Safeguarding their right to education and ensuring schools are safe – hrc high level event Children are the primary victims of war and they remain disproportionately
Safeguarding their right to education and ensuring schools are safe – hrc high level event
Children are the primary victims of war and they remain disproportionately affected by armed conflict. Moreover, the Covid-19 pandemic has aggravated their plight.
In situations of conflict, special attention must be given to children’s right to access education. On the one hand, limited access to education exposes children to further violence, exploitation and abuses. This undermines their well-being and produces permanent scars that are hard to recover from. On the other hand, education is both, a human right in itself and an indispensable means for exercising other human rights. Thus, education must remain a priority during times of crisis as much as during times of stability and must be protected by all means. In the midst of violence, education can offer children protection, dependable routines and often remains the only source of hope allowing children to learn, play and escape the horrors of war. It can promote peace, recovery, security and development and thus contribute to the prevention of future conflicts.
Children, teachers and schools benefit from the general protection provided for civilians not taking part in hostilities and civilian objects in the event of armed conflict. Targeting civilians, including students and teachers, in situations of armed conflict as well as attacks on civilian objects, such as schools, are prohibited under international law. These actions may also constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and could be prosecuted as war crimes under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. Furthermore, given the particular vulnerability of children, the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (GCIII and GCIV) and their Additional Protocols of 1977 (API and APII) lay down a series of rules according them special protection. Children who take direct part in hostilities do not lose that special protection. The 1989 Convention on the rights of the child and its Optional Protocol, in particular, continue to apply during armed conflict and provide additional protections and rights to children, enshrining for instance in its article 29 the right to education.
The international community irrevocably put the protection of schools on the global agenda in July 2011, when the UN Security Council adopted its landmark resolution 1998. It highlights the impact that attacks on schools and hospitals can have on the safety, education and health of children during armed conflict. It also calls for greater action to ensure that schools are shielded from warfare. UN Security Council resolution 2143, in March 2014, subsequently called on Member States to consider “concrete measures” to deter the military use of schools.
With the publication in December 2014 of the “Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict” – otherwise known as the “Safe Schools Guidelines” – Member States now have a voluntary framework for achieving that aim. The Safe Schools Declaration launched in May 2015 and the Guidelines play an important role in ensuring the right of children to receive an appropriate education even in time of armed conflict.
Despite these existing frameworks, in recent years, a pattern of attacks on schools, teachers and schoolchildren has emerged. Beyond this immediate destruction, armed forces and groups have been using schools for military purposes – occupying them as barracks or training grounds, thus violating the sanctity of schools, turning them from safe havens into targets for attacks. This already dire situation has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
A side-event in the margins of the 46th Human Rights Council session would allow to highlight the importance of safeguarding the right to education for conflict-affected children and of ensuring schools are safe. This is particularly relevant in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic that has made access to education in war areas even more difficult. It would also allow to address the following questions:
- 106 UN Member States have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and the accompanying Guidelines. How can we encourage the remaining UN Member States to also endorse those documents? What is the legal context in which the Declaration and Guidelines are meant to operate?
- To what extent do the general obligations set forth in international law to ensure the protection of children in armed conflict also cover the protection of children’s right to education?
- How can we mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on education for conflict-affected children?
- How can we ensure the right to education of children associated with parties to conflict?
- How can the international community strengthen monitoring and reporting of attacks on education?
- What measures and practices can States implement to better prevent and address attacks and threats of attacks against schools, students, and educational personnel?
- How can we ensure that perpetrators are held to account for such violations?
- How can we support access to the provision of specialized medical and psychosocial assistance for victims of attacks on education, taking into account the specific needs and experiences of women and girls?
- Which is the impact of the obligation to temporarily remove children from an area of hostilities to a safer area, if necessary and whenever possible, on the obligation to ensure children the right to education? Could it be interpreted as allowing removal of children also abroad?
- how can the international community raise awareness among non-state armed groups on the need to respect the right of education of children involved in armed conflict?
The Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflicts proposes to organize a one-hour webinar on this topic aimed at discussing the above specified questions.
The event will involve representatives of the United Nations, the Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflict, Italian institutions as well as international and national civil society organizations. It will be moderated by Ms. Laura Guercio, Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflict.
Ms. Laura Guercio, Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflict
Ms. Cathrine Andersen, Special Representative for Protection of Civilians, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr. Pieter Leenknegt, Counsellor, Permanent Mission of Belgium to the UN in Geneva
Ms. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (tbc)
Ms. Virginia Gamba, SRSG for Children in Armed Conflict
Ms. Marina Sereni, Vice Minister of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation
Mr. Fausto Pocar, Universities Network for Children in Armed Conflict and Honorary President of the International Institute of Humanitarian Law
Ms. Yatasha Govender, Advocacy and Policy Advisor, Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attacks
Ms. Sonia Khush, Syria Response Director, Save the Children
Ms. Karla Hoover, Access to Education Delegate in Azerbaijan, ICRC
Mr. Ezequiel Heffes, Legal Advisor, Geneva Call
Ms. Katherine Cocco, Child Protection Officer, UNICEF New York
L'evento ha già avuto luogo!