Statement by Ms. Virginia Gamba
Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict

Launch of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack’s report
“Education under Attack”

10 May, 2018


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Excellencies, Colleagues, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Again this year, the Global Coalition’s report “Education Under Attack” is an urgent call to do more to protect schools, educators and students from violence and threats. Thank you for producing this report that is making our common advocacy stronger and more impactful.

I would also like to thank the Permanent Representatives or Norway, Qatar and Argentina. Your commitment to advance the protection of schools is leading to important progress.

I also wish to recognize the invaluable work done by UNICEF, DPKO, DPA and the many NGOs who are key to the monitoring and reporting, and to our advocacy efforts.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
In too many conflicts around the world, schools are under assault. In some cases, they are caught in the crossfire, directly targeted, or used by belligerents looking for infrastructure to house their troops or weaponry. At times, the immediate perimeter of a school is mined or used for military detachments, effectively neutralizing the school by forcing its students to act as a shield. In other cases, it’s the concept of education itself that is under attack, threatening the integrity of curricula or girl’s access to schools.

No matter how schools are affected, children end up paying the highest price by missing out on their fundamental right to an education, on their right to build their future.

Seven years ago, with the adoption of resolution 1998, the Security Council recognized the urgency to act forcefully and gave us tools to better address and, ultimately, prevent attacks on schools. Later, the Council also asked Member States to consider measures to protect schools from military use.

Since then, the monitoring and reporting on this violation has been strengthened and so has our advocacy.

The annual report of the Secretary-General covering the year 2017 is not out yet, but as we all follow closely the evolution of conflicts around the world, we already know that attacks on schools were once again one of the most unsettling trends documented in almost every country on the children and armed conflict agenda.

Here are a few examples from the past months:
In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the outbreak of violence in the Kasai region resulted in a dramatic increase in attacks on schools. In a country where access to education is at best fragile, hundreds of schools were destroyed, looted, burnt down or used for military purposes.

In Mali, despite efforts to improve access to education in conflict-affected regions, over 650 schools remain closed.

In a different part of the world, the siege of Marawi in the southern Philippines also severely restricted children’s access to education. In Somalia, Al-Shabaab compelled children to attend madrassas managed by the group and reportedly attempted to train them as soldiers. In several instances, elders, imams and madrassa teachers who refused to hand over their children to the group were abducted, threatened, physically harmed and/or killed.

Air strikes hitting educational infrastructure in countries such as Syria and Yemen also had a negative impact on access to schools.

We will hear more about the case of northeastern Nigeria in a few minutes, but it is fair to say that the attacks perpetrated against children and schools by Boko Haram, whose ideology is constructed against what they refer to as ‘western education’—have become emblematic of the urgent need to protect schools, students and teachers.

In these countries and elsewhere, attacks on education have caused disruptions that last for weeks, months and sometimes years. Even when schools reopen, parents are often afraid to send their children back, worried that they’ll be harmed, abducted, recruited, or raped.

Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

There are tangible actions we can take to make sure conflict does not mean the end of learning for thousands of children.

Allow me to highlight a few areas where I believe we can make progress:

Action Plans have demonstrated their potential to act as catalysts to generate long-term, structural advances, to foster accountability for violations, and ultimately, to reach our most elusive goal: a change of behaviour towards the protection of children.

As you know, to date, they have mostly been used to address the recruitment and use of children, but they are also mandated by Resolution 1998 to end and prevent attacks on health and education.

In 2014, when South Sudan’s national army recommitted to its Action Plan, ending and preventing all violations against children, including attacks on education, was part of the agreement. Despite a brutal conflict, the UN has been able to use this agreement as a basis to advocate for increased protection of schools. In Sudan, schools that were militarized are in the process of being returned to their original use. This is an approach we intend to follow and deepen in all the action plans, because we want our engagement with parties to conflict to yield the greatest possible results for children.

In the coming months and years, key challenges and priorities for the mandate I represent will include:
• an expansion of our engagement with parties to conflict to address all 6 grave violations, and
• Using lessons learned and best practices to help us move towards the prevention of violations at national and regional levels.

Increasing public awareness and action are at the core of this strategy. Soon, I will launch a new campaign, tentatively named “Not Their War”, that will highlight and push for constructive engagement to end -and prevent – all grave violations.

To do so, we will strengthen our collaboration with a wide range of partners, including regional and sub-regional organizations. We will also reinforce our partnerships with countries that have fully implemented Action Plans on recruitment and use of children – like Chad, DRC and Cote d’Ivoire, as well as those that are in the final stretches of implementation of an agreement, such as Sudan, and Colombia. By becoming champions for the protection of children, including the protection of schools, they will ensure their positive experience is used to generate lasting change at home and abroad.

By developing a common approach to the protection of children, we will increase regional ownership and the sharing of best practices, which will also assist our prevention goals.

Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to renew my call to every Member State to protect education in situations of armed conflict, including through training and the adoption of measures to deter the military use of schools and ensure that military operations do not target schools or result in school attacks.

I also encourage every Member States that has not already done so, to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and to begin work at once to make it operational.

Now, in countries affected by armed conflict, allow me to suggest additional measures that can help promote children’s access to education. Where schools have been destroyed or in areas where security is a concern, alternative means of education, including community-based learning should be supported.

In addition, whenever reparation programmes are elaborated following armed conflict, funding for the reconstruction of schools should be included and if schools have been vandalized through militarization, then rehabnilitation of the school premises should occur prior to their handing them back to the community. Moreover, where children have experienced substantive gaps in their education, accelerated learning programmes can facilitate children’s re-entry into the formal education system. And we must not forget the most vulnerable of all children, unaccompanied minors on the move; schooling must be provided for immediately and in situ as schools is the only normalcy they will know for some time.

None of us would be here if we hadn’t had access to quality education. Some of us also know first-hand the important role played by schools to help communities rebuild following a conflict.

Education is a priority, and I can assure you that we will continue to use every opportunity to bring tangible progress to the protection of schools, because conflict cannot justify losing another generation of children.

Conflict teaches nothing. We are losing entire generations to conflict. Let us win them back through education.

Thank you.