The Launch of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack

Global Coaltion to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), July 1, 2011

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack held its official launch on 21 June, 2011 with sponsorship from the Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations and the support of the Institute of International Education.

Mr. Martin Briens, Deputy Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations, delivered welcoming comments and conveyed the French Mission’s support of efforts to ensure the right to education for all children.  He expressed their intent to work with all Security Council members adopt a substantive resolution during the open debate organized by Germany for July 12th.

His Excellency, Ambassador Dr. Peter Wittig, Permanent Representative of Germany to the United Nations highlighted the Franco-German cooperation supporting the launch of the GCPEA. In the course of the German Mission’s duties as the Chair of the Security Council’s working group on Children and Armed Conflict, Ambassador Wittig recently led a field trip in Afghanistan where he spoke with civil and religious authorities. “I could see for myself that (attacks on education) is a huge problem, not only in Afghanistan but as we know, in many other countries. But I also could detect… a great deal of receptiveness to our interventions, to our suggestions, to our dialogue.” The Ambassador drew attention to the German government’s intent to submit a draft resolution on attacks on schools and hospitals to the Security Council in July.

Her Excellency, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict emphasized the devastating impact of hostilities on schools, schoolchildren, teachers and education networks. “Indeed, there is increasing evidence of the growing need to promote the protection of children during armed conflict.” Ms. Coomaraswamy noted that in her second field visit to Afghanistan in 2010 that, “in provinces most affected by the conflict, between 50-80% of schools were closed due to ongoing hostilities and the general climate insecurity affecting thousands of children.”

Ms. Hilde Johnson, Deputy Executive Director, UNICEF welcomed GCPEA as an important advocate for protecting education from attack. Ms. Johnson welcomed the German Mission’s initiative to expand the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism and build a stronger framework for the protection of education. Specific examples of UNICEF’s work in the field demonstrated the psychosocial impact of attacks on children and families affected by them.

Mr. Phillippe Kridelka, Director, UNESCO New York Office delivered a message on behalf of Ms. Irina Bokova, Director-General, UNESCO. Mr. Kridelka expressed the full support of UNESCO for GCPEA. The director articulated the objective of UNESCO to continue to build the evidence base, to raise awareness and to advocate among key stakeholders for greater protection of learners, teachers and education facilities, especially for women and girls.

Two speakers from the field shared poignant stories of their personal experiences with attacks on education. Mr. Jean de Dieu Muhindo, Program Officer, Save the Children in the Democratic Republic of Congo related his experience through the stories of children with whom he has worked. These children’s schools had been destroyed, attacked and occupied by military forces. One story was told from the perspective of a 10-year-old boy named Kefa. Mr. Muhindo verbally punctuated the retelling with a sharp, “Bom, bom, bom!” imitating the sound of military guns echoing through the school. Professor Tompson Makahamadze, a Refugee Scholar from Zimbabwe, told his own story of persecution for his scholarly work under Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe. Professor Makahamadze, who is finishing up a Scholar Rescue Fund Fellowship, made a passionate plea for the protection of academic freedom and an end to threats and attacks on Higher Education.

Ms. Zama Coursen Neff, Chair of GCPEA, delivered remarks about the mission and goals of the Coalition. On a recent trip to the Somali border, Ms. Coursen-Neff interviewed Somali schoolchildren who had been victims of attacks by Al-Shabaab military forces. Ms. Coursen-Neff said that the official launch was a call to protect education from attack. The simple and eloquent message of one Somali boy who had been recruited by the Al-Shabaab military summed up this call, “A lack of education is a lack of light; it is a darkness.”