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Safe Schools: Education Under Fire

Statement by Ambassador and Permanent Representative Tore Hattrem at a Side Event on the Safe Schools Declaration, Education Under Fire – How governments can protect education during times of armed conflict, 12 October 2017

| Institute of International Education

Thank you for inviting me to speak at this important event.

The Safe Schools Declaration was launched in Oslo two years and a few months ago.  By now 69 states have endorsed this declaration - more than one-third of the UN Member States. We hope for many more endorsements in the near future. 

The international community must do more to prevent the military attacks on education facilities that we are witnessing in armed conflicts around the world. The main purpose of the Safe School Declaration is to do so, first and foremost by preventing military use of schools, universities and other educational facilities.

When schools in conflict zones are used for military purposes, they risk losing their status as civilian objects, and thereby losing their protection under international humanitarian law against military attack.

We are facing a massive challenge here. Since 2013 there have been attacks on schools in at least 21 countries. These attacks have been carried out by both state security forces and non-state armed groups. In the same period, military use of educational institutions has been documented in 24 countries affected by armed conflict or insecurity.

In the humanitarian crises in Yemen, Syria, northeast Nigeria and elsewhere, it is civilians who are being hit the hardest, and it is children who are the most vulnerable. Children and young people are not simply arbitrary victims of armed conflict; on the contrary, they are often deliberately targeted in the very place where they should be safer than anywhere – in school.

Without access to education, children are not only deprived of learning opportunities; in many ways they are being robbed of their future. This affects all of us. If children grow up without a proper education, they will not be able to play their part in building well-functioning, democratic, inclusive and thriving societies.

Education is a human right and a precondition for development. We cannot accept and cannot afford lost generations. I believe a growing number of decision-makers realise this. Norway, for one, has doubled aid for education over the past four years, and we allocate at least 8 % of our humanitarian budget for this purpose.

The process that led to the adoption of the Safe Schools Declaration was started by civil society, international organisations, as well as Norway and Argentina in cooperation with other countries. We have come far, but there is a lot of work ahead. The effort to ensure safe schools for all requires a long-term commitment by the whole of the international community.

Let me take this opportunity to thank the Government of Argentina for hosting the second Safe Schools conference in Buenos Aires earlier this year. Let me also thank the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict for their efforts and achievements in pushing the issue of safe schools up the international agenda.

And most importantly, let me pay tribute to the special guests from Nigeria at this event. You know better than all of us what this is all about.