(February 25, 2019 – New York) - Fiji is the 84th state to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political commitment to take concrete measures to protect students, educators, schools, and universities from deliberate and indiscriminate attack by armed forces and groups during armed conflict, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) today.
“By endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, the Government of Fiji has taken the important step of committing to uphold the right to education, even in armed conflict,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA’s executive director. “Fiji’s endorsement is noteworthy given that it is a significant contributor of police, military experts, and troops to UN peacekeeping operations.”
By endorsing the Declaration, states pledge to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, a practical tool aimed at limiting the use of schools and universities during military operations. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ guidance prohibits military use of educational infrastructure. Both recognize that the presence of fighting forces in schools puts students in the line of fire, makes them vulnerable to recruitment as child soldiers, and leaves girls, in particular, at risk of sexual violence by soldiers in the vicinity of schools.
Fiji’s endorsement comes ahead of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, where GCPEA, together with the Permanent Missions of Argentina, Norway, Romania, Spain, and the International Organisation of La Francophonie, will host a side-event on the need to better protect women and girls from attacks on education. GCPEA will present its recent research on the impact of attacks on education on women and girls in the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The keynote address will be delivered by Ms. Virginia Gamba, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who will also be presenting her annual report on children and armed conflict, during the Council session.
Fiji’s endorsement also comes ahead of the Third International Conference on Safe Schools, which will be hosted by the government of Spain on May 28-29, in Palma de Mallorca, and will provide the opportunity for states to highlight the progress they have made in implementing the Declaration.
“Each new endorsement brings closer the day when half of all UN member states will have joined the Declaration, cementing a global consensus that education must be protected during armed conflict,” said Nijhowne. “The upcoming Human Rights Council session, as well as the Third International Conference on Safe Schools, provide key opportunities for other countries to follow Fiji’s example and join the rapidly expanding community of states committed to ensuring safe education for all.”