Building peace in the minds of men and women

"See it. Name it. Stop it."

Irina Bokova Launches the Guidance Note on Attacks against schools and hospitals with Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui

On 21 May, the Director-General participated in the launch of the Guidance Note on Attacks against Schools and Hospitals in New York, to end attacks on education and healthcare.

The event was organized by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, and it brought together key speakers, including H.E. Ambassador Sylvie Lucas, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations, Ambassador Heiko Thoms, Deputy Permanent Representative of Germany to the UN, along with UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Yoka Brandt, and Chair of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, Zama Coursen-Neff. Dr Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO, sent a video message and Ms Susan Wardak, from the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan, joined by video conference.

The Guidance Note builds on the UN Security Council Resolution 1998 (2011) that gave the UN a mandate to identify and list armed groups and groups that attack schools or hospitals, or protected persons in relation to schools and hospitals, in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict.

Opening the event, Leila Zerrougui, stated, "we have seen it, we know what it is and now we have to stop it. We cannot lose an entire generation of people."

Irina Bokova said, "this subject goes to the heart of all efforts by the UN to building lasting peace and security."

Ambassador Heiko Thoms welcomed the Guidance Note as a "step to operationalise the UN Security Council Resolution," closing a gap in protection. Ambassador Lucas reviewed the rising cases and diverse nature of these threats to children, noting "education is a firewall against ignorance and intolerance."

From Afghanistan, Ms Wardak spoke of the challenges facing the country after decades of conflict, on children, teachers and schools, highlighting the policies of the government in response.

“This is an immediate human rights crisis, it is a security crisis, and it is a long-term development disaster,” said the UNESCO Director-General.

“We have all been mobilized by the horrendous abduction of more than 230 girls in Nigeria by extremist groups. Over half of the children out of school today live in countries affected by conflict or fragility, representing 28 million girls and boys."

The Director-General referred to the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report that called this a ‘hidden crisis.’

According to this report, between 1998 and 2008, an estimated 2 million children were killed in conflicts, 6 million were left disabled, and around 300,000 children were exploited as soldiers. The level of attacks against schools has been increasing.

“Education is falling in the cracks between humanitarian aid and development assistance, so this is why United Nations Security Council Resolution 1998, for which we lobbied hard, and I wish to thank Germany for its leadership, is so important – and why this Field Guidance Note is essential,” stated the Director-General. “These help ensure the crisis is no longer hidden.”

In response, Irina Bokova detailed how UNESCO is working across the world to protect the right to education in all situations.

This includes acting through the promotion peace and human rights education in national education systems, teacher training and curricula, through capacity-building for educational professionals with the UNESCO International Institute for Educational Planning, and through monitoring the implementation by Member States of relevant normative instruments. This year, for instance, UNESCO is pilot-testing its Right to Education Law and Policy Review Guidelines, to assist States in reviewing national frameworks, with a focus on gender and inclusive education.

In addition, UNESCO is helping countries rebuild their education systems, to promote peace and reconciliation.

The Director-General gave examples to illustrate UNESCO’s work.

  • In Afghanistan, UNESCO leads the country’s largest education programme, affecting some 600,000 learners in 18 provinces, with a focus on women, with the backing of Japan. UNESCO is also promoting peace education curricula in teacher training institutions.
  • In South Sudan, UNESCO is working to strengthen the educational system, build the capacity of ministries, and train new teachers. The Organization also reviewing new curriculum frameworks -- with a focus on peace, human rights, gender equity and life skills.
  • In Jordan, UNESCO is addressing the educational challenges affecting Syrian refugees, with the support of the European Union, to help the Government provide quality education to these children.
  • In Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza, UNESCO runs UNRWA’s education programme -- operating nearly 700 schools and three teacher training institutions.
  • In Palestine, UNESCO is working to promote 29 schools as safe zones in vulnerable areas, and training teachers and community leaders on the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism.
  • In Chad, Burkina Faso and South Sudan, UNESCO is working with partners to develop training programmes to help education ministries integrate conflict and disaster risk reduction into sector plans.

“Education cannot wait until a conflict is over, until buildings have been rebuilt, until resources are available -- we must act now,” declared Irina Bokova.

Guidance Note on Attacks against Schools and Hospitals