Protection of Schools Essential to Increase Access to Education in Africa

– Leila Zerrougui addresses the African Union Open Session on Children and Armed Conflict

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Protecting schools from attacks and military use is essential to fulfil one of the promises of the 2030 Agenda: ensuring access to education for all children, Leila Zerrougui, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict told members of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council during the third annual Open Session on children and armed conflict.

“Schools in the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Sudan, have been looted, pillaged, damaged and destroyed during military operations, including through indiscriminate attacks, ground shelling and aerial bombardments, depriving millions of children of their fundamental right to education, putting the future of an entire generation at risk,” said the Special Representative, who welcomed the African Union’s initiative to dedicate this year’s session to the protection of education.

Attacks against schools and their military use have become a common aspect of today’s conflicts, with long term consequences, especially on fragile education systems. The Special Representative emphasized the heavy burden placed on communities and post-conflict societies to rebuild or repair schools and bring back skilled teachers.

“We have a strong framework, we have tools and political momentum,” Zerrougui said. “The African Union and its Member states can and must make a difference by including measures to end and prevent attacks against schools in domestic legislation, including criminalization of these acts, and must hold perpetrators accountable.”

She called on Member States to endorse the Safe School Declaration, and thereby commit to implement the “Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict” adopted in December 2014, saying that “occupying a school comes at such a high price that it can never be justified”. The declaration has already been endorsed by fifteen African countries.

Zerrougui invited world leaders to produce new commitments to ensure that conflict does not mean the end of learning for millions of children affected by war during the World Humanitarian Summit scheduled at the end of the month in Istanbul.

In conclusion, the Special Representative recalled that the international community has firmly put the protection of schools on its agenda and urged Governments to take action to realize our collective commitment.

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Read Leila Zerrougui’s remarks at the Open Session of the African Union Peace and Security Council: https://childrenandarmedconflict.un.org/statement/briefing-at-the-open-session-of-the-african-union-peace-and-security-council-2/

Note to editors:
In 2011, with the adoption of resolution 1998, the Security Council requested the UN Secretary-General to identify and list, in the annexes of his annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, the armed forces and groups who attack schools or hospitals, or protected persons in relation to schools and hospitals.

The resolution asked listed parties to conflict to work with the United Nations to prepare concrete, time-bound action plans to end and prevent the violations.

There are seven parties listed in the annexes of the most recent annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict, including 5 on the African continent: the Ex-Seleka coalition and associated armed groups (Central African Republic), the Allied Democratic Forces, Forces démocratiques de liberation du Rwanda, Front de résistance patriotique en Ituri (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and Boko Haram (Nigeria).

On May 22 2014, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, launched a Guidance Note on Attacks against schools and hospitals to help ensure that everyone involved in monitoring, reporting and advocacy is equipped with the best tools to end and prevent attacks against schools and hospitals.

For additional information, please contact:
Stephanie Tremblay, Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
+1 212 963 8285, Mobile, +1 917 288 5791, tremblay@un.org