The purpose of the event was to highlight the importance of ensuring lifelong learning opportunities for all, also during situations of armed conflicts, and to provide an opportunity for all Member States to endorse the Safe School Declaration. The declaration, currently supported by 51 states, is a joint initiative developed through state consultations led by Norway and Argentina in Geneva throughout the first half of 2015.
The large number of attacks on schools and universities demonstrates the need for simple guidelines to increase protection of education aimed at parties to armed conflict. The Safe Schools Declaration provides governments with the opportunity to express broad political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict. Furthermore, the declaration acts as an instrument for states to endorse and commit to in order to implement the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. These guidelines urge all parties to armed conflict not to use schools and universities for any purpose in support of their military effort, while acknowledging that certain uses would not be contrary to international humanitarian law.
As the UN lead agency for Education, UNESCO is actively promoting education as a part of emergency response and long-term recovery. UNESCO initiated the focus on attacks on education in 2007 by publishing the first Education under Attack report. This report was followed by a second report in 2010 and was a precursor to the establishment of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). The importance of education is also identified as one of the key objectives of the newly-adopted Sustainable Development Goals.
The UNESCO event was organized by the Permanent Delegations of Norway, Nigeria and Argentina to UNESCO.
Assistant Director-General for Education, Dr Qian Tang, led a high-level panel discussion which included Tone Skogen, State Secretary, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Norway; Julio Mercado, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Argentina to the UN in Geneva; Magdalene Anene-Maidoh, Secretary-General, Nigerian National Commission for UNESCO and Zama Coursen-Neff, Chairperson of The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. H.R.H Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, were also in attendance.
The Safe Schools Declaration is still open to endorsements, and you can read more about it here.