End to Impunity for Violations of International Law: Stop Attacks on Education

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Students in a classroom in Nigeria hold up an umbrella.

ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif Statement on the International Day to Protect Education from Attack 

9 September 2023, New York – No child or adolescent, nor teacher, should have to live in fear for their lives by going to school. It is an absurd thought. Yet, it is more than so: it is an actual reality or threat thereof for millions of young people, their teachers and parents living in armed conflicts.  

Indeed, many of the world’s 224 million crisis-impacted children and adolescents fall victims to armed attacks or fall in the high-risk zone of being killed or injured, as warring parties, militia and terrorists blatantly breach international humanitarian law. As we commemorate the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, we must put an end to impunity to ensure those who violate International Humanitarian Law are brought to justice.    

According to a new report from the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, there were more than 3,000 attacks on education in 2022 alone. This is a 17% increase from the year before – more than eight a day.  

It’s taken a vast toll on our society and our children. Last year, more than 6,700 students and educators were reportedly killed, injured, abducted, arrested or otherwise harmed in these attacks, and 500 schools and universities were used for military purposes. 

This is a violation of the Geneva Conventions of 12th August 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict.  

While we find some solace in the fact that 118 countries have now signed on to the Safe Schools Declaration, this alone will not ensure physical protection. We must therefore provide governments and implementing partners with strong protection expertise and the tools and financial resources they need to make good on these commitments.  

As the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW) has much-needed education investments in the countries caught in armed conflict, and thus these are also countries where a substantial number of attacks take place: including Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Myanmar, Nigeria, the State of Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), South Sudan, the Sahel region, Ukraine and Yemen.   

As outlined in ECW’s new Annual Results Report, ECW works “to promote commitments under the Safe Schools Declaration and in accordance with international laws governing humanitarian action, human rights and refugees. The aims are to strengthen methods and systems that help prevent attacks against education, mitigate the repercussions on students, and respond to the needs of children and adolescents after such attacks.”  

This includes clearing mines, building safe learning spaces, promoting mental health and psychosocial support, and other services referrals. ECW helps children get to and from school safely by supporting school transport and has also facilitated the creation of school-attack alert and response systems. ECW also supports a range of safety and protection activities, including public campaigns, comprehensive sexuality education, teacher training programmes, and assistance to schools to adopt codes of conduct to limit school-based violence, bullying and corporal punishment.  

Still, physical protection alone does not suffice. Legal Protection is just as important. We need to end the impunity of those attacking schools, students and their teachers – all protected under international law.  

Please join ECW, our strategic donors and global partners in delivering on the commitments outlined in International Humanitarian Law and the #SafeSchoolsDeclaration. By putting an end to a culture of violence and “the rule by force” that permeates every aspect of modern society – even our schools – we can ensure that the rule of law allows every child and adolescent – even those in armed conflicts – to go safely to school, continue their learning and become the ones that build a better world. 

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ECW Executive Director Yasmine Sherif
Yasmine Sherif

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