming report from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.
The Safe Schools Declaration is far younger than Eurovision, but in the three years since it was launched in Oslo, 74 countries have signed on and many have begun to act on it. This includes 65 percent of Eurovision countries, including the UK, Belgium, France, Norway, and the Netherlands.
If Europe can find common ground in a singing competition, it certainly should be able to rally united to the cause of protecting children’s future. The remaining holdouts in Europe – including Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania – should follow the lead of their neighbors and sign on to the Safe Schools Declaration.