United Kingdom 74th state to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration


(April 19, 2018 – New York) U.K. Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, announced his government’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration today, at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in London, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). The U.K. is the 74th country to endorse the Declaration, joining two-thirds of Council of Europe and three-quarters of European Union members in committing to protect education in armed conflict. 

The Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment championed by Argentina and Norway, was first opened for endorsement at the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools in May 2015. By endorsing the Declaration, states agree to take specific steps to reduce the risk of attacks on education, including by using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict as a practical tool to guide their behavior during military operations.  

“The U.K.’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration represents a doubling of countries that have signed on in under three years,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA’s director. “With the U.K., this includes 14 Commonwealth countries that have joined the Declaration:  Such momentum should serve as a clarion call for the remaining Commonwealth members to unite in these crucial efforts to protect students and educators living in conflict zones.” 

GCPEA’s forthcoming flagship report, Education Under Attack 2018, to be released on May 10, documents a pattern of attacks occurring in 28 countries around the world from 2013-2017, including six Commonwealth members – Bangladesh, Cameroon, India, Kenya, Nigeria, and Pakistan. All but Bangladesh are also among the 29 countries where military use of educational facilities by armed parties was reported during the same period.

In addition to disrupting education, military use of educational institutions can turn them into targets for attack by opposing forces, and can put students at risk of death, severe injury, child recruitment, sexual exploitation, and psychological harm. Girls and women may be disproportionately impacted: girls and women were targets of attacks on education because of their gender, including through sexual violence, in at least 18 countries worldwide during 2013-2017.

The U.K. has already made some positive changes to its military doctrine in recent years. For example, in 2016, the Ministry of Defense released a doctrine note on Human Security, which recalls that UN Security Council Resolution 1998 “declares schools […] off limits for both armed groups and military activities” and that “schools and other educational establishments must be permitted to continue their ordinary activities.”

“As the second permanent member of the UN Security Council, and the 7th current member overall, to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, the U.K. can play an important role in encouraging other countries to join,” said Nijhowne. “Over one third of UN member states have already taken a critical step towards ensuring education for all by joining the Declaration.”