On 28 May, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 9 September as the International Day for the Protection of Education Under Attack.
Her Highness Sheikha Moza of Qatar, Chairperson of Education Above All and UN Sustainable Development Goals Advocate, who led the campaign, stated:
‘I am pleased that the General Assembly has recognized the significance of this urgent issue and established an International Day to Protect Education from Attack. Our challenge now...is to translate our vision of education for all from political will into real change on the ground. Attacks on schools must halt and perpetrators of these heinous attacks must be held to account, so that the millions of children deprived of education in conflict settings can aspire to a better future. Education is their lifeline and we must protect it.’
In adopting such a resolution in the midst of the current Covid-19 pandemic, the UN General Assembly places education at the centre of international concerns. It emphasises the need to safeguard and protect safe learning spaces, particularly in the context of humanitarian emergencies. According to the resolution, the International Day for the Protection of Education Under Attack will serve: ‘to take all feasible measures to protect schools from attacks, as well as persons entitled to protection in relation to them in situations of armed conflict, to refrain from actions that impede children’s access to education, and to facilitate access to education in armed conflict’.
Attacks on schools are frequent, between 2013 and 2017, 12,700 attacks were perpetrated against places of learning, putting more than 21,000 students and teachers at risk. Between 2013 and 2017, Democratic Republic of Congo, Israel/Palestine, Nigeria, and Yemen are the states where schools are most at risk, with more than 1,000 attacks on schools during this period. Attacks on schools can have serious and multiple consequences, they endanger children and teachers, schools can be used for military purposes, it can also lead to the recruitment of children in armed conflict or/and sexual violence, and endangers higher education.
The adoption of the resolution is particularly important, its paragraph 2 ‘reaffirms the right to education for all and the importance of ensuring safe enabling learning environments in humanitarian emergencies, as well as quality education at all levels, including for girls, including technical and vocational training opportunities, where possible, including through adequate funding and infrastructural investments, for the well-being of all, in this regard recognizes that access to quality education in humanitarian emergencies can contribute to long-term development goals’.
The General Assembly invites all actors to raise awareness of this issue and ‘to observe the International Day to Protect Education from Attacks in an appropriate manner’. Moreover, it invites UNESCO and UNICEF to facilitate the observance of the day.
During the parliament session of the 74h resolution, the President of the General Assembly Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria) recalled: ‘For children trapped in conflict, education provides stability and hope for a better future’.
Putting education at the heart of international and humanitarian concerns and working to ensure access to quality education for all is paramount. According to him: ‘To fail to do so, would be to fail a generation’. In the covid-19 context, guaranteeing the right to education is a major challenge and requires joint efforts by the international community and all its actors, including in conflict situations.