UPDATE: As of 16 June 2017, 66 countries have endorsed the Internationa Safe Schools Declaration.
On 29 May 2015, 37 countries endorsed the International Safe Schools Declaration at an inter-governmental conference hosted by the Norwegian Foreign Affairs Ministry in Oslo. The process to adopt the Declaration, which commits countries to protecting schools and universities from military use, was initiated by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) in 2012 and has been led by the governments of Norway and Argentina since 2014.
The Declaration welcomes state initiatives to 'promote and protect the right to education and to facilitate the continuation of education in situations of armed conflict'. In addition, by endorsing the Declaration, countries agree to implement the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use – voluntary guidelines that are not legally binding, but commit parties to avoid infringing on the right to education by using schools and universities to support military efforts. Signatories have also committed to recording casualties from attacks on education, assisting victims, and supporting humanitarian programming that promote the right to education during armed conflict.
Among the countries that have endorsed the Declaration, at least three that have ongoing conflicts where schools are used for military purposes by armed groups: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Palestine. However, according to a May 2015 study by GCPEA, schools have been used to support military operations in at least 26 countries since 2005.
Maintaining safe and non-violent school environments is crucial to the realisation of the right to education, especially in conflict-affected countries. However, education is often neglected in response to conflict, not generally being seen as immediately life-saving. The value of education should not be underestimated and is crucial in bringing stability, emotional and physical protection, and continuity.
For more information on the right to education and armed conflict, visit the Right to Education Initiative's Education in Emergencies issue page.