18 March 2009


18 March 2009
General Assembly
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Sixty-third General Assembly

Thematic Dialogue on Access

 to Education (AM & PM)



Protecting Right to Education Has Fallen Victim to Culture of Neglect;

States Are Urged to Make Schools Safe, Criminalize Attacks against Them

“Let us find ways to assure that we are feeding young minds, as well as bodies; creating safe havens for learners, as well as their larger communities,” the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, said at the opening of the Assembly’s day-long thematic dialogue on access to education for people caught in conflicts and disasters.

“Let us give these girls and boys, youth and women the opportunity to contribute in the recovery and the future of their societies,” he said.  “Let us give them hope by learning to overcome what, in the midst of chaos, must seem to be insurmountable challenges.  This is a real opportunity to transform poverty and oppression into opportunity and integration.”

With the fundamental right to education denied to an estimated 75 million children worldwide, nearly half of them in conflict-torn countries, today’s three interactive panels explored why the world community needed to act now.  They considered the means of making education work and looked at ways to move forward.  The participants underscored the need to include education as an important part of the humanitarian response to conflicts and natural disasters and stressed the international community’s collective obligation to fulfil the right to education for all.  The final panel addressed the measures the international community could take to end impunity, guarantee greater protection of students and teachers, and ensure quality education in emergencies.

Children and teachers, as well as policymakers, shared their experiences and “lessons learned through trial and error, action and reflection”, Mr. d’Escoto said.  Most of those present believed that children needed schools in the same way they needed food, water and medical care.  Yet only six development partners included education as part of their humanitarian policy.

“Let us, as a body, as Member States and specialized agencies, look for ways to integrate this simple conviction into the complex policies of our humanitarian assistance operations,” he said, stressing the need to translate today’s discussion and recommendations into concrete policies and programmes for tens of millions of children and young people around the world.

With education not enough of a priority in the world’s response to complex emergencies, the Assembly would press for clearer resolutions, legislation and policies to close that “glaring gap”, he added at the closing of the session.  The legal basis for the protection of the right to education could be found in much of the international community’s human rights legislation, but in the face of rising incidents of violence and human disasters caused by natural phenomena those lofty goals had fallen victim to a culture of neglect, or worse, impunity.  And the collective failure to stop impunity served as a license for perpetrators.

He agreed with the emergent view that States be called on to protect schools and make them safe havens, especially in the most difficult situations.  He also voiced support for calls that States should criminalize attacks on schools as war crimes, in accordance with the Rome Statute, and prosecute offenders accordingly.  Such actions must be taken routinely and systematically, especially in a world where violent conflicts were lethal and where natural disasters were increasing in frequency.  “We must apply all our tenacity and creativity to develop sound responses, ones that are feasible and that work in the worst conditions,” he said.

That call for action was echoed by today’s keynote speaker, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), who stressed the need to activate existing international conventions and establish a practical global mechanism to prohibit attacks on the right to education.

Perpetrators must be punished and made to compensate for the human and material damage resulting from their actions, she said, urging the debate to pave the way for an executive work plan, under United Nations auspices, to put that mechanism in place, so that educational institutions in areas of conflict could become true safe havens.  Decision-makers should organize regional conferences with experts to deepen their understanding of the issue, and those efforts should culminate in an international conference, which Qatar would be willing to host.

Despite all the frustrations and disappointments deepened by the war in Gaza, she was committed to the right of quality education for everyone, she said.  That right was the perfect path to bridge the gap between different cultures and to reconcile various civilizations.  Without such a right, values of liberty, justice and equality would be meaningless.

“Can we, as an international community, understand what it means to have students deliberately denied their basic right to education by setting up checkpoints, preventing them from reaching their schools and universities?” she asked.  Withholding electric power was a form of “premeditated denial” of students’ right to work in laboratories and use information technology.  The loss of a society’s elite group of writers and academics at the hand of cold-blooded killers was a loss that could not be compensated.  Bombing educational institutions bearing the United Nations flag was another danger sign.

United Nations Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro said that education was just a dream for too many children: for the girl too scared of attacks to walk to school; for the boy hiding from local militia trying to recruit him; for the teenager whose classroom was buried in an earthquake.  There had also been an alarming spike in the number of brutal attacks on schools, education workers, teachers and even students.  Girls and female teachers, especially, had been attacked, disfigured and killed.  In Afghanistan last year, there had been more than 275 attacks against schools.  Last November, the world had been justifiably outraged when girls going to school in Kandahar were sprayed with acid.  The world had also been inspired by the determination of many girls to attend school despite the risk, undeterred by those who would deny them, not only their ambitions, but their human rights.

Protecting children and teachers was a moral imperative, as well as a matter of international law, she stressed.  No single attack on any school, teacher or student could ever be justified or tolerated.  Where children had been thrown into chaos, schools could provide some measure of stability.  They could also teach children to avoid landmines, protect themselves from child labour, sexual exploitation and HIV, or evacuate in case of disaster.  Moreover, by ensuring access to education, it was possible to limit the impact of emergencies, while laying the foundation for a stable future.  Education could set societies on the path towards reconciliation and advance other rights, such as gender equality.  Governments must deliver on their promise of basic education for all children, including during emergencies.  They must ensure that schools, students and teachers were protected.  And they must investigate and prosecute anyone who attacked them.

Ideally, children should be able to attend school even during a crisis, but when that was not possible, alternative “safe spaces” where they could learn should be identified, she added.  The United Nations was working hard to keep that issue in the spotlight.  It was promoting quality education standards and helping children to study even under the worst conditions.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for example, had a wonderful tool called “school-in-a-box”, which had enough supplies to educate 80 students just about anywhere.  But more should be done.  All countries and agencies must include education in their emergency plans.  Also needed was funding.  The financial crisis was no excuse for reducing monies for books and teaching, which was “the bricks and mortar” to rebuild economies.

Panel I

The first panel discussion on the topic of “Education in Emergencies -- Why We Need to Act Now” comprised three panellists:  Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi; Vernor Munoz, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education; and Wildenes Etienne, a teacher from a Haitian school run by the non-governmental organization Catholic Relief Services.  The discussion was moderated by Kevin Cahill, Chief Adviser for Humanitarian Affairs, Office of the President of the General Assembly.

Mr. CAHILL observed that, despite his background as a medical doctor, and having worked closely over the length of his career with communities in need, he had failed for a long time to appreciate the significance of safe spaces for children.  Schools and camps protected children from being captured as child soldiers, being sexually-exploited and used in trafficking.

He invited participants to view a video created by Save the Children, in which children living in conflict situations expressed fears about going to school.  The video affirmed the importance of the right to education, and argued that “getting children learning again” after a conflict or natural disaster was key to a nation’s future.  The video provided examples of how education had been restored to children after a disaster:  in 1994, the first school-in-a-box kits were distributed in Rwanda; after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, schools were quickly rebuilt and reconstruction continued until today; and after a decade and half of civil war in Liberia, child combatants were returned to classrooms and taught new skills, through the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme.  The video stressed that such interventions could only be sustained through vibrant partnerships involving a broad array of stakeholders.  At the outset, education should be given the priority it deserved, both as a tool to prevent conflict and as a building block for future economic and social development.  Schools provided protection to children as well as a place to learn, as shown in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, where Save the Children had been active in building temporary schools.

Following the video presentation, President NKURUNZIZA remarked on the use of the term “fragile States” among development practitioners.  He argued that the term was not neutral, but carried a feeling of paternalism, which had certain financial and political implications.  When directed at his country, for instance, it created a bad image in the eyes of foreign investors.  Burundians were proud of their country and wanted to be viewed with respect by other nations, he said, urging a more constructive and respectful relationship with partners.  Even though Burundi’s national budget was about the size of a medium-sized company in New York (about $500 million), the Government, led by the President, had decided in 2005 to invest in an education system that would be free of charge.  Enrolment doubled after only a few years, and many new classrooms were built.  This year, more than one fifth of the nation’s budget would be spent on education.

He explained that, in Burundi’s conflict-ridden past, education had been used as a weapon or a tool for ethnic exclusion, and had contributed to the fragmentation of Burundian society.  Equal access to education was, therefore, an important factor in reconciliation.  The donor community, and others involved in setting policy on education in emergencies, should consider the local context when they conduct their work.  The United Nations “cluster approach” was not always the most preferable solution -- humanitarian actors should align their interventions to existing mechanisms, instead of creating parallel coordination mechanisms.  Donors and foreign non-governmental organizations, too, were not always aligned with Burundi’s strategic plan.  He urged parties not to reinvent the wheel concerning coordination mechanisms, as models were already laid out in the Paris and Accra Declarations.

Mr. MUNOZ commented on the limited attention given to education in emergencies by humanitarian agencies, and on the lack of clear guidelines and financing for protecting the right to education.  The impact of emergency situations on children was “huge” -- armed conflict was the main cause of disability in 4 million girls and boys.  Evidence showed that the number of students and teachers who were murdered, and schools being bombed, had increased in frequency and brutality over the last four years.  Safety in schools was part of the right to education, whether physical or mental, and States had the responsibility to draw up effective protection methods.  Education lightened the psycho-social impacts of disasters, helping to provide “normalcy” as well as tools for rebuilding society and ensuring a stable economic future.

He said the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights had a provision mandating universal primary education, while the Convention on the Rights of the Child contained provisions relating to international cooperation in bringing about the right to education, as did the Dakar Action Framework on “Education for All”.  Those documents provided the grounds for framing access to education as a human rights issue.  Through shared examples of best practices, it might be possible to develop legal, minimum standards on education in emergencies.  At the moment, donors did not view access to education as part of a humanitarian response, choosing to see disaster relief -- meeting immediate food and shelter needs -- as their top priority instead.  Donors must be given an incentive to meet a recipient country’s education concerns, so that the minimum target of 4.2 per cent of humanitarian assistance to be spent on education could be met.  Emergencies could be taken as an opportunity to improve upon previous education systems, so that the emergency itself would become a motivator for change.

Mr. ETIENNE said UNICEF was working with the Haitian Government and Catholic relief services to involve the local community in strengthening the State’s ability to address the needs of Haiti’s most vulnerable people.  But even before Hurricane Gustav hit the island, children in Haiti faced the threat of growing up illiterate.  Today, more than 500,000 children did not attend school and, of the millions that did, some were undermined by the illiteracy of their parents.  In other cases, children must walk three or fours hours to reach their school, which was tiring and made them twice as likely to fail in school.  Around 85 per cent of teachers did not have proper training and often passed on erroneous teaching to their pupils.  That was particularly true for child soldiers, who attended so-called neighbourhood schools and were taught by teachers who had barely completed school themselves. 

As Haiti was a poor country, its children were often malnourished and attended school on an empty stomach, he went on.  The schools lacked material and equipment, and it was common for teachers to work with few teaching aids.  During emergency situations, what little material existed often disappeared.  School buildings and classrooms did not meet proper standards, so teachers did not have room to move between rows of children, and buildings often let in rain.  Substandard school construction meant that children were in danger of dying when their school collapsed, as had recently occurred.  Children were the innocent victims of groups vying for power -- which sometimes included civil society elements, such as unions -- who used schools as political weapons to increase pressure on the Government to achieve their own aims.  Education was Haiti’s largest industry, involving many employees.  In Haiti, it was important to turn schools into inviolable spaces, and an effort should be made to systemize school standards.  Emergency situations could be an opportunity to motivate Haitian communities to repair governance in education.

In the discussion that followed, various Member States affirmed their support for the right to education, with some referring to the Dakar Framework on “Education for All” as a starting point for future discussions.  They also addressed the lack of funding for education in the context of humanitarian aid, saying that the international community should begin examining the merits of protecting education as a “right” in emergency situations, in contrast to education as a “service” that could be stopped at will.  A few States noted the need to raise the profile of the issue within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals, and stressed the importance of shared responsibility between countries of the North and South.  The representative of a country that was currently hosting a large number of refugees also expressed a need for more shared responsibility.  One delegate broached the idea of “education budgeting”, similar to “gender budgeting”, in view of the fact that education was often withheld from the most vulnerable segments of society, such as women and girls, indigenous people and HIV/AIDS sufferers.

Some States said the international community should work harder to ensure that education rights were observed in places of conflict.  They weighed the value of developing a framework of State obligations towards the fulfilment of that right in situations of conflict or transition.  One speaker said that “education in emergencies” should figure prominently on the General Assembly’s agenda and that Member States should craft a resolution soon to mandate the holding of regional conferences, which would culminate in an international conference leading to an agreed programme of action. 

One delegate whose country had emerged from conflict noted that education was often the first process to be discarded at the onset of war,with children kept home by parents fearing for their safety.  The education system would deteriorate further as the educated elite -- often the teachers -- fled the country.  It was, therefore, important to prevent schools from being interrupted during times of war.  At the same time, the aftermath of a conflict provided a unique opportunity to question “right” and “wrong”, as previously defined by society, and to reset those values.  Education, as the conduit of society’s values, could be a tool for societal cohesion and help pave the road to normalcy.

The representatives of two humanitarian organizations also spoke.  One suggested that children be included in the discourse, and the other advocated more cooperation between United Nations “cluster leads” so that camp management could take account of children’s schooling needs.  It was also suggested that shelter management reach a balance between the need to provide emergency shelter in schools and the need to ensure that children’s schooling was not too severely interrupted as a result.

Panel II

Dedicated to the theme “How to Make Education Work -- Investing in Learners, Investing in Success”, the second panel of the day was moderated by HILDE F. JOHNSON, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF.

Introducing the subject, she stressed the importance of translating rights into progress on the ground for children in emergency situations.  But education was not only a right -– it could also be seen as a basic infrastructure that could be impervious to war because it remained in people’s minds.  In cases of emergency, it was important to ensure that no child was left behind, and the global community had to make a difference on the ground in that regard.  It was also necessary to consider quality funding for education in crisis.  In that connection, UNICEF was considering a proposal to establish an education transition fund.

Continuing, she referred to a recent increase in the number of attacks on schools and addressed the case of Zimbabwe, where the education system had imploded.  In view of such cases, it was also important to consider how to protect the investments already made.

NICHOLAS BURNETT, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, emphasized the importance of monitoring, strengthened collaboration and national capacity-building, as well increased financing for education in emergency situations.  UNESCO’s 2007 groundbreaking study Education under Attack had documented the attacks on schools, teachers and students and shown the need for concerted action to stop them.  In some cases, monitoring could act as a deterrent.  In others, evidence could be a tool for negotiation and mediation.  The Security Council must be encouraged to give equal weight to all categories of grave violations and to refer certain targeted attacks to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution.  In short, it was necessary to ensure that a reliable global monitoring system was in place to document violent attacks on education.  UNESCO was looking into the best ways to contribute to that effort.

The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (for the inter-agency coordination of humanitarian assistance) had accepted the application of the cluster approach to education in 2006, but a major shortcoming remained in the limited role often given to national partners in the reconstruction process, he said.  Under the global education cluster, UNESCO was taking a lead in developing regional training for ministries in planning and managing education response to emergencies in East Africa and Latin America.  Capacity development must be an integral part of both crisis prevention and response.  Part of UNESCO’s expertise lay in contributing policy advice and technical assistance to ministries affected by natural disasters and conflicts and to help them plan and deliver education.  In Afghanistan, Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kosovo, Liberia, Sudan, Pakistan and Yemen, among others, it had assisted ministries in formulating national education plans.

“Education is a peace dividend, and yet it is still one of the least funded sectors in a humanitarian response,” he added, advocating the inclusion of education in humanitarian packages.  Only six donors -– Canada, Denmark, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden –- currently included education in their humanitarian policy and response.

BRENDA HAIPLIK of the Inter-Agency Network on Education in Emergencies (INEE) said that concerned global citizens could promote success by actively engaging with the INEE Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies, Chronic Crises and Early Reconstruction, which could be used to improve existing programming and contribute to more strategic interventions in complex and chronic emergencies.  The standards provided a common language for different stakeholders, covering community participation, analysis, access, learning environment, teaching and learning, teachers and other education personnel, and education policy and coordination.  Another example of a successful response mechanism was the education cluster, which had been initiated by UNICEF and the Save the Children Alliance.  Cluster members worked together throughout all phases of an emergency to identify gaps and overlaps and to utilize funding in an efficient and effective manner.

Looking at emergencies as “windows of opportunity” could help the international community understand “success”, she said.  In Pakistan, the education cluster had brought 38,000 children to school for the first time.  She also described the experience from Maira camp in Pakistan, where UNICEF, together with its education cluster partners, had established close ties with district education authorities to recruit seven women teachers after the 2005 earthquake.  A number of incentives had been offered, including competitive salaries.  In the current Gaza emergency, education cluster members were working with early childhood providers to ensure that young learners received quality preschool education.

LESLIE WILSON, Save the Children’s Country Director for Afghanistan, agreed with a speaker this morning that ignorance was by far the biggest threat facing humankind today.  Her experiences in several countries, including Afghanistan, Thailand and Bangladesh, had showed the value of education in both natural and man-made emergencies.  As the United Nations took up the topic, it needed “to put together its well-educated minds” to the issues of partnership and participation.  Among potential partners for the cause of education, she listed “Governments in all states of array or disarray”, non-governmental organizations, teachers, families and young people themselves.  Given an opportunity, children and youth would speak out and lead education efforts.

Among other priorities, she also stressed the importance of quality curriculum, skills training and investing in teachers.  An emergency education response provided a great opportunity to make a difference.  If Afghanistan -– a country “going from war to war to war” -- could keep moving ahead, despite the setbacks, every country in the world should be able to make good progress in the field of education, including in emergency situations.

MAIWAND RAHYABA, youth representative from Afghanistan, said that children suffered from adults’ wars and were denied the most basic of human rights, the right to education.  After Taliban occupation of his city, he had been unable to return to school for a year, out of fear of being tortured or killed.  His sister had been prevented from attending school for four years.

Speaking from experience, he said that with youth constituting more than half of Afghanistan’s population, it was important to promote education for young people.  Girls were particularly disadvantaged; those who went to school were increasingly attacked by armed groups.  There were also attacks on schools and teachers.  Despite those challenges, there was hope.  Willing to be educated and empowered to participate, young people should be seen as valuable assets instead of potential problems.  He urged donor countries to increase funding and technical assistance for education in emergency situations.  Speeches and rhetoric alone would not achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  Education could not wait.

Speakers in the ensuing debate made a strong appeal for education to be included in emergency response plans at all levels.  As a start, international agencies, donors and Member States should include education in humanitarian assistance efforts, a speaker said.  Emergency education programmes must be designed with a thorough understanding of the local needs and unique circumstances on the ground.

Academic programmes in post-conflict situations should be inclusive, so that children with special needs were not left behind, another speaker insisted.  Education should be universal and free of charge.  Many speakers also addressed the need to improve girls’ education in Afghanistan, where gender disparities were tremendous.  It was more important than ever for international organizations and the Government to design their projects with a focus on equity and plan more gender-sensitive programmes there, a participant said.

Also stressed in the debate was the need to address the root causes of education systems’ weakness and to coordinate the efforts to promote education through humanitarian and development channels.  Speakers also suggested ways of securing adequate financing and technical assistance for national education ministries.  One speaker pointed out that with the State having the primary responsibility for providing quality education, Governments needed to allocate greater resources for education, with assistance from international partners.

Among the daunting challenges of providing education in the aftermath of conflicts or under foreign occupation, speakers cited the situations in Gaza and the occupied Syrian Golan, among others.  Also considered were the effects of the current economic crisis, which could negatively impact the “already meagre” funding for education.

Participants also highlighted the contribution of institutions and States in support of victims of conflict.  Several raised the issue of educating refugees, noting that only 30 per cent of refugee children were receiving schooling.  A German initiative, among others, which provided education for refugees, was presented.  Expressing hope that others would follow Germany’s example, the speaker said that some $5 million had been granted to the programme this year.

Particular attention was given to international efforts to advance a rights-based approach and improve coordination in emergencies, as well as ensure better data collection and information-sharing through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee’s Education Cluster and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies.   Canada’s representative said her country allocated some 10 per cent of its development assistance budget to education, including for access, quality and equality in basic education in countries in conflict, post-conflict and transition.

Among other issues taken up during the debate were vocational and teacher training, as well as community-based and non-formal education.  A panellist said that, regardless of whether school was under a tree or in a tent, the student-teacher relationship was the key.  Given skills and tools, teachers could keep students safe and continue teaching.  Coordination was essential, and by sharing views, it was possible to come up with new opportunities.

Panel III

The third panel discussion focused on “Shared Accountability: Ways to Move Forward”, and involved four panellists: Claude Heller, Mexico’s Permanent Representative and Chair of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict; Lothar Krappmann, Member of the Committee on the Rights of the Child; Brendan O’malley, author of the UNESCO study Education Under Attack; and Sradda Thapa, youth representative from Nepal.  The discussion was moderated by Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.

Ms. COOMARASWAMY reiterated that schools should be respected as “secure zones of peace” for children, and that international humanitarian law already recognized attacks on schools as a grave criminal violation.  The international community must grapple with the task of holding perpetrators accountable for such crimes, whether by the terms of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or through legal accountability, as reflected in the work of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict.

Mr. HELLER, whose country was Chair of that Working Group, remarked that education was not just a tool for protecting human lives, but a means to disseminate life-saving messages, as well.  It was in schools that children were taught to guard against landmines or to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.  Access to education in emergency situations was often forgotten, as humanitarian actors focused on distributing food and blankets, building latrines and so on.  That was despite the fact that the right to education was enshrined in a broad range of international instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Refugees, the Fourth Geneva Convention, the International Covenant on Social and Political Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Dakar Framework on “Education for All”.

He said that States should consider the importance of promoting human rights through education, as a means of overcoming crises.  Children should be thoroughly educated on their rights and be taught to respect others’ rights.  Such human rights education should go hand in hand with the fight against impunity.  Because determining accountability for any human rights violation was such a complex task, human rights education was ever more important.

Mr. KRAPPMANN, speaking on behalf of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, expressed alarm at the recent numerous attacks on schools, teachers and students, and said the facts concerning them should be made more widely known.  He urged United Nations entities and civil society organizations to consider issuing a statement calling on States to protect schools and make them a secure place.  States should criminalize attacks on schools as war crimes, in accordance with relevant articles of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, and prosecute offenders accordingly.  The zero-tolerance policy regarding the recruitment of child soldiers should be extended to attacks on schools, teachers and children, which were a type of crime rarely, if ever, brought to justice.  Efforts should be increased to prevent such crimes and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

He noted that an international non-governmental organization, Geneva Call, was considering requesting non-State actors to sign an agreement that condemned the following: attacks on schools; abduction or killing of teachers, staff or students; sexual violence; and misuse of schools for military purposes.  Governments, relief and aid agencies, United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and civil society must work closely to that end.  The Committee on the Rights of the Child believed that programmes to re-establish schools should be firmly anchored in the local community, so as to build a sense of community ownership.  Education should be included in peace negotiations and agreements, and not be forgotten in the reconstruction phase.

Mr. O’MALLEY said the report Education under Attack had been the result of the first global study on such attacks.  The study found that there had been an alarming series of such attacks across the world within the past three years, in places such as Afghanistan, Thailand, Colombia, Iraq and Gaza.  The concept of schools as sanctuaries or zones of peace was not respected in those places, which led to hundreds of schools being closed for weeks or even years at a time.  When students and teachers returned, lingering fear inhibited learning.  He pushed for more recognition and respect for the Dakar pledge on “Education for All” in law and practice, which he said implied additional monitoring by Governments.  Such attacks were technically war crimes, and the United Nations should take a lead in expanding the definition of that war crime to encompass not just attacks on buildings, but also attacks on students and staff.

He said an effective deterrent to such attacks required punishment.  Cases should be referred to the International Criminal Court for investigation and prosecution.  States should require a zero-tolerance policy on school attacks as a precondition for economic aid, military aid and trade deals with parties to conflict.  National laws should confirm international laws protecting the right to education, and countries must find ways to turn education into a “force for peace”, for example, by developing a curriculum that developed respect for both narrower community values and the wider set of national values.  Education attacks must be given its rightful place on the “Education for All” agenda and in the global monitoring report.  He suggested that the Secretary-General commission a symbol that could be used to signify schools as sanctuaries of peace, similar to the way in which the Red Cross used its symbol for medical aid.

Ms. THAPA, the youth representative, said education had the potential to counteract poverty and conflict.  Taking her country as an example, she said quality education was not the norm, and conflict only exacerbated that situation.  She and her sister had been sent abroad to study at an early age, at an international boarding school in India, which was a two-hour flight away from home.  The 10-year insurgency had affected children in various ways: many had left the country like she had, and those who had stayed had suffered through strikes, which shut down public institutions such as schools, sometimes for months.  Another sister had remained in the ninth grade for 18 months as a result of one such strike.

She said both the Government and rebel forces sought control of village schools and used the assembly space as their bases.  Once the walls were sprayed with graffiti, they were fair game for army attacks, and children were the ultimate victims. Schools in Nepal were also recruitment grounds for armies, where children were pulled out of class to attend indoctrination seminars.  Children were also used as instruments of war, as porters or messengers.  Schools were not properly separated from politics.  Today, students were beginning to mobilize themselves in an effort to reverse the situation, but young people were still fleeing Nepal in droves.  The reality was that many conflict-affected children did not go to school at all, and had little chance to contribute to the development of peaceful societies.  She urged the General Assembly to support Governments in or emerging from crisis to provide children with an accessible, quality education.

She called for support in rebuilding schools, equipping them with appropriate technology, helping local communities to develop relevant curricula, and, among other things, the training of more female teachers as a source of encouragement and inspiration to female children living in villages.

In the discussion that followed, Member States stressed the link between poverty and illiteracy; poverty led to illiteracy and illiteracy was reinforced by poverty.  Recognizing the relationship between the two should help shape the international community’s next steps.  The international community must also establish a link between climate change and natural disasters, which was the second type of “emergency” that often disrupted education.  A few speakers stressed the importance of planning ahead for emergencies and ensuring that early recovery programmes were well funded.  To identify what type of education was needed in emergency situations, some States called for more involvement from children.  Certain countries focused on the condition of girls, in particular.

Reiterating that schools were fertile ground for violence, some States stressed the need to prevent the use of schools for military purposes or for fuelling conflict and disseminating hatred.  Both the national education system and the international community as a whole should help to reintegrate child soldiers into society and prevent the recruitment of more.  Donors should integrate education into humanitarian responses and strategies, and provide funding in a predictable manner though bodies and mechanisms such as the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the Central Emergency Response Fund.  Education must be integrated in the consolidated appeals process and needs assessments mechanisms.  Donors should also support better coordination among development and humanitarian actors.  The use of schools as hubs for humanitarian assistance for children and youth should be considered.

A representative of a non-governmental organization agreed that education should be integrated into peace processes, as affirmed at a conference in Sarajevo on education in emergencies last week.  She hoped that the Committee on the Rights of the Child would render special assistance to States that had difficulty in preparing a report on the situation in their countries.

Closing Remarks

MIGUEL D’ESCOTO BROCKMANN, President of the General Assembly, congratulated participants for having advanced the dialogue on steps to protect schools and to ensure that they remained safe and nurturing environments in the midst of difficult circumstances.  The panels had highlighted the concern of many that education was not enough of a priority in the world’s response to complex emergencies.  The need for a coherent, human rights-based response was clear.  In that respect, he was grateful to the human rights experts, education specialists and practitioners, and Government representatives who had provided information today.  As a result, the Assembly would press for clearer resolutions, legislation and policies to close that “glaring gap”.

As Assembly President, he said, he was most concerned about recommendations that had been made by representatives of Member States and those that affected the policies of Member States.  As pointed out by the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, 90 per cent of countries where natural disasters and violent conflicts took place had Governments that were unable to respond adequately to the humanitarian needs of their citizens, much less to maintain schools as safe havens.  Government disaster relief policies must integrate education into their humanitarian response and into the broader educational framework.  He welcomed the recommendation that more regional consultations were needed, and encouraged Member States to explore that option with United Nations regional commissions, perhaps led by, or with the participation of, education ministers.

He said peace agreements must be monitored to ensure that they considered the protection of schools and the educational infrastructure.  Restoring the education system and poverty reduction must go hand in hand, and reliable data on conditions faced before, during and after crises was needed, in order to devise an adequate response.  The legal basis for the protection of the right to education could be found in much of the international community’s human rights legislation, but in the face of rising incidents of violence and human disasters caused by natural phenomena those lofty goals had fallen victim to a culture of neglect, or worse, impunity.  In turn, the collective failure to stop impunity served as a license for perpetrators.

He agreed with the recommendation that States be called on to protect schools and make them safe havens, especially in the most difficult situations.  He also voiced support for calls that States should criminalize attacks on schools as war crimes, in accordance with the Rome Statute, and prosecute offenders accordingly.  Such actions must be taken routinely and systematically, especially in a world where violent conflicts were lethal and where natural disasters were increasing in frequency.  “We must apply all our tenacity and creativity to develop sound responses, ones that are feasible and that work in the worst conditions,” he said.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.