Speech/statement | Date: 02/02/2021
By Former State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte (Oslo, 2 February 2021)
Opening statement by State Secretary Jens Frølich Holte on Safe Schools Declaration Implementation Network - a cross-regional meeting hosted by Norway.
Few things are more important to protecting a child’s wellbeing and future than going to school and feeling safe at school. Every child has a right to education. Unfortunately, in conflicts around the world, schools and universities are targets of attack, which jeopardises the safety and learning of many girls, boys, and young people.
In May 2015, 37 states endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration at a conference in Oslo. As of today, more than half the UN member states – 106 states to be exact – have endorsed the Declaration.
I am very pleased to see that the Declaration and the Guidelines are being firmly established as the new standard for protecting children and education in conflict situations.
The number of endorsements is encouraging. Yet, it is what we make of our commitments in practice that counts.
There are good and bad news.
Around the world, the Safe Schools Declaration is already protecting students and teachers alike: In Mali, the armed forces are incorporating the Declaration and the Guidelines into their military doctrines. In Afghanistan, military use of schools declined significantly. In Nigeria, military teachers have been ordered to stop carrying weapons openly in schools. Nigeria has also spearheaded the Declaration in the African Union and will host the fourth international conference in the fall.
On the other hand, there is still a long way to go. Education is under threat like never before.
The Declaration provides a framework for sharing best practices and for working together to find ways to protect education in armed conflicts.
At the Third International Conference in Palma de Mallorca in 2019, Norway announced that we would help develop a network of experts to strengthen such state-to-state cooperation on implementing the Declaration. And therefore, we have invited you today.
A key objective of the network will be to promote and support concrete action to operationalise the Declaration at the national level. States will be invited to share experiences, including through trainings, national and global discussions, and an online collaborative platform.
In this regard, I would like to salute Spain’s initiative to establish a technical cooperation and training programme focused on the application of the Guidelines.
The implementation network will be developed gradually and launched at the Fourth International Conference on Safe Schools planned to be held in Abuja, Nigeria in 2021. The aim of this meeting is to discuss the purpose and format of the network, and to ensure that it meets the needs of endorsing states.
If we are to succeed, we need strong partnerships. The Safe Schools Declaration was born out of a partnership between civil society and a number of states, led by Argentina and Norway. A core group of committed states have supported the Declaration since day one. Similarly, the civil society engagement has been consistent, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack continues to play a key part. Today’s meeting is a result of the close cooperation developed with Spain, Argentina, Nigeria and GCPEA.
In the AU and the UN, great efforts have been made to establish the declaration as a protection tool and to promote the declaration on country level. The SRSG for children and armed conflict, Ms Virginal Gamba, Unesco, and Unicef are among those that have and will cooperate closely with all of us.
Norway will be a consistent partner in these efforts because we know that by making schools safer, we are helping to protect our children and our common future. For the same purpose, children and armed conflict is a priority for our tenure at the UN Security Council, including protection of education from attack. I look forward to hearing your views. Thank you.