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Your Royal Highness,
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is an honour to take part in this meeting to recommit to the protection of schools, teachers and students in times of conflict.
This event is timely, as it follows the adoption of Security Council resolution 2601 on the protection of education in armed conflict and the 4th International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration.
It is a fitting moment to remind parties to conflict, whether armed forces or armed groups, that attacks on schools and their personnel must end, and be prevented. The military use of schools must stop. Children’s rights to an education free from violence, benefitting boys and girls alike, must be upheld.
I call on Member States and the international community to join forces to protect schools and to protect students and teachers from violence. And I reiterate that education is not only a fundamental right for children, but also the foundation for sustainable peace, stability and development.
Going to school for children living in war zones remains dangerous. In 2020, 536 attacks on schools and related personnel were verified by the United Nations in 21 situations of conflict and concern. Schools were bombed, set on fire and looted. Teachers were abducted, threatened and killed for wanting to deliver education to their pupils. Children were killed, maimed or abducted during attacks while they were in class or on their way to school.
Attacks on schools have continued unbated during 2021, disrupting the education of tens of thousands of boys and girls. In countries such as Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Mali, Syria and Somalia, hundreds of schools were not operational due to attacks, threats of attacks and general insecurity, depriving children of an education and exposing them to further violence. Girls in Afghanistan remain particularly affected. The education curriculum is also at risk in countries where armed groups attempt to control it and use schools as places for indoctrination.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Despite the long road ahead, progress is being made towards the protection of children and schools from attack. The recent Security Council resolution 2601 underlines the nexus between peace, security and education and shows the growing commitment of the international community to protect schools and children’s rights to an education. The resolution urges all parties to respect the civilian character of educational facilities, prevent the military use of schools, and urges Governments to develop legal frameworks to prevent attacks while improving the protection of schools and related personnel.
I welcome that some conflict-affected countries such as the Central African Republic and the Philippines have criminalised attacks on schools in their national legislation. This had been true of the governments of Afghanistan and Myanmar in 2020, and it rests now to see if this legislation will continue to be implemented, given the current situation in both countries. I also welcome that countries such as Mali and Nigeria have taken steps to implement the Safe Schools Declaration by domesticating it within national laws and policies.
However, international initiatives, policies and legislative frameworks are clearly not enough to stop the recurring attacks on schools and other violations against children in many regions of the world.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As underscored by resolution 2601, member states should implement comprehensive measures to end and prevent attacks against schools and civilians connected with schools, including by criminalizing these acts, and must hold perpetrators accountable. States are also encouraged to take immediate measures to rebuild and rehabilitate damaged or destroyed schools and restore children’s safe access to schools.
Moreover, the military use of schools must be prevented by issuing clear military orders and including its prohibition in military doctrine. During conflict, rules of engagement must include measures to avoid attacks on civilian targets and buildings and to give priority and ensure the clearing of all ERWs and mines from their immediate vicinity.
These are some of the steps that can be taken. It is therefore paramount that the political will of member states is matched with concrete actions. In this regard, we should also listen to children’s voices. In the recent Child Manifesto coordinated by Save the Children, children who had suffered attacks against schools and disruption of education provided a list of practical measures that would make them feel safer to engage in pursuing their studies. We should listen to them.
As for my office, I will continue to engage with parties to conflict to develop and implement measures to prevent and end attacks on schools and related personnel through joint protection and prevention plans. I will continue to advocate for stopping the use of schools for military purposes by promoting the signature and implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration. I will also foster my cooperation with key partners such as UNESCO to ensure the implementation of resolution 2601, including through strengthened collaboration aimed at improving student’s access to connectivity and at protecting and supporting teachers during armed conflict.
By working together we can restore the hope of conflict-affected children to get the education they deserve and need, an education free from fear, violence and threat. They deserve no less.