First International Day to Protect Education from Attack Addresses Violations Globally

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8 September 2020, New York – The Central Sahel has seen a significant spike in attacks on students, teachers, and schools since 2018, according to a new report released today by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). The report is launched ahead of the first ever United Nations International Day to Protect Education from Attack on September 9, 2020.

Supporting Safe Education in the Central Sahel noted over 85 attacks on education in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger between January and July 2020, despite Covid-19-related school closures between late March and May. At least 27 attacks on middle schools were recorded in Mali when schools reopened for children to take their exams in June.

These attacks follow an alarming increase in attacks on education across the Central Sahel in recent years. In Burkina Faso and Niger, attacks on education more than doubled between 2018 and 2019, contributing to the closure of more than 2,000 schools. In Mali, over 60 attacks on education took place in 2019 alone, with over 1,100 schools closed.

Non-state armed groups targeted state education across the Central Sahel, most commonly by burning and looting schools and threatening, abducting, or killing teachers, the report said. State forces and non-state armed groups also used dozens of schools for military purposes, including as camps and temporary bases.

Female students and educators are specifically affected by attacks, GCPEA found. Pregnancy from rape, the health consequences and stigma of sexual violence, the risk of early marriage, and the privileging of boys’ education over girls’ all make it particularly difficult for girls to return to school.

“The International Day to Protect Education from Attack is a crucial moment to highlight the scope and enormous cost that attacks on education have on the lives and futures of students and communities,” said Diya Nijhowne, executive director of GCPEA. “But it is also a time to recognize the significant progress made towards protecting students and educators, including through widespread adoption of the Safe Schools Declaration and advances in its implementation.”

The Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment to protect students, educators, schools, and universities in armed conflict, currently has 104 state signatories. By endorsing the declaration, countries commit to take concrete steps to protect education in armed conflict, including by using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

GCPEA calls for coordinated, targeted, and sustainable support to implement the Safe Schools Declaration and keep students, teachers, and educational facilities across the Central Sahel safe from attack. This includes prioritizing and funding measures to prevent, mitigate, and respond to attacks on education within humanitarian response and development plans and programs. As the three Central Sahel countries confront interlinked humanitarian crises, regional efforts should also be taken to reinforce monitoring and reporting of attacks and develop prevention and response plans.

The Ministerial Roundtable on the Central Sahel, to be hosted by Denmark, Germany, the European Union, and the UN on October 20, provides a key opportunity to place protection of education firmly on the humanitarian agenda.

The Central Sahel report draws on new data from the coalition’s flagship report, Education under Attack, which identified more than 11,000 attacks on education facilities, students, and educators between 2015 and 2019, harming, injuring, or killing more than 22,000 students, teachers, and academics globally.

As schools in the Central Sahel and globally resume after Covid-19 lockdowns, GCPEA urges governments to ensure that education providers conduct risk assessments prior to reopening and enact appropriate security measures where needed to minimize students’ and teachers’ risk of attack. Where schools and universities cannot reopen safely, alternative and distance measures should be put in place. GCPEA also urges governments and education providers to ensure that any post-Covid-19 “back-to-school” campaigns and catch-up classes include learners previously excluded from studies by attacks on education. Governments and education providers should also ensure that distance-learning programs established in response to Covid-19 are accessible to and benefit learners affected by attacks and insecurity.

“On this first International Day to Protect Education from Attack and in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, governments and donors should act to keep students and educators, schools, and universities safe from attack in the Central Sahel and globally,” Nijhowne said. “As programs and policies are developed to support the continuation of education during the health crisis, there is an opening to ensure that they incorporate protection against attack, and include students excluded from learning due to past attacks.”



The Permanent Missions of Norway, Argentina, Nigeria, Qatar, Spain, and Uruguay, together with the Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA), have the honour to invite you to a virtual event to examine the latest data on attacks on education and to mark the Fifth Anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration.

Opening remarks
H.E. Ms. Ine Eriksen Søreide, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Norway
H.E. Ms. ​Arancha González Laya, Minister of Foreign Affairs, European Union and Cooperation, Spain

Ms. Virginia Gamba, Under-Secretary-General Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict
Mr. Bruno Stagno Ugarte, Deputy Executive Director for Advocacy, Human Rights Watch
Ms. Marika Tsolakis, Lead Researcher, GCPEA
Mr. Mohamed Zaher Al-Bakour, Lecturer, Aleppo University, Syria

Ms. Yasmine Sherif, Director of Education Cannot Wait

The event will highlight the global scope and impact of attacks on education by presenting findings from the upcoming 2020 edition of GCPEA’s flagship report, Education under Attack. In conflicts around the world, students and educators are deliberately and indiscriminately killed, injured, recruited, raped, and abducted at, and on the way to education institutions. Schools and universities are bombed and burned and used for military purposes. In addition to the loss of life, these attacks impede education, impacting long-term economic and social development.

Education Under Attack is the most comprehensive and rigorous source of data and analysis on attacks on education and military use of schools and universities. The series serves as the primary source for reporting on indicator 4.a.3 on attacks on students, education personnel, and educational institutions, which monitors progress in implementing the UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education. The fifth edition will outline incidents of attacks on education and military use of educational facilities in 37 conflict-affected countries that suffer these attacks systematically between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2019.

This event will also mark the Fifth Anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political commitment to better protect education during armed conflict. To date, 103 states have endorsed the Declaration, representing more than half of all UN member states. Many states have already taken a critical action in implementing the Safe Schools Declaration, as documented by GCPEA in Practical Impact of the Safe Schools Declaration, saving lives and better ensuring the right to education for all in places affected by conflict.