Broad support for protecting education from attack

Representatives from some 60 countries are gathered in Oslo today to work for safer schools and universities in areas of armed conflict. ‘The Oslo Conference on Safe Schools marks the launch of a concerted global effort to ensure safe education for children and young people in countries affected by conflict. We are pleased that there is already broad support for this initiative, which Norway has worked actively to promote. The Government has announced today that it is providing a further NOK 10 million for work in this area,’ Foreign Minister Børge Brende said.

The Oslo Conference on Safe Schools is being hosted by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, with the aim of encouraging states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. More than 28 million children are denied the chance to go to primary school because of armed conflict.

‘The increasing number of attacks on schools and universities demonstrates the need for simple, clear guidelines that can be used by the parties to armed conflicts. It is encouraging that around 30 countries will today endorse these guidelines and make a commitment to implement them. We will continue to work for endorsement by even more countries. If we are to succeed in protecting schools and schoolchildren in the future, this will require efforts on the part of both government authorities and civil society,’ said Foreign Minister Brende when he opened today’s conference.

Some of the participants at the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools. Photo: Ragna Fjeld, MFA, Oslo
Some of the participants at the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools. Photo: Ragna Fjeld, MFA, Oslo

Participants at the conference include Ms Ine Eriksen Søreide, Norway’s Minister of Defence, Mr George Werner, Liberia’s Minister of Education, and Mr Ziauddin Yousafzai, UN Special Advisor for Education. Norway and Argentina have taken the lead in promoting the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. Foreign Minister Brende emphasised that many NGOs, in particular Norwegian Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council, and the Norwegian Students’ and Academics’ International Assistance Fund (SAIH), deserve recognition for the important work they have done for many years to promote the protection of children and young people and give them access to education.

‘International law is unequivocal: both school buildings and pupils are to be considered civilian and are to be protected against attack. The problem is that international law is not respected. Moreover, if schools are used by the military, for example as barracks for soldiers, observation posts or firing posts, they become legitimate military targets under international humanitarian law. It is therefore crucial that all parties, both states and armed groups, respect the rules for the protection of civilians and avoid using schools for military purposes in conflict situations. And not least, we must seek to ensure that those who violate international law are held accountable,’ Minister of Defence Ine Eriksen Søreide said.

Military and armed groups have attacked thousands of school pupils, students, teachers and educational institutions over the past five years. Attacks and the military use of educational institutions have taken place in no less than 70 countries. The greatest number of attacks occur in Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Somalia, Sudan and Syria. At the same time, education tends to be one of the sectors that receives least aid when crises strike. The Government has stepped up its efforts to uphold children’s right to education in situations of conflict or crisis. In 2014, more than 8 % of Norway’s humanitarian budget, which totalled NOK 3.3 billion, was allocated to educational measures.

For more information, click here: http://www.safeschools.no/

Twitter: #SafeSchoolsOslo

Press contact: Astrid Sehl, cell phone +47 92284752, asse@mfa.no