(The Hague) – Human Rights Watch and Leiden University will organize a symposium in The Hague on May 26, 2016, on the one-year anniversary of The Netherlands’ endorsement of the international Safe Schools Declaration. Attacks on schools and the military use of schools are a problem across the world. Between 2009 and 2015, schools have been attacked or the military has used schools in at least 34 countries.

Symposium speakers will include Leila Zerrougui, United Nations special representative for children and armed conflict; Bede Sheppard, deputy children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch; and Jaap Doek, professor at Leiden University. They will discuss the state of education under attack around the world.

Military Use of Schools Puts Children in Danger

“Hundreds of thousands of children worldwide find their schools under attack or used by fighting forces to wage war,” said Zama Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “The Safe Schools Declaration provides a concrete way for countries to commit to protecting children’s education, even during armed conflict.”


“One year after endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, the Dutch government should share its best practices for keeping students and schools safe during armed conflict, and describe how it has incorporated the guidelines for keeping schools safe into its own military policy,” said Anna Timmerman, Netherlands senior director at Human Rights Watch.

At the symposium, Dutch Human Rights Ambassador Kees van Baar will share the steps the government has taken in the past year and how it will continue to show its commitment to the spirit of the declaration in the future. The event is co-hosted by Leiden University’s Faculty of Governance and Global Affairs and is part of the #WatchOurSchools campaign of Human Rights Watch.

The Safe Schools Declaration was opened in Oslo on May 29, 2015. It calls for improving protection of schools, students, and teachers during armed conflict. The Netherlands was one of the first countries to endorse the declaration, which includes a commitment to carry out the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. The guidelines provide practical steps that militaries and non-state armed groups can follow to safeguard schools.

The Dutch government should outline the steps it has taken to incorporate the guidelines into its military policy, Human Rights Watch said. Given the Netherlands’ long-time promotion of humanitarian standards, the Netherlands should also share its best practices with other countries, and actively encourage fellow European Union and NATO members who are not yet among the 53 countries that have endorsed the declaration to add their endorsements.

Europe is not immune to the need for safe schools policies, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch released a report in February 2016, which documented indiscriminate and deliberate attacks on schools by both the Ukrainian government and Russia-backed militants, as well as the use of schools for military purposes, the deployment of military forces in and near schools, and the destruction of educational infrastructure.

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“All children deserve to be able to study in safety, and Dutch support for the Safe Schools Declaration will help make that more likely,” Timmerman said.

To register for the symposium, click here.