Safe Schools Declaration Newsletter

GCPEA, October 11, 2017

Welcome to the first edition of Safe Schools Declaration Newsletter. 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.

69 states have joined the community of endorsing states

Since the beginning of 2017, 12 additional states have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and committed to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

With endorsements by Andorra, Armenia, Belgium, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Canada, Cyprus, Denmark, France, Malta, Romania, and Serbia, 69 countries have now joined a community of states committed to take concrete steps to better protect students, teachers, schools, and universities during armed conflict.

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, 12 members of the Organization of American States, and 16 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

In May 2017, the United Nations Secretary-General, Mr. António Guterres, urged all UN member states to endorse the Declaration in his report to the UN Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict. The Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Virginia Gamba, echoed this call in her recent annual report to the General Assembly. The African Union Peace and Security Council has also urged its members to endorse the Declaration on several occasions, most recently in its press statement following the June 2017 open debate on ending child marriage.

States implement their Declaration commitments

Numerous governments have reported implementing measures aligned with the aims and aspirations of the Safe Schools Declaration. A sample of these is shared below, and further examples of implementation are shared in the soon to be released GCPEA Framework for Action. States that wish to update GCPEA on implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration may contact Ms. Gisela Schmidt-Martin on gschmidtmartin@protectingeducation.org.

  • Argentina, with the support of Norway, hosted the Buenos Aires Conference on Safe Schools on March 28-29, 2017 (more details below). As champions of the Safe Schools Declaration, Argentina and Norway continue to foster exchanges and strengthen political support to protect education during armed conflict.
  • New Zealand has reported that it is amending its manual of armed forces law to include explicit protection of education institutions, stipulating that the defense forces are only to use the buildings of educational institutions for military purposes if it is absolutely necessary to do so. In the event that schools are used, all feasible steps are to be taken to ensure that civilians and, in particular, children are protected from the effects of attack upon the institutions by opposing forces, that the military use is for the minimum time possible, and that the adverse effects upon children, in particular in respect to their right to education, are minimized to the maximum extent possible.
  • Nigeria announced, at the Buenos Aires Conference on Safe Schools, their plans to formulate a national policy on Safe Schools to bring all stakeholders on board to implement the Guidelines. The policy will outline the roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders, including the Ministry of Defense, Federal Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in protecting education from attack. Nigeria also announced that plans are underway by the Ministry of Defense and state governments to revise the decision to use or occupy schools as military or operational bases with a view to finding available alternatives.
  • The Federal Ministries of Education and Finance, the National Emergency Management Agency, and state-level authorities are working together to relocate students and teachers from high-risk zones in the Adamawa, Borno, and Yobe States to secondary schools in safe zones. According to the Ministry of Defense, the pilot phase of the program saw 2,400 students (800 from each state) transferred to 43 Federal Unity Colleges across the north of the country.
  • Nigeria reports that it is implementing several measures to enhance school security to facilitate the continued provision of education, such as: constructing ditches around school perimeter fences; installing security lighting throughout school compounds; using sand bags to deter intruders; deploying armed military personnel to carry out vehicular and foot patrols; stationing security personnel at school gates; and setting up roadblocks on access roads.
  • Nigeria also reports employing several communications measures to improve school security: phone numbers of key staff members are displayed and distributed; schools provide walkie-talkie radios to key staff to facilitate prompt communication; and the government is installing closed-circuit cameras to monitor people moving in and around schools. Students and staff are provided with personal security training to equip them with the skills to respond to a kidnapping attempt, suspicious objects on school grounds, or the impact of a bomb or arson attack on the school.
  • Niger has reported implementing the following range of safety and security measures for schools. School directors in insecure areas of Niger have the telephone number of a local military contact and can make a direct appeal for action if a threat develops. A strict record of attendance is maintained in schools, and visitors must sign in before they can enter the school grounds. Joint education and child protection activities have been developed, raising awareness among teachers on protection themes, such as the recruitment of children by armed groups, family reunification, and risks linked to explosive devices. Alternative education is delivered via a radio program for children who cannot travel to school due to insecurity. Other students have benefitted from a relocation program. According to the Ministry of Education, for the school year 2016-2017, approximately 137,374 children will benefit from relocation to temporary classrooms.
  • Save the Children reported that the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Palestine has implemented improved contingency planning for education in emergencies. Working closely with Save the Children, the authorities have also implemented training guidelines for the security forces, and a reporting, referral, and response mechanism for attacks for use by schools, directorates, the central ministry, and various stakeholders active in the field. A list of stakeholders for schools in high-risk areas has been distributed, including names, contact information, area of specialization, and other relevant details.
  • The Ministry also reportedly developed an online module on the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism aimed at the ministry directorates. Save the Children provided trainings on the MRM online system in the 22 schools in which the Schools as Zones of Peace project is being implemented, and in 44 additional schools in Hebron and Bethlehem. In addition, Save the Children prepared posters outlining positive and negative practices related to protecting education in armed conflict situations; the posters will be disseminated to schools in high-risk areas.
  • Somalia has overseen the evacuation and handover of three educational facilities to the control of the federal government since the beginning of 2017. In July 2017, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) reported that it had vacated Masla University and returned control of the facility to the authorities in an official handover ceremony. 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.
  • Switzerland is in the process of amending its Armed Forces’ manual of the law of armed conflict. The current draft mentions civilian education facilities explicitly as protected objects. Recognizing that the destruction of educational institutions may result in particularly grave disadvantages for the community, that children are present in schools, and that universities and other higher education institutions often constitute or host significant cultural objects, the Swiss armed forces would be instructed to avoid the military use of schools and universities.

Mr. Jeremy Hopkin, UNICEF Somalia Representative, and Maj. Musa Gbow, AMISOM Child Protection Advisor, at the handover of the Masla University to the Federal Government of Somalia on July 11, 2017 © AMISOM

International and regional developments on Safe Schools

Language on protecting educational institutions from attack was included in United Nations resolutions and policies, and in the concluding observations of UN treaty monitoring bodies. 

  • Strong language on protecting educational institutions from attack was included in the Human Rights Council resolutions on ending child, early, and forced marriage in humanitarian settings, the right to education, and Syria.
  • The Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that Bhutan endorse the Safe Schools Declaration in its Concluding Observations on the Optional Protocol on Children and Armed Conflict.
  • The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights invited Pakistan to endorse the Declaration in its Concluding Observations on the initial report of Pakistan.
  • The 2017 Department of Peacekeeping Operations Child Protection Policy identifies the military use of schools as a key child protection concern and recognizes the “adverse impact of the use of schools for military purposes, in particular, its effects on the safety of children and education personnel, the civilian nature of schools, and the right to education”.  The policy further states that United Nations peacekeeping operations personnel “shall at no time and for no amount of time use schools for military purposes, in compliance with the prohibition included in the United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual (2012)”.
Buenos Aires Conference on Safe Schools, March 28-29, 2017

On March 28-29, 2017, the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs of the Argentine Republic, with the support of the government of Norway, hosted the Second International Conference on Safe Schools in Buenos Aires. Representatives of more than 90 states and a number of international organizations and non-governmental organizations gathered to review progress in implementing the commitments within the Safe Schools Declaration, and to share concrete examples of good practice in protecting education at the national, regional, and international level.

The Chair’s Summary issued by the government of Argentina highlighted the global community’s deep concern over continued attacks on, and military use of, educational facilities, which put children, students, and teachers at risk of harm and disrupt the provision of education in armed conflict. States reaffirmed their commitment to strengthen the protection of education from attack to enable the safe continued education of children and youth, no matter where in the world they live, and to protect educational facilities from military use. The report of the Buenos Aires conference on Safe Schools will be released shortly.

Pictured at the Second International Conference on Safe Schools in March 2017 were Ms. Laila Bokhari, State Secretary of Norway’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Mr. Pedro Villagra Delgado, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Argentine Republic; and Mr. Jorge Szeinfeld on behalf of the Deputy Minister of Defence of the Argentine Republic, Ángel Tello. Picture by Roberto Daniel Garagiola

Upcoming events

Education Under Fire: Panel and Reception

On October 12, the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Canada, and Norway, together with GCPEA, Human Rights Watch, and the Institute of International Education, will co-host a panel on the topic of attacks against education. The panel will take place from 6-8pm in the Institute of International Education, 809 UN Plaza (1st Ave between 44th and 45th) and will be followed by a reception.

UN Security Council Arria Formula on Attacks on Schools

On October 13, the Permanent Missions of France, Italy, Sweden, and Uruguay will co-host an Arria formula meeting in the UN Security Council on the topic of attacks on schools. The meeting will be addressed by SRSG Ms. Virginia Gamba, Ms. Joy Bishara, a survivor of the Boko Haram kidnapping of Chibok schoolgirls, and GCPEA co-chair, Ms. Zama Neff. It will take place from 10am – 12pm in UNHQ conference room 6.

UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

The government of France will host the UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict in New York on October 31, 2017, during its Presidency of the UN Security Council. The open debate is a key global moment for the children and armed conflict agenda, and represents an important opportunity for states and other stakeholders to draw attention to the issues of attacks on and military use of schools.

Latin America Regional Implementation Workshop

Panama City, Panama, December 5-6, 2017

GCPEA, together with the governments of Argentina and Norway, will co-host the second regional implementation workshop on strengthening the role of defense actors in protecting education from attack and military use. Endorsing states in the region will be invited to nominate a representative of their Ministry of Defense or armed forces to participate in the workshop, to discuss ways to strengthen policies and practices to protect educational facilities from attack and military use in areas where the protection of education is needed.

GCPEA publications

GCPEA has published a number of tools and guidance papers aimed at assisting government ministries, educators, international and national organizations, and other stakeholders to improve protection of educational infrastructure and personnel.

See a list of the latest GCPEA resources here