Protecting education in conflict - protecting the future

Oslo, 29 May 2015

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Børge Brende, held this opening speech at the "Oslo Conference on Safe Schools: Protecting Education from Attack" 29 May 2015.

Excellencies,
ladies and gentlemen,
dear friends.

In December last year, the Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. More than 140 people were killed, 132 of them children.

Also last year, Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 schoolgirls in Nigeria.

In April this year, al-Shabaab attacked a university in Garissa, Kenya. 147 people were killed, most of them students.

These are just a few examples. Between 2009 and 2013, according to a recent report, schools were attacked in 70 different countries.

This trend is both appalling and unacceptable. Schools are supposed to be places of hope and learning, not places of fear.

Today's conference marks the beginning of our response.

We must reaffirm that schools should always be safe. We must increase our efforts to uphold the right to education, even in conflict situations. By making schools safer, we are protecting the future.

This is why we have invited you to Oslo – to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines to Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

I would like to welcome my good colleague, Minister of Defence Ms. Ine Eriksen Søreide. Only when different sectors and ministries work together, can we achieve progress.

It is a pleasure to welcome His Excellency Mr George Warner, Minister of Education of Liberia. Mr Warner represents a country emerging from years of civil war, and has invaluable insights regarding the importance of education during conflict.

I would also like to recognise the key role played by civil society and humanitarian organisations in this process.

For many of you here, the Declaration and the Guidelines are the result of many years' work to enhance the protection of education.

I would like to thank Argentina for working side by side with us. And the core group: Cote d'Ivoire, Spain, Austria, New Zealand, Nigeria and Jordan.

We have developed these documents together. But the Declaration and Guidelines are only the beginning.

By working together, by building on and implementing what we agree on today, we can achieve real changes on the ground.

The challenge is clear: As result of conflict, 28 million children are out of school and denied their right to education.

The military use of schools and universities has been documented in 25 armed conflicts.

These figures are not just numbers. They bear witness to the devastating impact of armed conflict on children and young people.

Conflict situations are violent, unsafe, unpredictable and frightening. The future is often unclear and hope is scarce.

It is precisely in such situations that children and young people need the stability, protection and learning environment that schools and universities can provide.

Without access to quality learning, children are not only deprived of education today, they are also deprived of their future tomorrow.

This affects all of us.

Attacks on education are therefore not only a humanitarian and development issue. They are social, political, and moral issues, to which we must respond.

The Safe Schools Declaration is a collective political effort to reduce the impact of conflict on education.

The Guidelines provide practical guidance for armed forces to help them reduce their impact on schools and universities, on the education of individuals and on the wider society.

The Declaration provides a political framework to support the guidelines, but also to form the basis for practical action.

The Declaration and Guidelines are not legal instruments; they are voluntary political documents that express our commitment to safe schools for all.

Strengthening education is a priority for Norway. We are doubling our development assistance to education.

We have decided to allocate a larger share of our humanitarian assistance to education in crises and emergencies, including NOK 10 million to the Safe Schools Initiative.

In July, we have invited all states to a Summit on Education for Development here in Oslo. We want to mobilise strong and renewed political commitment; to reach the 58 million children who are being denied their right to education, and to improve the learning outcomes of those who attend school.

What we agree on today will be an important contribution to the Summit.

In closing, I would like to acknowledge that Mr Ziauddin Yousafzei is here today. Not only is he UN Special Advisor on Global Education. He is also the father of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala. He knows what it means to fight for the right to education.

Malala has dedicated her award to 'all the forgotten children who just want an education'. In her Nobel lecture, she called for initiatives to make education a reality for all, including in conflict situations.

The Declaration and the Guidelines that we are endorsing today are a small step in the right direction.

We want children on their way to school to be able to think about mathematical formulas, not about what is hiding behind the next corner.

We want children on their way to school to become small walking symbols of hope and progress, not of fear.

Thank you all for coming here today. I look forward to our continued cooperation to ensure safe schools for all.