Sixth Anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration | May 28, 2020 |
Sixth Anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration
Significant Progress, but More Needed to Protect Education in Armed Conflict
(New York, May 28, 2021) — May 29, 2021, is the sixth anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration, an international political commitment to protect education in armed conflict, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) said today. To date, 108 countries have endorsed the Declaration, most recently Algeria, in February, and Mexico, in April.
“The rapid endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration demonstrates the growing international consensus on the need to end targeted and indiscriminate attacks on schools, universities, students, and educators,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Executive Director. “Many countries are putting their commitments into action, taking concrete steps to save lives and protect the right to education in the midst of war.”
The Safe Schools Declaration, led by Norway and Argentina, was opened for endorsement on May 29, 2015, in Oslo. By joining the Declaration, countries commit to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict; strengthen collection of data on attacks on education; provide assistance to victims; prosecute those responsible for attacks on education where appropriate; create conflict-sensitive policies; and seek to continue safe education in armed conflict. 
Many countries are making progress in using the Guidelines. Denmark, Ecuador, New Zealand, and Switzerland have updated their military manuals, including to require explicit protections for schools from military use. The United Kingdom and Norway have updated their military policies to reflect their commitments. The Central African Republic has criminalized the occupation of schools by armed forces. In Mali , the Education Ministry  asked the Ministry of Defence to prohibit the occupation of schools left empty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many more examples of good practice can be found in GCPEA’s Implementation Resource Bank.
Regional organizations have also taken steps to protect education. In January 2021, the African Union adopted a Doctrine on Peace Support Operations, that states that AU Peace and Support Operations must protect children while carrying out  their mandates to ensure full compliance with international law and ensure that schools are not attacked and used for military purposes. The new EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child, published in March, commits the European Commission to continue to allocate 10% of its humanitarian aid budget to education in emergencies and promote the Safe Schools Declaration.
Nevertheless, students and teachers in conflict situations continue to face extreme violence and threats to their lives. GCPEA’s report, Education Under Attack 2020, documents over 11,000 attacks between 2015 and 2019, that harmed over 22,000 students and teachers in 93 countries. University students, professors, and facilities have come under attack in at least 70 countries around the world, with university infrastructure attacked 300 times between 2015 and 2019 alone. 
Most recently, in the latest escalation of violence between Palestine and Israel, the UN reported on May 24 that over 57 schools had been damaged in Gaza in 11 days of fighting. While the majority of attacks on schools took place in the context of Israeli air strikes on Gaza, four schools in Israel were reportedly struck by rockets from Gaza, according to the UN. Nearly 600,000 children in Gaza were impacted by school closures due to the conflict.

“As protracted conflicts continue and new conflicts erupt, it is imperative for all countries to adhere to international law and respect the civilian character of schools and universities,” Nijhowne said. “Schools should be sanctuaries during war and off- limits to all parties to the conflict.”

On October 25-27, Nigeria, along with Argentina, Norway, Spain, and GCPEA will host the Fourth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration in Abuja and virtually. The event offers countries the opportunity to strengthen and accelerate implementation of their Safe Schools Declaration commitments, including by sharing good practices to protect education from attack, to inspire and learn from the experiences of other countries. The conference will also examine ways of achieving accountability for attacks on education and providing assistance for victims – both commitments within the Safe Schools Declaration.

“All countries should endorse the Safe Schools Declaration ahead of the Abuja Conference and share their experiences in carrying out their commitments,” Nijhowne said. “Building global knowledge and practice on protecting education, including by strengthening accountability, will make students and educators safer during war, and preserve educational resources crucial to rebuilding for the future.”
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Photo captions: 
1. © UNICEF/UN0463035/El Baba
A Palestinian girl plays in the yard of an UNRWA school in the Gaza Strip, one of 29 UNRWA schools currently used as temporary shelter. Many Palestinian families in Gaza had to evacuate their homes due to heavy bombardment.

2. © UNICEF/UN0275108/Ademuyiwa
Students outside the Modern Age Academy in Accra, Ghana.
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.
Learn more at

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, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NoVo Foundation, Open Society Foundations, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC), a project of Education Above All, and UNICEF. GCPEA also receives support from donors who wish to remain anonymous.

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