Education in Armed Conflict: A Call to Action
In an urgent call to action, UN leaders and prominent advocates appealed to governments and the international community to step up efforts to protect education in conflict-affected countries, at the launch of the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report at Columbia University in New York on 1 March.
Defining the state of education in armed conflict as “an immediate human rights crisis and a long term development disaster,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova called for a stop to “appalling violations of human rights…We cannot build peaceful societies overnight, but we should not allow attacks on children, systematic rape, or the destruction of school facilities to go without punishment.”
She also called for more investment in education as a core part of both humanitarian and development assistance: “Communities affected by conflict are making heroic efforts to defend education – but the same cannot be said of aid donors.”
In the thirty-five conflict affected developing countries survey in the Report, “The Hidden Crisis: Armed conflict and education,” 28 million children are out of school. Introducing the Report, Director Kevin Watkins spoke about “systemic failures of the international community to address systematic violence deliberately targeted against school children. These are war crimes and crimes against humanity, and should be named as such. We are good at documenting the problem of impunity but we need to move from monitoring and resolutions to providing protection to children in armed conflict.”
Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, affirmed that “attacks carried out in impunity are a challenge to the United Nations system. No where is the culture of impunity more evident that with rape and sexual violence. It is time for the UN system and the wider international community to come together and act decisively, also because education is one of the best responses against poverty,” she said. Ms Bachelet noted that peace and security is one of the priorities of UN Women, launched in New York on 24 February.
Welcoming the Report, Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation, stated that “attacks on schools, rape and sexual violence have to be placed at the centre of Education for All policy. The Security Council and the UN should take seriously the recommendations in the Report.”
Education’s role in building peace was emphasized by all speakers. For Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO’s Special Envoy for Haiti and former Governor-General of Canada, “Education should be at the heart of the international humanitarian and development agendas, especially in situations of emergency relief and conflict. It is essential for an enduring peace, for an educated labour force and a democratically engaged citizenship.” In Haiti she said, “access to education is more than ever a matter of life and death for children and youth.”
Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, underlined the importance of a holistic approach to communities, encompassing health, clean water, and education. Condemning high military spending, he stated the need to move from a humanitarian mindset to “long-term development – we need to make peace building real.”
During the launch, video messages were broadcast from Graça Machel, author of a landmark UN report on children in armed conflict published fifteen years ago, and UNICEF’s Executive Director Anthony Lake.
The Report was also launched on 1 March in more than ten countries, including Chile, Senegal, Nairobi, United Kingdom and China.