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Countries Commit to Protecting Education During Conflict

A school girl during a class break at the school run by the by the Hawa Abdi Centre for displaced Somalis. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

A school girl during a class break at the school run by the by the Hawa Abdi Centre for displaced Somalis. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 2 2015 (IPS) - With thousands worldwide being denied education due to attacks on schools and universities, and the use of school buildings by armed groups, 37 countries have committed to protecting students and their education during armed conflict.

An international Safe Schools Declaration was the result of a process initiated in 2012 by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and led by the governments of Norway and Argentina since 2014. The Coalition is a committee of organisations, including the United Nations Children’s Fund and Human Rights Watch, taking action on education in conflict.

“Targeted attacks on education are robbing a generation of the chance to realize their potential, with a huge long-term social cost,” said Diya Nijhowne, the director of the Coalition. “The countries adopting the Safe Schools Declaration are making a commitment to take concrete action to protect students and their education in times of conflict.”

The Coalition called for armed forces to reject the use of school and university buildings as barracks, places to store military equipment, training grounds, or detention centres. The group note that not only do these uses force students out, but they can make the buildings a military target.

The countries including Brazil, Palestine and Jordan have agreed to endorse and use new ‘Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict’.

The Guidelines say universities and schools “should not be used by the fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in any way in support of the military effort.”

Speaking at the conference was Ziauddin Yousafzai, the U.N. special adviser on global education, and the father and teacher of Malala Yousafzai. He applauded the countries that attended the conference for putting the hope generated by education ahead of the despair resulting from violence.

The countries committed to ensuring the continuation of education during armed conflict, and supporting the re- establishment of educational facilities which had been destroyed.

A recent study by the Coalition found schools and universities had been used for military purposes by government forces and non-state armed groups in 26 countries since 2005. Most of these instances were during periods of conflict in the country.

“The countries supporting the Safe Schools Declaration are making it clear that protecting education is a priority and that the work starts here to turn words into action,” said Nijhowne. The declaration is still open to those countries who have not yet joined.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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