Children and Armed Conflict - 8756th Meeting of Security Council

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10-Sep-2020 02:00:24
Issuing presidential statement, Security Council expresses grave concern about increase in attacks on schools, underlines education’s contribution to peace.

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The Security Council today urged Member States to develop effective measures to prevent and address attacks and threats against schools, including by developing domestic legal frameworks.

In a presidential statement (document S/PRST/2020/8) issued by Niger, Council President for September, the 15-member organ reaffirmed the right to education and its contribution to the achievement of peace and security, expressing grave concern about the significant increase in attacks on schools in recent years and the alarming number of children denied access to quality education.

The Council also voiced deep concern at the military use of schools in contravention of applicable international humanitarian law, encouraging Member States to take concrete measures to deter the use of schools for such purposes.

In this regard, the Council requested the Secretary-General to continue to monitor and report on the military use of schools and attacks against or kidnapping of children, teachers and other personnel, also calling upon United Nations country-level task forces to enhance such surveillance.

Expressing deep concern that girls and women may be the intended victims of attacks targeting schools, the Council noted that the specific consequences of such attacks include incidents of rape and other forms of sexual violence, threats of attacks at school and on the way to and from school, abductions, forced marriage, sexual slavery, human trafficking, and any resulting stigma and grave consequences on their health, all of which may further impede the continuation of their education.

The statement also included a specific reference to the alarming situation in Africa’s Sahel region, which was the focus of today’s ensuing debate.

Briefing the Council, Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, said that in the last two years in Mali, teachers were threatened and killed, education facilities demolished, and learning material burnt, leading to the closure of more than 1,260 schools, even before COVID-19. Similarly, the last 12 months have seen a rise in attacks against schools and protected personnel in Burkina Faso, including the burning of schools and the kidnapping of teachers forcing 2,500 schools to shut down, depriving hundreds of thousands of children from education. “Schools must remain safe havens where girls and boys can obtain education, without discrimination and without fear,” she emphasized.

Henrietta Fore, the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), said that out-of-school children and children living in conflict generally, face a higher risk of recruitment by armed forces or groups, gender-based violence, child marriage and early pregnancy, and abuse and trafficking. “Thirty years after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it is clearly a moral obligation that we are failing to meet,” she said, emphasizing that words, policies, pronouncements, normative frameworks and legislation do not reflect the situation on the ground. She said UNICEF is using the pandemic as an opportunity to speed up the development and use of distance learning tools that “can provide an excellent alternative to a traditional classroom for children living under conflict”.

Marika Tsolakis of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack urged the Council to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration in a gender-responsive manner, support United Nations country teams to safely engage with warring parties on the protection of education, and ensure that the Organization’s peace operations and special political missions have a child protection mandate and the necessary backing to effectively monitor and report on attacks on education and military use of schools.

In the ensuing debate, the representative of Niger spoke both in his national capacity and on behalf of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa and Tunisia, saying that lack of access to education for young people in situations of armed conflict is “the barbarity of our time”. He acknowledged important developments at the global level, such as the signing of an action plan between the Central African Republic and the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict aimed at deterring attacks on schools in that country, adding that similar efforts should be repeated elsewhere.

Belgium’s delegate, welcoming the presidential statement’s reference to impunity, said the whole range of judicial mechanisms must be used to ensure that attacks on children do not go unpunished. As Chair of the working group on children, Belgium spares no effort to uphold Council mandates regarding children in situations of armed conflict, including the listing mechanism, which is a powerful tool that delivers results.

Most Council members welcomed the adoption of the presidential statement as well as the recent signing of the Safe Schools Declaration by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The Council also heard briefings by two civil society youths from Niger. Also speaking were the representatives of Estonia, Viet Nam, United States, Dominican Republic, Russian Federation, France, Germany, China, Indonesia and the United Kingdom.

The meeting began at 10:12 a.m. and ended at 12:13 p.m.

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