Statement held by Ambassador Kongstad.
I would like to thank the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) for the invitation to co-host this event together with Argentina and the Coalition.
The importance of access to education for the individual and for society at large cannot be overstated. Recognising that we have to attach more attention to this issue in our foreign and development policy, the Norwegian government has decided to strengthen this segment of our development policy and to increase its efforts to support and protect education in emergencies.
Civilians are protected under International Humanitarian Law, but in reality, it is the civilian population that suffer the most during conflicts. Norway is engaged broadly in efforts to increase the protection of civilians during armed conflict. We are also committed to the humanitarian principles and obligations, strong supporters of principled humanitarian action and the alleviation of the long-term effects of conflict. These objectives underpin our political priorities.
The GCPEA has carried out a global survey presented in the “Education under Attack 2014” report. It finds that over the past five years, armed non-state groups, state military and security forces have attacked thousands of schoolchildren, university students, teachers and education establishments in at least 70 countries worldwide. In five countries, there were more than 1000 attacks in the period 2009-2013. Children and young people have their education interrupted as a result of military use of their schools. They become military targets, thereby endangering lives of students and staff, and also leading to parents not wanting their children to go to school.
Some of the findings in the report have in particular resonated with us, and I would like to quote from two paragraphs:
“The vast majority of these attacks involved either the bombing, shelling or burning of schools or universities, or the killing, injury, kidnapping, abduction or arbitrary arrest of students, teachers and academics. Some were carried out by armed forces or security forces, others by armed non-state groups or in some cases by armed criminal groups.”
“In addition, education facilities were used as bases, barracks or detention centers by armed groups and armed forces. Moreover, there was significant evidence of children being recruited for use as combatants from schools and some instances of sexual violence by military forces and armed groups against students and teachers.”
Norway is very concerned about the negative immediate and long-term effects of these attacks and the military use of educational institutions and is ready to support efforts that can contribute to the immediate reduction, and eventual elimination, of such practices. That is why we welcome the work of the GCPEA in trying to unite efforts to this end.
We welcome the Lucens Guidelines that we will learn more about today. The guidelines have been developed by a broad range of stakeholders and actors, and we see it as an important initiative that has a practical approach to tackling this issue. We appreciate the leadership of the coalition as well as the input and commitment from several states in this room, in developing the draft guidelines. The aim is not to develop the guidelines into a legal instrument, but rather seek the commitment of state and non-state actors to refrain from any military use of schools even during armed conflict. Hopefully, the guidelines can be a practical tool supporting and supplementing the provisions in International Humanitarian Law.
An initiative like this will need its “champions”; supporters that can assist the GCPEA in raising awareness and gaining recognition for the usefulness of guidelines. Norway is ready to provide our support. The most important task will be to gain recognition and commitment for the Lucens Guidelines from stakeholders both among states and as far as possible among armed non-state actors. This will require extensive advocacy globally, regionally and nationally from both states and civil society.
We, on our part, look forward to working with states, NGOs and the Global Coalition to see how the guidelines can be promoted and implemented. A group of countries from different regions of the world could be formed for this purpose. Through building consensus and commitments from various actors, it is possible to reduce attacks on schools and the military use of schools, and hopefully progress can be documented in the future editions of the Education under Attack reports.
I look forward to hearing the views of other states and stakeholders on how we can make use of the Lucens Guidelines to better protect education from attack.