Safe Schools Declaration | November 28, 2022 |
Statement by GCPEA Executive Director, Diya Nijhowne, on Colombia’s Endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration

Majority of Latin American and Caribbean States Have Committed to Ending Attacks on Education – Rest Should Follow Their Lead
(November 28, 2022–New York) Colombia, the 116th country to join the Safe Schools Declaration, announced its endorsement ahead of World Children’s Day, in the presence of children speaking about the direct impact of armed conflict on their lives. The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment to better protect students, teachers, schools, and universities during armed conflict, led by Norway and Argentina.
Two-thirds of Latin American and Caribbean states have now signed the Declaration. Colombia’s endorsement should encourage the remaining governments to join them. Region-wide endorsement is important since many Latin American countries are significant contributors of police, military experts, and troops to United Nations peacekeeping operations, while many Caribbean countries have practical experience delivering education following extreme weather events. This emergency expertise can be applied to the context of armed conflict and shared with other countries seeking to implement the Declaration.
Colombia’s endorsement is particularly consequential because of its experience of armed conflict and its devastating effects on learning. Attacks on education in Colombia increased in 2020 and 2021, compared to the two previous years, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack’s (GCPEA) flagship report, Education under Attack 2022. Many of these attacks involved improvised explosive devices placed near schools, particularly in rural areas, and threats  or targeted violence against teachers and other education personnel.
The Safe Schools Declaration, and resources to support its implementation, provide guidance on how to prevent this violence and mitigate its impact, and accountability for perpetrators of attacks and support for survivors are key commitments. Colombia has already taken some important steps to promote safe access to education; notably, the 2010 order from the Commander General of the Military Forces prohibited the occupation of educational institutions. Having now signed the Declaration, the Colombian Armed Forces should ensure that the order, alongside the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, is fully enforced, incorporated into military training, and disseminated throughout military ranks.
Implementing the Guidelines, a central commitment within the Safe Schools Declaration, requires armed forces and armed groups to take concrete measures to restrict education institutions from being used as bases, barracks, weapons stores, or detention centers. GCPEA’s research shows how military use of schools can make them a target for attack by opposing forces and how the presence of armed fighters can expose students to a heightened risk of physical and sexual violence, as well as recruitment and use.
The Safe Schools Declaration is a proven tool to save lives and safeguard education in conflicts around the world. The lead-up to the Fifth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration in Malaysia presents an opportunity for countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and beyond to follow Colombia’s lead and commit to protecting education by joining the Declaration.
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The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), was formed in 2010 by organizations working in the fields of education in emergencies and conflict affected contexts, higher education, protection, and international human right and humanitarian law that were concerned about ongoing attack on educational institutions, their students, and staff in countries affected by conflict and insecurity. GCPEA is a coalition that includes United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations. GPCEA is a project of the Tides Center, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.

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GCPEA is grateful for the generous support of its donors, past and present, including Columbia University’s Program on Forced Migration and Health, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NoVo Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC), a project of the Education Above All Foundation, UNESCO, UNICEF, and an anonymous donor. 

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