In the presence of H.R.H Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, all Member States of UNESCO were today invited to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. The declaration, now endorsed by 51 States, provides governments with the opportunity to express broad political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict.
Speaking at the event, Ms Bokova said she was deeply honoured by the presence of His Royal Highness. “I thank you for your leadership on leading development issues, and for championing, in particular, the cause of education in conflict areas.
In conflict situations, schools, teachers, schoolchildren are not collateral damage –- they are directly targeted. This is a human rights crisis, a security crisis, and a long-term development disaster.”
H.R.H Crown Prince Haakon said: “In areas affected by warfare, going to school is often the most dangerous thing a child can do. Schools and universities can provide some badly needed stability and continuity during armed conflicts, but the frequent military use of these institutions make them vulnerable to attacks. In Syria alone, there have been more than 4000 attacks on schools over the past four years.
The Safe Schools Declaration is a political and practical initiative to reduce the impact of conflict on education.”
A total of 28.5 million children, half of all out-of-school children worldwide, live in conflict-affected areas. By signing the Safe Schools Declaration, UNESCO and Member States actively engage in addressing the impact of violence and conflict on learning institutions, and highlight the importance of ensuring lifelong learning opportunities for all during such periods.
Furthermore, the declaration acts as an instrument for states to support and implement the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.
His Royal Highness said: “Norway remains committed to working towards safe schools for all, and we look forward to continued cooperation with UNESCO and many of our partners present here today.”
Ms Bokova said: “Education is not built into peacebuilding, and it is falling in the crack between humanitarian aid and development assistance.
This mortgages the future of entire societies, holds the world back from reaching the goal of leaving no one behind, and presents a serious obstacle to reaching Sustainable Development Goal 4. I reiterate my call for all Member States to join and support this Declaration.”
The event was organized by the Permanent Delegation of the Kingdom of Norway to UNESCO, the Permanent Delegation of Argentina to UNESCO and the Permanent Delegation of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to UNESCO.
Assistant Director-General for Education, Dr Qian Tang, led a high-level panel discussion which included Tone Skogen, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway; Julio Mercado, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Argentina to the UN in Geneva; Mrs Magdalene Anene-Maidoh, Secretary-General of the National Commission for UNESCO and Zama Coursen-Neff, Chairperson of The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.
The Safe Schools Declaration is a joint initiative developed through state consultations led by Norway and Argentina in Geneva throughout the first half of 2015. It was first endorsed by governments at the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools convened by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 29 May 2015.
As the UN lead agency for Education, UNESCO (Education in Emergencies, Protecting Education from Attack) plays an active role in promoting education as a part of emergency response and long-term recovery.