Safe Schools Declaration News #5
December 18, 2019
As we come to the end of the year, we are pleased to share with you this edition of the Safe Schools Declaration News, which captures key achievements in protecting education from attack during 2019.
This year has seen significant progress in safeguarding education in armed conflict. The Third International Conference on Safe Schools, hosted by the Government of Spain with the support of the Governments of Argentina and Norway and GCPEA, strengthened global resolve to end attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities, Building on the momentum of the conference, 18 new states joined the Safe Schools Declaration in 2019, bringing the total number of endorsing states to 101.
Nonetheless, endorsement of the Declaration is not sufficient, implementation is critical to prevent and respond to attacks on education, including those targeting women and girls. According to new research by GCPEA, attacks targeting girls are increasing, and female students and educators suffer specific forms of violence within their schools and universities with devastating long-term consequences. States must implement the Declaration gender-responsively to ensure that boys and girls can fully realise their right to safe education during armed conflict.
Many states have taken concrete action to implement the Declaration this year, impacting the lives of thousands and showing that the Declaration is bringing about real change, The new year promises to build upon this with the roll-out of innovative, state-led solutions,. The Government of Spain is developing a training programme on strengthening protection of education, and the Government of Norway is creating an implementation network of states.. In addition, the publication of GCPEA’s report, Education under Attack 2020, in May, will outline global trends related to attacks on education and military use of schools, their impact, and positive developments, providing data that can be used to inform more effective protection and response mechanisms.
101 States Now Endorse the Safe Schools Declaration
During 2019, 18 new states joined the Safe Schools Declaration, bringing the total number of endorsing states to 101. The states that endorsed in 2019 were: Benin, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Fiji, Haiti, Marshall Islands, Moldova, Morocco, Nicaragua, Palau, Seychelles, Samoa, The Gambia, Ukraine, Vanuatu and Vietnam.
More than half of United Nations members have now joined the Safe Schools Declaration, representing remarkable progress in building global consensus on the need to protect education in armed conflict since the Declaration was opened for endorsement in Oslo in May 2015.
Third International Conference on Safe Schools, 27-29 May, Palma de Mallorca, Spain
Delegations from 80 States, and experts from 35 United Nations and civil society organizations came together for three days to build knowledge and understanding regarding attacks on education and military use of schools; share good practice in protecting education in armed conflict; and promote more effective implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration.
Participants discussed challenges and good practices related to the gendered impact of attacks on education, and monitoring, reporting and accountability for attacks. GCPEA highlighted its research in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo documenting the consequences of attacks on education for female students and teachers. GCPEA also discussed existing systems and key challenges to data collection, as well as ways that GCPEA is working to strengthen monitoring and reporting on attacks on education and recommendations for other actors.
Spain announced the launch of a technical cooperation and training program in 2020 that will focus on the application of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict and their integration into regulatory and operational frameworks. Norway announced that, in 2020, it will establish a network of states to facilitate peer-to-peer exchange in implementing the Safe Schools Declaration.
The conference featured high-level participation, notably by Queen Letizia of Spain; Mr. Josep Borrell, former Minister for Foreign Affairs, European Union, and Cooperation of Spain; Ms. Marianne Hagen, Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Norway;
Mr. Carlos Foradori, Permanent Representative of Argentina to the United Nations, and other International Organizations in Geneva.
Practical Impact of the Safe Schools Declaration
In a new fact sheet Practical Impact of the Safe Schools Declaration, GCPEA presents growing evidence that the Safe Schools Declaration is helping to protect education from targeted and indiscriminate attack during armed conflict. Use of schools and universities as bases and barracks, weapons stores, detention centres, and for other military purposes has also significantly declined.
For example, 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, several countries took major steps in implementing the Safe Schools Declaration commitments, including Mali, Nigeria and Yemen.
In January 2019, the Ministry of Education reported that it had established a Safe Schools Declaration National Technical Follow-Up Committee to support implementation of the Declaration, including two representatives from the Ministry of Defence. Using the Declaration as an advocacy tool, the United Nations Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), who are members of the National Follow-Up Committee, secured the evacuation of two primary schools occupied by armed groups in Timbuktu.
In January and February, a review of the national legal framework for protecting education from attack during armed conflict was conducted on behalf of the National Follow-Up Committee. The report was validated by key ministries during a multi-stakeholder workshop hosted by Save the Children. During the workshop, participants endorsed recommendations to develop a law to protect schools from attack, and to use the review of the Penal Code to incorporate references to the Declaration. The National Armed Forces of Mali have since committed to operationalising the Guidelines by integrating them into their military doctrines and manuals.
Finally, in order to strengthen gender-responsive implementation, the Ministry of National Education has created a girls’ education division and included protection against gender-based violence as a topic in the national curriculum. The Ministry also disaggregates data by gender in their national information system.
In March, the President of Nigeria ratified the Safe Schools Declaration, a process required in Nigeria to ensure that implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration is a government commitment with legal backing. The process of domestic ratification was led by the Education in Emergencies Working Group in Nigeria, which is co-led by the Federal Ministry of Education, UNICEF and Save the Children and consists of over 50 active local and international NGOs, government agencies and departments.
As part of implementing the Declaration, Nigeria’s armed forces have ordered military teachers to stop openly carrying weapons in schools. The Education in Emergencies Working Group is finalising a draft National School Safety and Security Policy ) and is advocating for an amendment to the Armed Forces Act which 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.
Following the publication of GCPEA’s 2018 report ‘I Will Never Go Back to School’: Impact of Attacks on Education for Nigerian Women and Girls, the Ministry of Education organised a workshop in May 2019 to discuss the report and have since incorporated a gender component into the draft national education in emergencies curriculum. Watch this video to see how women and girls have been impacted by attacks on education in Nigeria.
The Group of Experts on Yemen informed the United Nations Human Rights Council this year of the reported withdrawal of Yemeni armed forces from schools, in line with the commitments in the Safe Schools Declaration, which Yemen endorsed in 2017. The Ministry of Education has also established a Safe Schools Committee to support implementation of the Declaration and Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.
In February, GCPEA published a briefing paper encouraging the international community to provide assistance for safe and secure education in Yemen. The paper was released ahead of the High-Level Pledging Conference to support the humanitarian response, convened by the United Nations, together with the Governments of Sweden and Switzerland.
Increased Protection of Schools from Military Use in National Policy and Practice
The United Kingdom has included reference to the Safe Schools Declaration and a copy of the Guidelines in the Ministry of Defence’s Joint Service Publication 1325 on Human Security in Military Operations. New Zealand and Switzerland also published their updated military manuals which include explicit protections for schools from military use.
In February, 14 armed groups and the Government of Central African Republic, in cooperation with the African Union, signed the Political Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, committing armed groups to “refrain from engaging in any act of destruction or occupation of schools”. The CAR Education Cluster attributed a reduction in military use of and attacks on schools in the second trimester of 2019 to the peace accord. In July, the Front Populaire pour la Renaissance de la Centrafrique (FPRC) and the United Nations, in cooperation with the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, concluded an action plan covering four grave violations for which the FPRC is listed, including attacks against schools.
Strong Support Expressed for Safe Schools Across the United Nations
Secretary-General’s 2019 Report on Children and Armed Conflict
In his 2019 report on children and armed conflict published in June, the United Nations Secretary-General, António Guterres, repeated 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 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.
The 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.
United Nations Security Council Open Debates
GCPEA conducted extensive advocacy ahead of relevant United Nations Security Council Open Debates, encouraging states to reference the Safe Schools Declaration and the impact of attacks on education in their statements.
During the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Sexual Violence in Conflict on 23 April, 3 states highlighted the Safe Schools Declaration and called for endorsement. Both Spain and Botswana stated that military use of schools leads to increased risk of sexual violence-related violations. In addition, Nigeria highlighted its government’s efforts to secure release of the abducted Chibok and Dapchi schoolgirls. References to access to education for women and girls were also made by representatives of the Holy See, Jordan, and the United States.
Read the press release on the United Nations Security Council open debate on sexual violence.
During the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict on 2 August, 26 states referenced the Safe Schools Declaration in their statements.
Read the press release on the United Nations Security Council CAAC open debate.
Ahead of the United Nations Security Council Open Debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS) on 29 October, GCPEA urged states to strengthen monitoring and reporting of attacks on education and military use of educational facilities, including disaggregating data by gender, and ensuring robust data collection for cases of sexual violence in order to inform prevention, protection and accountability measures. Five states referenced the Safe Schools Declaration in their statements, recognizing it as a tool to better protect education for women and girls in armed conflict and enable their full participation in all facets of decision-making.
High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development 2019
In July, GCPEA participated in two events during the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development Goal 4 on quality education. GCPEA’s Education under Attack series is the primary data source for Sustainable Development Goal 4 thematic indicator 4a 3, Number of attacks on students, personnel and institutions.
GCPEA presented on the role of the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines in achieving inclusive, equitable and quality education for all, during a side event organized by the Permanent Missions of Argentina, State of Qatar, Singapore and Uruguay, UNESCO, Education Above All Foundation, and Qatar Fund for Development. GCPEA also joined a panel discussion as part of a side event entitled Protecting Education from Attack and the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, which examined the importance of monitoring attacks as a measure of progress towards the realisation of Sustainable Development Goal 4.
Strengthening Gender-Responsive Implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration
The Impact of Attacks on Education for Women and Girls
This year, GCPEA concluded its research on the impact of attacks on education for women and girls that it began in 2017. In 2018 it released the report ‘I Will Never Go Back to School’: Impact of Attacks on Education for Nigerian Women and Girls based on interviews with 119 victims and eyewitnesses of attacks on schools and education, GCPEA also published guidance on how to better protect women and girls from attacks on education, which highlights the need for gender-responsive implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration to ensure that girls and women can learn and teach without fear of abduction, recruitment, and sexual or other violence by armed parties.
“All That I Have Lost”: Impact of Attacks on Education for Women and Girls in Kasai Central Province Democratic Republic of Congo
In 2019, GCPEA published a new report “All That I Have Lost”: Impact of Attacks on Education for Women and Girls in Kasai Central Province Democratic Republic of Congo, based on 55 interviews with victims and witnesses of hundreds of attacks on schools that occurred in the Kasai region during the 2016-17 conflict. The findings were presented at a side-event at the Human Rights Council on “Education in the 2030 Agenda – Leaving no one behind”, at the Third International Conference on Safe Schools, as well as at the Women Deliver Conference in Vancouver in June.
“It Is Very Painful To Talk About”: The Impact of Attacks on Education on Women and Girls
Building on its earlier research, GCPEA released a new report in November “It Is Very Painful To Talk About”: The Impact of Attacks on Education on Women and Girls, which shows how attacks targeting girls are increasing, with female students and educators in conflicts around the world suffering horrific acts of violence within their schools and universities, including rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery.
Experts from the fields of gender, education in emergencies, and protection in the context of armed conflict met at a GCPEA workshop in October in New York to review and hone the priority recommendations in the report and develop a strategy to advocate for their implementation.
The report “It Is Very Painful To Talk About”, was pre-launched during the African Union Children and Armed Conflict Conference on the 15-17 October in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, attended by over 300 government and civil society representatives. GCPEA presented the long-term consequences of attacks for girls and women, including early pregnancy, stigma associated with sexual violence and children born from rape, and lost education.
The report was released on November 25, the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
Read the press release on the report.
GCPEA Visit to Abuja, Nigeria, 3-6 December
In December, GCPEA visited Nigeria and met with the Minister of State for Education, as well as representatives from the Ministries of Justice, and Defense, and the Ambassador of Norway, civil society, and United Nations and NGO partners to present the findings from its Nigeria report and encourage gender-responsive implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines. GCPEA also participated in a training on the Safe Schools Declaration for security agencies, co-led by the Education in Emergencies Working Group and the National Defense College. GCPEA delivered presentations and facilitated a practical exercise on implementing the Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines to 50 mid- and senior-level officers from military, police, intelligence, and other security agencies.