Commemoration of the Fourth UN International Day to Protect Education from Attack

On 11 September 2023, the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar to the United Nations in Geneva, Education Above All (EAA), and the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) co-organised the commemoration of the fourth UN International Day to Protect Education from Attack. The event was also co-sponsored by the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Nigeria, Norway, and Spain to the United Nations in Geneva, the Core Group on the Safe Schools Declaration, the Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies (EiE Hub), and Save the Children.

A unanimous resolution of the UN General Assembly proclaimed 9 September the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, initially presented by the State of Qatar and co-sponsored by 62 Member States, and adopted on 28 May 2020 during its 74th session. This year’s commemoration of this landmark resolution aims to catalyse actions to protect students, educators, and educational institutions, and mobilise greater international political support for protecting education during armed conflict.

The event began with a virtual keynote address delivered by Her Excellency, Ms.  Lolwah Rashid Al-Khater, Minister of State for International Cooperation, State of Qatar.

“Today and every day, we need to remember that education is the only power to move sustainable development,” said Al-Khater. “Conflict cannot be an excuse to deprive anyone of their right to education.”

H. E. Mr. Gordon Brown, United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, also provided a keynote address by video message, emphasising the protective role of the Safe Schools Declaration and calling on all Member States to endorse and implement this political declaration, already supported by 118 states.

These were followed by youth advocate Mr. Shawgi Omer Nawai, who talked about the urgency of taking action and the need to develop partnerships with affected young people. “Education is hope,” he said. “It empowers individuals to rebuild their lives, it is essential for post-conflict reconstruction. None of this is possible without safe, secure learning environments.”

Other speakers included H.E. Mr. Tormod Endresen, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN in Geneva, H.E. Mrs. Aurora Diaz-Rato Revuelta, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Spain to the UN in Geneva (speaking on behalf of the Core Group on the Safe Schools Declaration), Ms. Virginia Gamba, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, and Mr. Todd Howland, Chief of Development, Economic, and Social Issues Branch, OHCHR.

“Do you want a lost generation, or do you want educated youth that can take on rebuilding their future?” asked Endresen, and in a recorded message Gamba noted that “children have a view on what it is to be safe to go to school, and they should be heard.”

Closing remarks came from Mr. Ali Alsobai, Director of Education Above All, and Mr. Fahad Al-Sulaiti, Chief Executive Officer of Education Above All.

This event was one of several held to mark the International Day to Protect Education from Attack.

On 7 September, GCPEA helped mark the anniversary with the publication of a new study, Non-State Armed Groups and Attacks on Education: Exploring Trends and Practices to Curb Violations. This research takes a much-needed look at attacks on education committed by non-state armed groups, the various motivations these groups have for attacking schools and educators, and recommendations and strategies for reducing these attacks (see here for more details).

More than 3,000 attacks on education were identified in 2022, a 17 percent increase over the previous year, according to GCPEA. Almost one-third of all attacks took place in just three countries: Ukraine, Myanmar, and Burkina Faso, with the war in Ukraine accounting for the majority.

“The International Day to Protect Education from Attack serves as a stark reminder that schools are not always the safe refuges they should be, but instead are often the sites of extreme violence and terror,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Executive Director. “The distressing increase in attacks last year underscores the urgent need for both armed forces and non-state armed groups to safeguard education, including by avoiding using explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas, such as near schools or universities, and refraining from using schools for military purposes.”

Following the high-level Geneva event, guests were invited to a photo exhibition showcasing the impact of attacks on education. The exhibition will be on display at the United Nations Office at Geneva exhibition gallery through to the end of September 2023, celebrating the right to education as an enabling right that guarantees all others, and highlighting the importance of ensuring that education itself is protected.

A reception was also hosted by the Permanent Mission of the State of Qatar in Geneva and Education Above All.