Safe Schools Declaration News #2 (Q4 2017)

GCPEA, February 8, 2018

Welcome to the second edition of Safe Schools Declaration News, covering the period from October-December 2017.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack* coordinates advocacy for endorsement, and monitors implementation, of the Safe Schools Declaration, a state-led process that is co-championed by the governments of Argentina and Norway. This update aims to share developments in the Safe Schools process with interested stakeholders.


Fifteen states endorsed the Declaration in 2017

A total of 15 new states endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in 2017, which includes a commitment to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

Since our first update in October 2017, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, and Yemen all joined the community of endorsing states, which now has 72 members.

This represents more than a third of all UN Member States, including 19 members of the African Union, 31 Council of Europe members, 21 European Union members, 20 North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, 14 members of the Organization of American States, and 18 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.


GCPEA releases Framework for Action to implement the Safe Schools Declaration

At a high-level event in the United Nations in Geneva, hosted by the Ambassadors of Argentina and Norway, GCPEA released The Safe Schools Declaration: A Framework for Action, a new tool to support governments in making schools and universities safer in the midst of insecurity and war. The Framework for Action provides governments with suggestions, recommendations, and examples of good practice to assist them in implementing the Declaration.

At the same event, Argentina’s ministry of foreign affairs launched the outcome report of the Buenos Aires Conference on Safe Schools, which took place from March 28-29, 2017, and was attended by representatives of more than 90 states.

The Framework for Action is currently available in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. GCPEA continues to collect examples of implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration by states which will be shared in future publications and in this newsletter. States that wish to update GCPEA on implementation may contact Gisela Schmidt-Martin on gschmidtmartin@protectingeducation.org.


Argentina, Norway, Panama, and GCPEA host Latin American implementation workshop

Representatives from the ministries of defense, foreign affairs, and public security, and members of national armed forces of 10 endorsing Latin American states met in Panama City on December 5-6, 2017, to discuss how to protect students, teachers, and schools and universities from attack, and schools and universities from military use, in wars around the world. The workshop was hosted by the governments of Panama, Argentina, and Norway, and GCPEA. 

The event was attended by state representatives from the Ministry of Defense, Public Security and/or local embassies, as well as Geneva Call, Global Education Cluster, International Committee of the Red Cross, Norwegian Refugee Council, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on children and armed conflict (CAAC). Darin Reeves, Director of Training of the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, presented the toolkit to guide understanding and implementation of the Guidelines, while Laura Perez, UNICEF Advocacy and Policy Specialist, introduced participants to the GCPEA Framework for Action. Several participating states prepared draft action plans for follow-up implementation.


United Nations Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict

France hosted the UN Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict on October 31, 2017. During the debate, Virginia Gamba, SRSG on CAAC, welcomed Yemen’s endorsement of the Declaration, and expressed her hope that other states would follow suit. 30 states delivered individual statements which highlighted the value of the Safe Schools Declaration for the protection of education in conflict. Thirty-eight endorsing states also aligned with a joint statement delivered by Norway, supporting SRSG Gamba’s observation that increasing support for the Declaration reflects “a growing international consensus that preventing the military use of schools is essential to avoid disruption to education”. The Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine signaled his government’s intention to endorse the Declaration in Ukraine’s national statement.

In the Presidential Statement, issued following the debate, the Security Council:

  1. Urged all parties to armed conflict to respect the civilian character of schools in accordance with international humanitarian law;
  2. Encouraged Member States to consider concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces and armed non‑State groups in contravention of applicable international law;
  3. Urged Member States to ensure that attacks on schools in contravention of international humanitarian law are investigated and those responsible duly prosecuted;
  4. Called upon United Nations country‑level task forces to enhance the monitoring and reporting on the military use of schools.


UN Security Council Arria-formula briefing on attacks on schools

On October 13, 2017, France, Italy, Sweden, and Uruguay hosted an Arria- formula briefing to the UN Security Council on attacks on schools. The Security Council was addressed by Joy Bishara, who was among the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from a government secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria in 2014. Bishara provided a moving testimony, in which she described her experience of escaping Boko Haram by jumping from a moving truck and running through the bush for hours. SRSG Gamba addressed the Security Council, identifying attacks on schools as one of the most disturbing trends documented in 2016, and calling on all states to endorse the Declaration. Zama Neff, GCPEA co-chair, outlined how implementation of the Declaration can mitigate the risks and consequences of attacks, and published a dispatch following the briefing.


Education under Fire: Argentina, Canada, and Norway host side event in New York

On October 12, 2017, Argentina, Canada, and Norway – together with GCPEA, Human Rights Watch, and the Institute of International Education – hosted a side event on the topic of Education under Fire. The event was presided over by the Ambassadors of Argentina and Norway, with remarks provided by Sharon Riggle, Office of the SRSG on CAAC, Ann Makome, Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Zama Neff, GCPEA co-chair. Joy Bishara and Lydia Pogu told attendees how they survived one of the most serious attacks against a school in recent history, the kidnapping of the Chibok schoolgirls in 2014.



Protecting higher education from attack: GCPEA briefing

On November 1, 2017, at the Institute for International Education (IIE) in New York, with support from UNESCO, GCPEA hosted a briefing on the Guide to Implementing the Principles of State Responsibility to Protect Higher Education from Attack. GCPEA research has found that reported attacks on higher education increased between 2014 and 2017, occurring in at least 50 countries. Participants in the briefing heard how attacks have affected the higher education sectors of Nigeria, Pakistan, and Egypt, as well as the linkages between this issue and the broader human rights agenda. Remarks were provided by Li Fung, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Christian Bull, Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund, Rob Quinn, Scholars at Risk, Stephen Wordsworth, Council for At-Risk Academics, Sarah Willcox, Scholar Rescue Fund/IIE, Jehanzaib Khan of Pakistan, and Jacob Udo-Udo Jacob of Nigeria.



International developments on Safe Schools

The Agenda for Humanity Progress Report 2017, released by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in December, includes “putting an end to military use and targeting of schools and other infrastructure” as one of its cardinal rules under Core Responsibility 2. The Declaration, Guidelines, and Addis Ababa Workshop on Safe Schools are referenced in the report on implementation of Core Responsibility 2, as follows:

“Canada endorsed and promoted the landmark Safe Schools Declaration while Norway worked to promote its  implementation through co-hosting a regional workshop on the implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict by African Union States.”

In December, the UN General Assembly adopted the omnibus resolution on strengthening of the coordination of emergency humanitarian assistance of the United Nations, which included language in OP38 relating to the promotion of safe and protective school environments in humanitarian emergencies, and strongly condemned all attacks directed against schools and the use of schools for military purposes, when in contravention of international humanitarian law.

The Secretary-General’s annual report on CAAC, released by SRSG Gamba during an October press conference, reports extensively on attacks on and military use of schools in the countries in which the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism is activated. Parties to conflict in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Nigeria, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Yemen are listed in annexes of the report for having carried out attacks on schools and hospitals. The report also highlights the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s endorsement of the Declaration.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child welcomed Cyprus’ endorsement of the Declaration in their Concluding Observations following the review of Cyprus’ report on the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.

In November, the UN Security Council Working Group on CAAC issued a public statement on Nigeria with several messages on protection of education. In addition to calling on all parties to the armed conflict to respect the civilian character of schools, and to end and prevent attacks or threats of attacks against those institutions and their personnel, as well as the military use of schools and hospitals, in violation of applicable international law, the Working Group also commended the government of Nigeria for endorsing the Declaration, expressed concern about the military use of schools by government forces in violation of its obligations under international law, stressed the importance of access to education for children in Nigeria, and called upon the government to ensure that schools and related personnel are protected.


Regional developments on Safe Schools

The African Union Technical Committee for Human Resources, Science and Technology adopted CAAC- and refugee-related indicators for implementation of its Continental Education Strategy for Africa 2016-2025. The indicators are: 1) National education policies exist to address psychosocial support and other systems to protect education from attacks and support for rehabilitation; and 2) Your government developed and adopted policies and strategies to ensure the continuation of education during humanitarian situations and support quality, timely, and inclusive education for all. Save the Children Pan-African and AU Liaison Office provided technical guidance.

Save the Children Niger, with the participation of Plan International, COOPI, CONCERN, and the Education Cluster, held a sub-regional workshop on the Declaration from December 13-14, 2017, with participation by representatives of Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. The recommendations arising from the workshop were: 1) immediate and unconditional implementation of the Guidelines; and 2) training of all education actors in conflict-affected areas on emergency preparedness and response.

Plan International Norway and the UNICEF Regional Office in Senegal organized a two-day workshop for countries in Central and West Africa which took place in Dakar on November 10-11, 2017. Save the Children Pan-African and AU Liaison Office was a co-facilitator of discussions on the Safe Schools Declaration. The workshop was attended by representatives of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gambia, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. Among the workshop recommendations were: 1) Develop an action plan to domesticate the Safe Schools Declaration; 2) Start advocacy at the community level and contextualize the toolkit on the implementation of the Guidelines; and 3) hold a follow-up workshop.


Some national developments on Safe Schools

The government of Jordan has implemented a policy to ensure that a child will not be denied access to public school due to lack of a “services card” issued by the Ministry of the Interior. Jordanian regulations have required Syrian children to have such a card in order to enroll in school. This effort to ensure the continuation of education for refugee children is reported by Human Rights Watch here.

Following participation in the Plan International workshop in Dakar, the Minister of Basic Education of Cameroon issued a letter to the Governor of the Far North, calling for respect for the Declaration. 

Three brigades of the Free Syrian Army signed Geneva Call’s Deed of Commitment for the Protection of Children from the Effects of Armed Conflict which includes a commitment to avoid using schools for military purposes. By signing the Deed, the Brigade 51, the Al-Motasim Brigade and the Al-Watan Liberation Movement also committed to prohibiting the recruitment and use of children below 18 years old and to facilitating the provision of medical care and education to children. Geneva Call and the FSA brigades have agreed on an implementation plan for the concrete enforcement of these commitments in the field. 

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) published a Q&A regarding the International Criminal Court Prosecutor’s investigation into the situation in Afghanistan. The Q&A states that the denial of education for girls based on their gender can amount to a crime against humanity. In the ICC investigation, the Office of the Prosecutor has found that alleged attacks on schools, more specifically schools for girls, resulting in many girls being denied access to education, could amount to a war crime under Article 8(2)(b)(ix) of the Rome Statute. The Prosecutor’s request for authorization can be found here, and there are numerous references to attacks on education, particularly girls’ education.


Relevant publications and statements 


Submissions to treaty-monitoring bodies highlighting the Safe Schools Declaration


Upcoming events

During the 37th session of the UN Human Rights Council, from 28 February until 23 March 2018, the annual full-day meeting on the rights of the child will be dedicated to the theme of ‘Protecting the rights of the child in humanitarian situations’. The Human Rights Council will negotiate a resolution on the rights of children in humanitarian situations. In addition, SRSG Gamba will update the Human Rights Council on the activities undertaken in fulfilling her mandate during an interactive dialogue. There will also be a high-level panel discussion on Syria with the Independent International Commission of Inquiry focusing on ongoing violations against children in Syria, including attacks on schools. The Council will also discuss the human rights situations of several countries that are affected by the issues of attacks on and military use of educational infrastructure, such as Afghanistan, Burundi, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, Myanmar, Palestine, South Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.