Schools and universities continue to be the target of deliberate and inadvertent attacks by armed forces worldwide, putting children, students and teachers at risk of harm and disrupting the provision of education in armed conflict. Attacks on schools have occurred in at least 21 countries since 2013, according to evidence collected by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).

States, international organisations and civil society at the conference in Argentina

On 28-29 March 2017, representatives from more than 80 states, international organisations and civil society met in Buenos Aires, Argentina, to address the impact of attacks on schools and students and review efforts to strengthen the protection of education during armed conflict. The Second International Safe Schools Conference, organised by the Argentine Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Worship in Buenos Aires, was the first international meeting on this issue since 37 states endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration in Oslo in May 2015.

In the period between the two conferences, an additional 24 states have endorsed the declaration. In the immediate lead-up to the conference in Buenos Aires, Slovakia, France, Canada, Armenia and Malta endorsed the declaration. Belgium announced its endorsement during the conference, bringing the total number of endorsing states up to 62. Several delegations indicated their intention to bring the question of endorsement up for consideration in capital.

“The number of countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and are taking concrete steps to implement it represents, in less than two years, the creation of a critical mass of governments that recognized how important it is to act to protect education in armed conflict,” said Diya Nijhowne, director of the GCPEA, in a press release issued after the conference.

A majority of NATO-members have already endorsed the declaration. The UK, however, have so far failed to engage with this initiative—a stance that appears inconsistent with the UK’s work on other, similar international political commitments which seek to enhance civilian protection during conflict.

Aisha Yesufu, President of Bring Back Our Girls, at the conference

A vast majority of states participating at the conference in Buenos Aires reiterated their intention to intensify efforts to implement the commitments contained in the Safe Schools Declaration, and highlighted important areas of progress. Significantly, a growing number of states have or are in the process of incorporating the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into domestic policy, military training and frameworks for national and international operations. A report issued by Human Rights Watch ahead of the conference showcase examples of concrete steps taken in 40 states to protect schools from military use.

The use of schools and universities for military purposes exposes children to the risk of interrupted education, recruitment, trafficking, sexual violence, and attack by opposing parties. During the conference, the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative and GCPEA released a toolkit to assist ministries of defence and armed forces in implementing the Guidelines.

At the conclusion of the conference, the Argentine chair invited endorsing states to consider hosting the next Safe Schools conference.

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