Yemen endorses Safe Schools Declaration in advance of UN Security Council Debate on Children and Armed Conflict

GCPEA Press Release, October 26, 2017

(New York, October 27, 2017) – Yemen has become the 70th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and commit to take concrete measures to enhance protection for schools, universities, students, teachers, and academics during armed conflict, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) today. Thousands of schools have been damaged or destroyed by all parties to the conflict since the outbreak of fighting in Yemen in 2011.

Yemen’s endorsement, signed by the Permanent Representative of the Yemeni Mission to the UN in New York, comes ahead of Tuesday’s UN Security Council Debate on Children and Armed Conflict, where countries will gather to discuss grave violations against children in armed conflict, including attacks on schools. In the annexes to his 2017 annual report to the Security Council, which will be presented at the debate, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres listed both the Houthis/Ansar Allah, and the Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen, led by Saudi Arabia, as parties responsible for attacks on schools in Yemen. 

“Yemen’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration is particularly significant given the widespread targeting of education in the country,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA director. “GCPEA has documented a marked increase in attacks on schools, largely due to coalition airstrikes, since the violence escalated into a major conflict in 2015, and at least two dozen schools were used for military purposes in just the first eight months of 2017.”

Also listed for attacks on schools and hospitals in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report are parties in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Nigeria. The Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment championed by Argentina and Norway, seeks to improve the safety and security of students, educators, schools, and universities in situations of armed conflict. It provides a framework for cooperation at the national, regional, and global level by identifying a range of measures that governments and others can take to prevent or respond to attacks on schools and educational personnel.

Governments that endorse the Declaration commit to 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. Avoiding military use of schools is a key way in which armed forces and armed groups can reduce the risks faced by children and young people in armed conflict, including death, severe injury, child recruitment, sexual exploitation and abuse, and psychological trauma. Girls and women are often disproportionately impacted by attacks on education and military use of schools.

In May, Secretary-General Guterres urged all UN Member States to join the growing community of countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration. The Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, has echoed this call, noting that increased support for the Declaration reflects a growing international consensus that preventing military use of schools is essential to avoid disruption to education.

The Security Council debate on children and armed conflict provides an opportunity for focused attention on the devastating impacts that attacks on education and military use of schools can have on students, teachers, and communities, and for galvanizing action to protect education during war-time.

“Countries should join Yemen and the 69 other states that have committed to safeguard education, and announce their endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration at the Security Council debate; those countries that have already endorsed should state the measures they are taking to implement their commitments,” said Nijhowne. “The debate is a perfect venue for countries, especially Security Council members, to make clear that they will not tolerate places of learning being converted into battlegrounds and will act to prevent this.”