United Nations General Assembly proclaims 9 September as the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, mobilizing action to safeguard education in armed conflict

GCPEA Press Release
May 29, 2020

The United Nations General Assembly today proclaimed 9 September the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said. The announcement coincides with the fifth anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration, an inter-governmental commitment led by Norway and Argentina to protect education at all levels.

“This new General Assembly resolution amplifies global consensus that all countries have responsibilities to prevent attacks on education in war and respond urgently when attacks occur,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Executive Director. “The Safe Schools Declaration, referred to in the new resolution, is a proven tool for protecting education and has contributed to concrete changes in policy and practice over the last five years that has saved lives and secured a future for students and educators.”

Resolution 74/275 was introduced by the State of Qatar, co-sponsored by 60 states, and adopted by consensus. GCPEA recognises the leadership of H.H. Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser, the Founder of Education Above All Foundation, in calling for this resolution, which provides a unique annual opportunity for mobilization to protect education from attack.

In proclaiming the International Day, the General Assembly condemned attacks on education and the military use of schools in contravention of international law. The General Assembly recognised the grave impact of such attacks, particularly on women and girls, and called for action to prevent attacks. It also called on states to do more to mobilize resources for humanitarian funding and education programs.

To date, the Safe Schools Declaration has been endorsed by 104 States, with Estonia and Antigua and Barbuda as the most recent signatories. During Estonia’s current presidency of the Security Council, it convened the Protection of Civilians debate on 27 May. In his new annual report on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, the UN Secretary-General highlights the suffering endured as a result of attacks on education and calls for all states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration.

Over the past five years the Safe Schools Declaration has elevated recognition of the devastating impact of attacks on education and military use of schools and served as an effective tool for protecting students and educators from the harm that results from attacks. Its accompanying Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict has provided important guidance to all parties to armed conflict in better protecting education institutions and preventing them from becoming targets for opposing forces. Many countries have revised their military doctrine to restrict the use of schools and universities for military purposes, including Switzerland, Denmark, and New Zealand. The National Armed Forces of Mali has also committed to operationalizing the Guidelines by integrating them into their military doctrines and manuals.

Despite progress in protecting education from attack, the extent and scope of attacks remains disturbing. GCPEA has documented a systematic pattern of attacks on education in 37 countries, and military use of schools and universities in 34 countries, over the last five years. Armed forces and groups were reportedly responsible for sexual violence in, or on the way to or from, schools and universities in at least 17 countries, GCPEA said. Female students and teachers were directly targeted because of their gender, including through bombings of girls’ schools, abduction, rape, and harassment, in at least 21 countries, in the same period.

At a high-level event to commemorate the annivesary of the Safe Schools Declaration, the Nigerian Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN in New York announced yesterday that Nigeria will host the Fourth International Conference on Safe Schools in 2021. This will be the first states meeting on the declaration in Africa, bringing together leaders from around the world to share good practice in protecting education from attack.

 “Observation of an International Day to Protect Education from Attack provides a galvanizing moment for states and the humanitarian community to focus financial and political resources on strengthening protection of education each year,” said Nijhowne. “Ahead of the first International Day on 9 September, 2020, there is no better way for states to begin to strengthen protection of education than by endorsing and implementing the Safe Schools Declaration.”