The General Assembly proclaimed 9 September the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, adopting a resolution that reaffirms the right to education for all and the importance of ensuring safe, enabling learning environments in humanitarian emergencies.
The Assembly passed the text (document A/74/L.66) by consensus as resolution 74/275 under a procedure put in place on 27 March for taking decisions during the COVID-19 pandemic. Following that procedure, outlined in decision 74/544, today’s resolution, presented by Qatar, had been kept under silence until 4 p.m. on 28 May.
By its terms, the Assembly strongly condemned all attacks against schools and the use of schools for military purposes, when in breach of international law. It recognized that access to quality education in humanitarian emergencies can foster long-term development goals, and reiterated the need to protect and respect educational facilities, in accordance with international law.
In addition, the Assembly invited Member States, the United Nations, the private sector and civil society to observe the International Day in an appropriate manner, inviting both the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to serve as facilitators of the observance each year. The cost of all activities arising from implementation of the resolution should be met from voluntary contributions, the Assembly stressed.
“For children trapped in conflict, education provides stability and hope for a better future," said Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande (Nigeria). Each year of education reduces the risk of a youth’s involvement in conflict by 20 per cent. He called for joint efforts — especially in the fight against COVID‑19 — to guarantee children equal access to quality education. “To fail to do so, would be to fail a generation," he warned.
Speaking in explanation of position, Syria’s representative said everyone should have the right to education and that, under no circumstance, should civilians be targeted, including students and teachers. At the same time, it is most crucial that the Assembly avoid the presentation of resolutions or decisions that fall outside the scope of decision 74/544. He expressed serious concern about the substance, procedural precision and process of consultations pertaining to the resolution, calling it long and repetitive, and containing language that is irrelevant to the observance of an International Day to Protect Education from Attack.
He said it was the understanding of many delegations that no paragraphs would be inserted after the last round of negotiations on 1 Apri, expressing surprise that paragraphs were indeed introduced at a time when open intergovernmental consultations are needed most. Syria was not consulted before the final version was presented. The resolution does not comply with the conditions outlined in decision 74/544, nor is it of an essential nature to the Assembly’s work. He distanced Syria from preambular paragraphs 3, as his country cannot accept mention of the International Criminal Court, and 14, as reports by the Special Representative of the Secretary‑General for Children and Armed Conflict are filled with grave fallacies.
The Russian Federation’s representative, referring to the Assembly President’s 21 May letter circulating the draft resolution on the International Day, said his delegation disassociates from preambular paragraph 3, referring to the International Criminal Court. On preambular paragraph 7, he said the Safe School Declaration and accompanying Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict do not mirror the language of international humanitarian law, as envisaged in the Geneva Conventions and Protocols, which risks complicating the application of international humanitarian law.
[Under decision 74/544, “Procedure for taking decisions of the General Assembly during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID‑19) pandemic”, adopted on 27 March 2020, the Assembly President is authorized to circulate, after consultation with the General Committee, its draft decisions to all Member States under a silence procedure of at least 72 hours. If the silence is not broken, the decision should be considered adopted. On 15 May 2020, through decision 74/555 (document A/74/L.65), the silence procedure was extended until the end of June 2020. (See also Press Releases GA/12244 and GA/12245.)
The final version of decisions adopted during the resumed part of the General Assembly’s seventy-fourth session will be contained in the Assembly’s official record (document A/74/49 (Vol. III)) after editorial review.]