Education International welcomes the move by Cyprus to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, a commitment to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities during times of war.
Cyprus has become on 26 July the 68th country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, joining a political commitment by states to protect education in armed conflict, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).
With Cyprus’ endorsement, 21 European Union countries—three-quarters of its members—have now joined the growing community of states committed to taking concrete action to protect education during armed conflict.
The United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, established in 1964, continues its operation on the island of Cyprus. Its role is to supervise ceasefire lines, maintain a buffer zone, undertake humanitarian activities, and support the good offices mission of the Secretary-General. Of the 22 countries that currently contribute uniformed personnel to the mission, 12 have also endorsed the Declaration – Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Ireland, Italy, Montenegro, Romania, Slovakia, and Paraguay.
Countries commit to strengthen monitoring and reporting of attacks on education; improve accountability for attacks and provide support to victims; promote “conflict sensitive” policies that ensure that the content and delivery of education do not become drivers of conflict; and take steps to support the continuation of safe education, including by rebuilding schools.
A key component of the Safe Schools Declaration is the commitment to bring the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict into relevant domestic policy and operational frameworks, including in peacekeeping missions.
Schools and universities in conflict zones are regularly used for military purposes by armed forces and armed groups. The effects of military use of educational institutions can be devastating for students, teachers, and their communities, turning schools into targets for attack, depriving children of access to education, and putting their security and that of their teachers at risk.
The Guidelines were developed in a process spearheaded by GCPEA and finalised in a state-led process headed by Norway and Argentina in December 2014. On 29 May 2015, the Safe Schools Declaration was opened for endorsement at the First International Conference on Safe Schools in Oslo. The Second International Conference on Safe Schools was held in Buenos Aires in March 2017.
Support for the Declaration has built considerable momentum over the last two years: in his May 2017 report to the Security Council on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the UN Secretary-General urged all member states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.
The GCPEA is a unique coalition of international organisations, including Human Rights Watch, the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict, Save the Children, the Scholars at Risk Network, UNHCR, UNICEF, and UNESCO.