Excellency, ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues,
I would like to thank the German Foreign Office and the Institute for International and Security Studies for organising this timely and important event. The children and armed conflict mandate has always enjoyed the strong support of the German Government and its people. The very reason we are gathered today to discuss how to better protect schools and hospitals in conflict is linked to Germany’s leadership role in adopting Security Council resolution 1998 in 2011, when Germany chaired the Security Council Working Group on children and armed conflict. It is thus a particular pleasure to bear witness for Germany as a strong ally in this cause.
Resolution 1998 was a landmark event in protecting children. It added attacks on schools and hospitals—and related protected personnel—as a trigger violation for listing parties to conflict in the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. The resolution was in response to the fact that schools have been increasingly under physical attack. However, the consequences of such attacks go beyond the destruction of schools. Unfortunately, children and teachers are also killed or maimed and the future of those who survive is compromised. Sometimes an entire generation will be deprived of an education and its future and that of a nation destroyed. A future destroyed, a future without hope will only sow the seeds of further conflict.
Attacks on hospitals and hospital personnel have equally drastic effects on children. They deprive whole communities of a much-needed lifeline in times of war. In fact, protecting hospitals and its personnel was the founding element of modern humanitarian law. Attacks on schools and hospitals multiply the suffering of children in already hostile and challenging environments.
Acknowledging that attacks on schools and hospitals are heinous crimes, that they are a universal aspect of conflicts all over the world, and that perpetrators must be brought to justice…is just the beginning. It is our collective responsibility to implement tools and mechanisms to prevent attacks on schools and hospitals, as well as their military use by parties to conflict, and better protect them in times of war. We must also ensure that policy makers, legislators and the rank and file of armed forces and groups are fully aware of their obligations and the consequences of their actions…or omissions. The Guidance Note we recently published called “Protect Schools and Hospitals” is such a tool ready to be used. It shares good practices and provides concrete recommendations for action by those in conflict zones.
On this note, please let me also welcome all of you, the workshop participants. To have gathered such a large group, with such diverse expertise, is probably the best indicator of how important this workshop is for the protection community and how thankful we are for this opportunity.
However, dear participants, I hope you are aware that attending this workshop comes with a big risk: my expectations from you!
Very concretely, my expectations for the coming 48 hours and the take-aways from this workshop are two-fold.
First, let’s strengthen our partnerships across professional communities and organisations. Only through joint, concerted action can we tackle such a serious and widespread problem.
The Guidance Note to protect schools and hospitals from attacks is a good example of how we managed to bring the expertise of diverse actors such as UNICEF, WHO and UNESCO together to work towards a common goal. We jointly launched the Note last year and once again Germany was our partner in this event. All of us: child protection actors, education specialists, health care experts, Government representatives, UN experts, civil society practitioners and academia, need to continue to work together to translate this, as well as other guidelines, into concrete action.
My second challenge, is for concrete strategies on how to implement the tools at hand and how to move forward with them.
This workshop is very timely as many initiatives and opportunities are currently unfolding in the follow-up to Security Council resolution 1998, and last year’s resolution 2143, highlighting the concern over the military use of schools. Over the next two days, you will exchange good practices and lessons learned in the most diverse conflict situations and cultural environments. In 2015, I hope we will be able to concretely answer questions such as:
I. How can we better monitor attacks on schools and hospitals, the military use of these institutions and threats against school children, education and medical personnel? Too many violations go unreported despite a growing awareness of their impact. Our monitoring capacity will likely remain a serious challenge despite our best efforts. The use of new technologies, as you will discuss later, may be key to this issue.
II. How can we identify better approaches for more powerful and coherent advocacy with parties to conflict?
III. How do we prevent attacks, often due to indiscriminate application of force? How do we respond to attacks on schools and hospitals…and quickly? Children cannot afford to stay out of school or go without medical treatment for long–and our response mechanisms are too often too slow for their needs.
Excellency, dear colleagues,
I would like to think of this workshop not only as an exercise to take stock and identify new solutions. It also gives us the opportunity to create a new and strengthened community of practice and should be seen as a kick-off meeting for jointly developing new and creative solutions. I hope to one day look back on this workshop and see it as a milestone, a foundation for building our coordinated action.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to me personally, but for the whole child protection community, to have dedicated partners like Germany and the Institute for International and Security Studies behind us. Such partnerships demonstrate not only the commitment of these institutions to better protect the most vulnerable—children—but also that only through collective action can we truly address this scourge.
I wish you all a successful and fruitful workshop, and look forward to working together to ensure children in conflict get the protection and support they desperately need.