Three years ago today, representatives from countries from around the globe came together in Oslo to declare their support for the protection of students, teachers, schools, and universities during times of war. Three years later, an incredible 75 countries have joined the Safe Schools Declaration.
Support for the declaration has come from the highest levels of the United Nations, notably the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres; the human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein; and the special representative for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba.
In the past year, the Peace and Security Council of the African Union repeated its call for all its member states to join. Twenty countries – more than a third of the AU – already have, along with more than a third of the Organization of American States, and three-quarters of all NATO countries. Just five European Union members – Croatia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania – have not joined.
But it’s not just the number of supporters that indicates the success of the Safe Schools Declaration, rather it’s the concrete changes that the declaration is generating on the ground.
In July 2017, Sudan’s armed forces circulated a command order barring the use of schools for military purposes – joining other endorsing countries that have explicit protections for schools from military use, including Denmark, New Zealand, and the UK. The ministries of defense in Slovenia and Switzerland reportedly have updated protections under consideration, too.
Also in July, soldiers from the AU peace support forces in Somalia (AMISOM) finally abandoned their military base on Somalia National University’s campus west of the capital, Mogadishu. Troops had encamped at the university for 10 years.
And in the past year, Côte d’Ivoire’s army has included a prohibition on the occupation of schools in its training sessions on the protection of children.
Germany is the latest country to endorse the declaration. Further endorsements and implementation seem likely following Spain’s announcement that it will host the third international Safe Schools Conference in 2019.
But a recent report by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack shows the persistence of the problem. Over the past five years, 41 countries saw at least five attacks on educational facilities. And schools and universities in 29 countries were used for military purposes, including as bases, barracks, and detention centers.
Today’s anniversary is a reminder that there’s still much work to be done.