United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called for an end to attacks on schools, as he marked the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
“The global community needs to speak with one voice: attacks on schools must stop. Schools must be places of learning, safety and peace,” he told a high-level event on Thursday this International Day, which falls on September 9.
Nevertheless, he added, “year after year, this fundamental right comes under attack”.
The top UN official encouraged the participants to imagine being a child in a classroom eager to learn, or a teacher dedicated to shaping the minds of the next generation.
“Now imagine the horrors inflicted by conflict on learning”, he said, painting a picture of schools being targeted, destroyed – or used for military purposes – and of children facing violence, exploitation, even being recruited to fight – simply because they want to study.
The Secretary-General cited the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack in revealing that between 2015 and 2020, over 13,000 reports of strikes on education, or the military use of educational facilities, had been recorded around the world.
“And this threat is not lessening – as the horrifying events in Afghanistan are showing us so starkly”, he said.
Guterres reminded that these are not numbers on a page, but thousands of individual lives and individual futures.
“The loss is incalculable”, he stated.
The UN called on all countries who have not yet done so, to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration – an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities, from the worst effects of armed conflict.
Endorsed by 111 States to date, the Declaration outlines concrete steps for governments to protect schools and learning.
“We urge the Member States to go beyond their commitments under international law and put in place national policies and laws that protect schools and learners”, the UN chief said.
He flagged the need to “hold perpetrators accountable” by making attacks on schools “unacceptable and punished” in every country and jurisdiction, the world over.
Finally, the UN chief called for increased global support for the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), who are “working around the clock” to protect education, students, teachers and schools in some of the most dangerous places around the world.
While great strides have been made in recent years, more must be done to protect the right to education for all, he said.
“As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am proud to stand with you in this important effort. Because when we protect education, we protect the future”, he concluded.
In May 2020, the UN General Assembly established the day by a unanimous decision, calling on UNESCO and UNICEF to raise awareness of the plight of millions of children living in countries affected by conflict.
The resolution affirmed that Governments have the primary responsibility to provide protection and ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education at all levels to all learners, especially those in vulnerable situations”.
Moreover, it emphasized the need to intensify efforts and increase funding to promote safe and protective school environments in humanitarian emergencies.