UNESCO calls for more states to endorse Safe Schools Declaration


© USAID/Laura Lartigue
25 May 2016

UNESCO Special Envoy for Peace and Reconciliation, Forest Whitaker and UNESCO Director-General, Irina Bokova, today issued a renewed call for states to redouble their efforts in ensuring a political commitment to protect schools and universities.

They made the call for states to sign up to the Safe Schools Declaration during a side event organised by the government of Norway at the World Humanitarian Summit, and co-convened by UNESCO and partner organisations. Launched two years ago by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, the Declaration has 53 signatories. Yet the continuation of attacks on schools, pupils and teachers puts in jeopardy the possibility of “quality education for all”, as defined in the Education 2030 Framework for Action.

“To make the promise of education real, education and peacebuilding must be tightly linked with long-term development and it must be built in from the start. Education cannot wait until a conflict is over, until buildings have been rebuilt, until resources are available -- we must act now,” Ms Bokova said in her address today.

An increasing problem

Between 2009 and 2013, attacks on school children, students, teachers, academics and educational institutions occurred in more than 70 countries, according to the Education under Attack report published by Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (2014, the latest available data).

Such attacks include the bombing, shelling and burning of schools and universities. Educational facilities are also regularly used for military purposes by governmental armed forces and security forces, and by armed non-state groups, putting them at risk of attacks and jeopardizing access to education.

The report also testifies that hundreds of students, teachers and academics were killed as a result of attacks on education and many more were injured. Hundreds of thousands of students were denied the right to an education, and many children and young people, teachers and education staff, lived in fear of attacks.

Targeted attacks on education and incidents of military use of schools and universities are occurring in far more countries and far more extensively than previously documented in UNESCO’s 2007 and 2010 reports.

By contrast, education can help to protect children and youth from death, injury and exploitation; it can alleviate the psychological impact of armed conflict by offering routine and stability and can provide links to other vital services. Education that is ‘conflict sensitive’ avoids contributing to conflict and pursues a contribution to peace.

The Safe Schools Declaration: gathering momentum

The Safe Schools Declaration is championed by Norway and Argentina. UNESCO has been at the forefront of putting this issue in focus through the publication of the first two reports on Education under Attack that were issued in 2007 and 2010.

The driving force mobilizing international opinion on this issue has since 2011 been the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, in which UNESCO is represented on the Steering Committee, which now publishes the Education under Attack reports and has prepared guidelines to reduce its adverse impact on education.

As Forest Whitaker and Irina Bokova recently wrote in Time magazine, “Education is on the front line of conflict — it should be at the forefront of building peace.”