Safe Schools Declaration News #3

GCPEA, June 1, 2018

Welcome to the third edition of Safe Schools Declaration News.

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.

Germany, Mali, and the United Kingdom endorse the Safe Schools Declaration

Since the last update in February 2018, the governments of Germany, Mali and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.

75 states have now endorsed the Declaration, including 20 African Union members, 23 European Union members, and 33 Council of Europe members.

Mali’s endorsement is significant as the country is directly affected by attacks on education and military use of schools and universities. According to GCPEA research, Mali experienced at least 20 attacks on education during the period 2013 to 2017. There is evidence that girls and women were targeted because of their gender, and educational buildings were used for military purposes during the same time period. GCPEA member organizations, including Save the Children, UNICEF, and PLAN International, are working with the authorities to implement an action plan to improve the protection of schools and universities.

In the United Kingdom, a group of 25 young people from across the country championed a campaign which saw 25,000 students and teachers from more than 900 schools sign petitions calling on the government to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. The Send My Friend to School campaign, co-chaired by Save the Children UK, spearheaded the action, producing a policy report which outlines the need to protect students and teachers from harm. Send My Friend to School is run by the Global Campaign for Education UK, a coalition of teachers’ unions and development organizations.

The youth champions released a statement, in which they stated:

“We are 25 young people from across the UK who have come together to campaign on global education because we share a common passion to ensure that all children across the world enjoy a safe, quality, inclusive education. We strongly believe that every child deserves the same opportunities regardless of their background or identity. We need to #MakeSchoolsSafe because no child should be denied right to education.”

This culminated in the announcement by Foreign Minister Boris Johnson that the United Kingdom was joining the Safe Schools community. Johnson made the announcement at a reception to launch “12 Years of Quality Education for All” as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London. In his statement, he affirmed the government’s political support for the protection of schools during military operations and armed conflict, and its intention to encourage relevant international partners to endorse the Declaration.

Ambassador Ulrich Seidenberger of Germany announced his government’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration in May at a reception hosted in Geneva by Ambassador Hans Brattskar of Norway and Ambassador Carlos Mario Foradori of Argentina to mark three years since their governments launched the political commitment to protect education in armed conflict.

Bärbel Kofler, Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid at the Federal Foreign Office, issued a statement highlighting the need for strict standards to be applied to the protection of schools and other educational institutions in armed conflicts. “More protection for schools means more protection for children,” Kofler said.


Spain announces Third International Conference on Safe Schools

On April 24, speaking in New York at UN Secretary General António Guterres’ High Level Meeting on Building and Sustaining Peace, the government of Spain announced that it will host the Third International Conference on Safe Schools in 2019. This follows the Oslo conference in 2015 and the Buenos Aires conference in 2017.

The conference will be the next global moment for states and other stakeholders to focus attention on the issues of attacks on, and military use of, schools and universities, using the Safe Schools Declaration as a framework for the discussions. It will also be an occasion to take stock of how the Declaration has been implemented and seek to find pragmatic solutions to the significant challenges that armed conflict poses to education.


GCPEA launches Education Under Attack 2018

GCPEA released the latest edition of its flagship report, Education under Attack 2018, at an event held on May 10 at the International Institute of Education, and co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Norway, and Qatar. Keynote addresses were provided by the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) on Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, and Education Cannot Wait Director, Yasmine Sherif. GCPEA’s research shows that deliberate and indiscriminate attacks on schools and universities, their students, and staff have become more widespread over the last five years, with more than 12,700 attacks occurring from 2013 through 2017 and harming more than 21,000 students and educators. The report’s key recommendation is for states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration in order to improve protection of education in armed conflict. GCPEA also presented its forthcoming research on the impact of attacks on education on women and girls in Nigeria based on 160 interviews.


Young people lead campaign for Japan’s endorsement

A number of high schools in Japan are campaigning for the government to endorse the Declaration, presenting a petition with more than 22,000 signatures to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. One of the participating schools, Kaetsu Ariake High School in Tokyo, received an award for their campaign, which included a dedicated campaign website. An op ed by Human Rights Watch, which appeared in the Japan Times, highlighted how Japan’s considerable investment in education in emergencies including in, for example, Afghanistan, is endangered by the practice of military use of schools.


Nigeria conducts legal review on protection of education

On May 2-3, the Safe School Declaration Sub-Committee of the Education in Emergencies Working Group in Nigeria hosted a multi-stakeholder workshop in Abuja, Nigeria, to launch a review of the legal framework on the protection of education in Nigeria. Participants included the Federal Ministries of Defense and Education, members of the armed forces, the Presidential Committee on the Northeast Initiative, and a wide range of protection, education, legal, and policy experts.

Commissioners from the three most affected states, Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe, travelled to Abuja to share their experience of widespread attacks against students, teachers, and schools. A statement delivered on behalf of the Minister of Education, Adamu Adamu, outlined how Boko Haram and other insurgents in the northeast have killed 2,295 teachers since 2009, with approximately 1,500 schools destroyed since 2014. Gisela Schmidt-Martin, GCPEA Coordinator, participated and shared examples of implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration by other states. A forthcoming report of the workshop will make recommendations for concrete actions to contextualize the Declaration.  


Human Rights Council has strong focus on protection of education in conflict

The 37th regular session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, which had a special focus on the rights of the child in humanitarian situations, emphasized the need to protect and provide education to children living in armed conflict.

On March 5, Afghanistan, Portugal, and Switzerland highlighted the Safe Schools Declaration in their statements at the Annual Meeting on the Rights of the Child. Norway delivered a joint statement on behalf of more than 50 endorsing states, which emphasized how using a school for military purposes can disrupt education and thus deny children their right to education, risk turning the school into a military objective, and increase the risk of child recruitment and sexual abuse or exploitation. The report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, includes a recommendation for all member states to endorse the Declaration.

The following day, on March 6, SRSG Virginia Gamba presented her report to the Human Rights Council during an interactive dialogue. The report highlights her call to states to endorse the Declaration, paying special attention to Yemen’s endorsement in late 2017. Argentina delivered a joint statement on behalf of more than 50 endorsing states, highlighting how continued access to safe education can help protect children and youth from the impact of armed conflict, while recovery after conflict can happen more quickly if the education sector has been spared as much as possible from the effects of war. Austria, Italy, Liechtenstein, Spain, and Sudan emphasized their support for the Declaration in their national statements.

Several resolutions adopted during the Council session condemned attacks on schools or teachers, including on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Palestine, South Sudan, and Syria. In particular, the resolution on protection of the rights of the child in humanitarian situations contained strong language on the right to education, condemning attacks on educational infrastructure, students, and staff, and calling on states to strengthen protection of educational infrastructure, including by taking measures to deter the military use of schools. Furthermore, the Council encouraged efforts to provide an inclusive, enabling, and secure environment to ensure the safety of schools.


Commonwealth Secretariat holds side event on the Safe Schools Declaration

In the margins of the Human Rights Council, the Commonwealth Secretariat held a side event on the Safe Schools Declaration, which was co-hosted by GCPEA and the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Canada, and Norway, with SRSG Virginia Gamba as the keynote speaker. Ambassador Marcelo Cima of Argentina and Deputy Ambassador Trine Heimerback of Norway outlined their governments’ roles in championing the protection of education in armed conflict, including through the development and promotion of the Safe Schools Declaration. SRSG Gamba shared a concrete example of implementation of the Declaration: she had recently returned from Sudan where the Sudan Armed Forces had circulated a command order to all divisions barring the use of schools and was in the process of evacuating several schools that had been in use by the intelligence services.

Canadian Ambassador, Rosemary McCarney, expressed her government’s concern that schools, which should be the building blocks for future prosperity, enjoyment of human rights, and attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals, are increasingly turned into battlegrounds, with children as targets. She advised that the Canadian Armed Forces are taking steps to incorporate the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into applicable operational policies and procedures and to raise awareness of these policies. Emphasizing the synergies between the Safe Schools Declaration and the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers, Ambassador McCarney called on all Commonwealth members to join the Declaration. To date, 14 of the 53 Commonwealth members have joined.


Save Syrian Schools: ICTJ Public Hearing

On March 22, in Geneva, the International Centre for Transitional Justice held a public hearing, Save Syrian Schools, which was presided over by a panel of conscience consisting of Navi Pillay, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Pablo De Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, and David Tolbert, ICTJ President. A video of the public hearing is available here.

The witnesses provided moving testimonies: two teenage boys described their experiences of deadly attacks on their schools, while two mothers – one of them a teacher – described the impact of fearing for their children’s safety while they attended school. A video was shown with Syrian boys and girls describing their dreams for the future and how they have been impacted by attacks on their schools. At the conclusion of the public hearing, the civil society organizations that form the Save Syrian Schools project presented their demands to the international community, including a call for all states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and end military use of schools.


Prohibition on military use of schools in Côte d’Ivoire

The armed forces of Côte d’Ivoire have integrated modules on the rights and protection of children, including the six grave violations, into trainings provided in military schools, academies, and training centers. The training now includes a specific module on prohibiting occupation of schools and training institutions. The training is established in the four military regions of Côte d’Ivoire, and provided by a child protection cell, which is staffed with trained military personnel. There is a mechanism to monitor cases of human rights violations, including sexual violence and violations of the rights of the child by the armed forces.

Save the Children Sweden is working in partnership with the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Côte d’Ivoire, and in collaboration with CADHA, an NGO that trains armed forces on protection of human rights, and has its headquarters in Camp Gallieni, the central military base of the Ivoirian armed forces. The center has been equipped with technical equipment and teaching materials to sensitize military personnel on protection issues and the rights of the child.


At “OPAC Turns 18”, GCPEA highlights risk of child recruitment in schools

On February 21, at the United Nations in New York, Child Soldiers International hosted a celebration to mark 18 years of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict. Co-hosted by the Permanent Missions of Belgium, Canada, Colombia, France, Sierra Leone, and Sweden, “OPAC Turns 18” included a robust discussion of the various challenges faced by children in war around the world, including threats to their education.

Amy Kapit, GCPEA Research Director, provided an account of global attacks on education highlighting the risk of child recruitment that is posed by military use of schools and calling for endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration. Andorra, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Uruguay highlighted their governments’ support for the Declaration as an effective tool to improve protection of education in conflict. SRSG Virginia Gamba emphasized the crucial need to protect schools in order to better protect children, referring to the Declaration as an example of good practice in this regard. Speaking on behalf of Save the Children UK, GCPEA Co-Chair Véronique Aubert, stressed that children have the right to learn in safety, whether living in conflict or not, and called on more states to endorse and implement the Declaration as a means of protecting access to education.


Article 36 hosts Declaration side event at International Meeting of National Mine Action Directors

On February 15, at the 21st International Meeting of National Mine Action Program Directors and UN Advisers, Article 36 hosted a side event on the role of the humanitarian mine action community in supporting implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration. The objective was to explore the mutually-reinforcing links in the underlying principles, goals, and activities of the Declaration and humanitarian mine action and discuss ways forward to benefit both agendas.

GCPEA Coordinator Gisela Schmidt-Martin shared the example of Somalia where, in July 2017, AMISOM vacated the Somali National University and returned control of the facility to the authorities in a handover ceremony, which was presided over by Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, and other authorities. The handover was carried out as part of AMISOM’s compliance with the Declaration. Prior to the handing over, the UN Support Office in Somalia supported the clearance of all unexploded ordnance and cleaned the buildings that had been occupied by the troops. This was the third education facility returned to the Federal Government of Somalia in 2017.