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GCPEA Briefs UN Security Council on Education Under Attack in the Central Sahel

GCPEA Senior Researcher Dr. Marika Tsolakis briefs the UN Security Council Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict: Attacks against Schools as a Grave Violation of Children’s Rights on education under attack in the Central Sahel on September 10, 2020. Footage obtained from UNTV channel. Watch the full video here. Her full remarks are below.

SRSG Gamba. Executive Director Fore. Council Members.

I am honored to address the Council on behalf of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

We congratulate the adoption of this Presidential statement and other actions that member states have taken to protect schools and universities in armed conflict.  

Just yesterday, the United Nations observed the first International Day to Protect Education from Attack. And 105 states, including the majority of this Council, have now endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.

But despite these advances, violent attacks on education are occurring at an alarming rate in conflicts around the world.

Research by our Coalition identified at least 11,000 incidents of attacks on education globally over the past five years. And in at least 34 countries, schools have been used for military purposes by both state forces and non-state armed groups.

The Sahel region is an area of critical concern.

In Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, armed groups regularly threaten, abduct, and kill teachers, and burn or use explosive weapons to destroy schools. Both military and armed groups have used schools as execution sites or bases.

In 2020, we’ve already documented nearly 100 attacks in the region.

These attacks have ripple effects. Teachers flee or stop working. Classes are suspended. And, fearing that they may be next, schools in surrounding areas also shutter, affecting the learning of hundreds of thousands of students.

A teacher in Burkina Faso whose home was burned down after he was assaulted by an armed group stated “I teach, but I can’t forget.” Victims suffer lasting psychological and economic impacts yet seldom receive the vital support they need. More must be done to protect them.

When thousands of schools in the region shut their doors due to Covid-19, armed groups used force to keep them closed.:

In Mali, 27 attacks on schools and nearly 500 threats against schools or teachers were reported in June 2020 alone when classes resumed.  In Burkina Faso, 13 schools were attacked in the last weeks of July in a single district.

However, the monitoring and reporting of these attacks, and accountability for them, remain challenging in the Sahel. UN staff and other partners face security and physical barriers to documenting violations. In Mali, the UN verified 55 attacks on schools in 2019, yet only a small number these could be attributed to a particular perpetrator.

We also know that women and girls are often deliberately targeted in attacks on education and suffer distinct and lasting consequences; however, limited gender disaggregated data hinders effective gender-sensitive prevention and response.

Many states that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration are finding ways to prevent and respond to attacks on education and reduce the use of schools for military purposes, as are some non-state armed groups

For example, working with the national government and using the Declaration, the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) secured the evacuation of two primary schools occupied by armed groups in 2019.  

And in the 12 countries that endorsed the Declaration in 2015 and had experienced military use, incidents of use by armed forces and groups are declining.

The Security Council should continue to lead the agenda on ending attacks on education and holding perpetrators of these violations accountable. We urge you to take the following steps:

  • Endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration in a gender-responsive manner and refrain from using schools and universities for military purposes.
  • Support UN Country Teams to safely engage with parties to conflict on the protection of education, including signing action plans to end and prevent attacks on schools;
  • Ensure that UN peace operations and special political missions have a child protection mandate and the necessary backing to effectively monitor and report on attacks on education and military use of schools, including through more consistent disaggregation of data related to attacks on education;
  • Address the protection of students, teachers, schools and universities through the Council’s ‘Protection of civilians’ and ‘Youth, peace and security, agendas, and more systematically address sexual violence at, or on the way to or from, school through its Sexual Violence in Conflict agenda

This Council can make tangible improvements to the safety and security of schools and universities in the Sahel and  around the world.

Thank you.