Education is a human right, even in conflict: a reminder from the commemoration of the International Day to Protect Education from Attack

The Third UN International Day to Protect Education from Attack was recognised on 12 September through a side event to the Human Rights Council hosted by the Permanent Mission of Qatar and Education Above All, together with the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Nigeria, Norway and Spain, the Core Group on the Safe Schools Declaration[1], the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and Save the Children. With the new UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education participating, education as a human right was brought to the forefront of the discussions.

The Geneva Global Hub for Education in Emergencies also co-sponsored the event, with EiE Hub Coordinator Petra Heusser moderating the discussion.

The opening remarks from H.E. Dr. Hend Abdalrahman Al-Muftah, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the UN in Geneva, emphasised that: “Education is a key human right, which enables people to develop the skills to be successful in life, and also enables them to access all other basic rights.”

“We have to act immediately to protect education from attack,” she said, adding: “We need to walk the talk.”

Areej Masri, a member of the Youth Advocate Board of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights- Education Above All – Silatech Joint Partnership, spoke about her experience living in, and eventually leaving, Syria. She posed a key challenge: “Until today, we still treat education as a luxury that can wait until the end of hostilities to be put in place. But don’t we realise that there is now an entire generation of children who were never enrolled in school? Don’t we know children are being made to join armed groups, or forced into work, or early marriage? All of us – as youth, international organisations and governments, have roles to play in ensuring education reaches all children, whatever their situation.”

“States, donors, multilateral organisations, everyone must recognise education as a core requirement in responding to crises,” said Farida Shaheed, the newly appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education. “The right to education is a human right, applicable in all situations, and it is an empowering human right. Girls in particular are disproportionately affected, for instance, by sexual abuse, and the avoidance of schools that are occupied by armed men – girls are much more likely to be out of school in conflict-affected countries than elsewhere. States, donors, multilateral organisations and others must recognise that the impacts on education from conflict are not just collateral damage, but the violation of a human right – the right to education.”

In a video message, H.E. Ms. Lolwah Al-Khater, Assistant Foreign Minister of Qatar, noted that education in emergency situations is particularly looked to as a lifeline for children trapped in violence or displaced far from home. That point was further emphasised by Michel Anglade, Director, Save the Children Office in Geneva, who asked all to note that attacks on education don’t only disrupt learning – they are often an end to learning entirely, as children who leave school because of these attacks may never return at all, as shown in GCPEA’s report Education under Attack 2022.

H.E. Mr. Sabri Bachtobji, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Tunisia to the UN in Geneva, also spoke on behalf of the Core Group on the Safe Schools Declaration, while H.E. Ms. Aurora Diaz-Rato Revuelta, Ambassador and Permanent Representative, Permanent Mission of Spain to the UN in Geneva, delivered the closing remarks and congratulated Malaysia for committing to host the Fifth International Conference on the Safe Schools Declaration in 2023.

Following the event, guests were invited to a Photo Exhibition showcasing the impact of attacks on education. The exhibition will be on display at the exhibition gallery from Monday 12 September to Friday 23rd September 2022, to celebrate the right to education as an enabling right for all other rights and highlight the importance of ensuring that education itself is protected. The exhibition opening was followed by a reception, hosted by Qatar and Education Above All.

[1] Members of the Core Group: Algeria, Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Ecuador, Guatemala, Iraq, Italy, Luxembourg, Maldives, Malta, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Palestine, Portugal, Qatar, Spain, Switzerland, Togo, Tunisia, United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Vietnam.