What's In Blue

Posted Thu 28 Oct 2021

Children and Armed Conflict: Vote on a Resolution on the Protection of Education*

Tomorrow (29 October), Council members are expected to vote on a draft resolution on the protection of education in conflict. Niger and Norway (the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict) co-drafted the resolution and led the negotiations on the text. The draft resolution in blue condemns attacks and threats of attack against schools, educational facilities and civilians connected with schools. It further emphasises the need to facilitate the continuation of education in situations of armed conflict. The draft text is open for co-sponsorship from the wider UN membership.

Background

The protection of education is a foreign policy priority for several Council members, including the resolution’s co-penholders, Niger and Norway. In the past several years, the issue has garnered increasing attention in the Security Council and in other UN forums. The Secretary-General’s 2020 and 2021 annual reports on children and armed conflict highlighted several negative trends, including the increase in attacks against schools. The global disruption to education caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has also enhanced Council members’ attention to the issue. An August 2020 UN policy brief on the impact of COVID-19 on education noted that global school closures have compounded existing challenges to children’s access to education in areas such as the Sahel, where there were already difficulties prior to the pandemic due to the security situation.

On 10 September 2020, Niger convened an open debate on attacks against schools, during which the Council adopted a presidential statement co-authored by Niger and Belgium (the then-chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed conflict). The presidential statement reaffirmed the right to education and its contribution to peace and security and called on member states to take steps to prevent attacks and threats of attacks against schools. Council members have been consistently highlighting the need to protect children’s right to education, including during this year’s annual open debate on children and armed conflict, which took place in June, and the May Arria-formula meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children in situations of armed conflict convened by Estonia. The broad co-sponsorship for an Arria-formula meeting on the role of digital technology and connectivity in facilitating access to education in conflict situations, which was spearheaded by Niger, also demonstrated Council members’ significant interest in the issue.

The Draft Resolution

The draft resolution is the first Council product that focuses on the link between education and peace and security more broadly. Previous resolutions on children and armed conflict addressed specific threats to education, including attacks against schools— which constitute one of the six grave violations against children— and the military use of schools. In resolution 1998 adopted in 2011, the Council designated attacks on schools as a grave violation that could trigger a listing of parties in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Other resolutions, such as resolution 2427 of 9 July 2018, further highlighted the need to protect schools, children, teachers, and other protected persons in relation to schools from attacks or threats of attacks.

The resolution that will be voted on tomorrow reflects a more holistic approach, which recognises other challenges to the fulfilment of children’s right to education beyond physical attacks on schools. These include lack of access caused by insecurity in and around schools (because of exposure to such threats as abductions and gender-based violence) and children’s displacement. The draft resolution calls for a systematic response to such challenges, including through preventing attacks and threats of attacks, facilitating the continuation of education when children are unable to access schools, and addressing the long-term needs of those affected by armed conflict.

The present and future detrimental effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on access to education are highlighted in the draft resolution. It notes that the pandemic and the inequitable access to vaccines “have exacerbated existing inequalities in access to education and the continuation of education in armed conflict”. In this regard, it stresses the need to address the provision of equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines and essential health technologies when devising measures to facilitate access to education in armed conflict.

The draft text in blue also underscores the gendered aspects of threats to education. It expresses concern that “girls and women may be the intended victims of attacks targeting their access to and continuation of education” and notes that the consequences of such attacks may include rape, abductions and forced marriage. As such, it urges member states, the UN and civil society organisations to take into account girls’ equal access to education when undertaking efforts to address impediments to children’s rights to education.

Several new elements are contained in the draft resolution in blue, which were not referenced in previous relevant Council products. These include provisions calling on member states to facilitate the access to education of children with disabilities who are affected by armed conflict and for refugee and displaced children. In addition, the draft text underscores the harmful effects of humanitarian emergencies and displacement, which are caused by armed conflict on the mental health and psychological wellbeing of children. In this regard, it encourages member states and donors to integrate mental health and psychosocial services in humanitarian responses.

Negotiations on the Draft Resolution

Although Council members are united in their strong support for the children and armed conflict agenda, the negotiations on the resolution were protracted and apparently not easy. It seems that while members were generally in favour of a resolution addressing the evolving developments regarding threats to education, there were lengthy deliberations on such issues as the legal ramifications of specific provisions and the overall scope of the resolution.

The co-penholders circulated a first draft of the text on 25 August. Following two meetings to conduct a read-through of the text in September and two revisions, a draft text was put under silence on 15 October. China and India subsequently broke silence on that draft. This was followed by two more revised drafts, which were put under silence on 20 October and 22 October, respectively. India broke silence on both these drafts. Finally, after further bilateral negotiations with India, the co-penholders placed a draft in blue on Monday (25 October).

A key disagreement was on proposed language on youth. It seems that several Council members, including European members, maintained that the resolution should reflect the need to protect young people’s access to education because other educational facilities such as universities and continuing education centres are also often subject to attack. However, other Council members—including China, India and Russia— opposed the broadening of the resolution’s scope and maintained that the text should only focus on the children and armed conflict agenda. This led China and India to break the first silence procedure. Therefore, most language on youth— except for one reference in the preambular part— was not included in the final text in blue. It seems that the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) acknowledged the importance of addressing attacks on youth’s education but felt that this would be better addressed in a different product, such as one focusing on youth, peace and security.

Another apparently difficult area of discussion was on the inclusion of references to non-UN normative frameworks, such as the Safe Schools Declaration. The declaration is a voluntary political commitment from governments not to use schools for military purposes and to protect them during military operations, which was developed by Argentina and Norway and opened for endorsement in 2015. As at 2021, 112 states had endorsed the declaration. Several Council members—including China, Russia and the US—have not endorsed it. The September 2020 Security Council presidential statement co-authored by Niger and Belgium is the first Council product explicitly to reference the declaration. It takes note of efforts aimed at facilitating continuation of education in armed conflict, including those of member states that are signatories to the Safe Schools Declaration.

It seems that the co-penholders sought to build on the language from the presidential statement and strengthen it to call on states to implement the commitments made through the endorsement of the deceleration. However, because of resistance from several Council members, the final draft text in blue only retains in its preambular part the formulation from the 2020 presidential statement. As such, the draft resolution in blue is the first thematic Security Council resolution to reference the Safe Schools Declaration. (A reference to the declaration is included in resolution 2584 of 29 June on Mali, which endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration.)

It seems that some members requested that qualifiers be added to several provisions in the draft text. For example, language condemning all violations of international law affecting children in armed conflict was modified at the request of some permanent members. As a result, the draft text in blue condemns all violations of “applicable” international law. In addition, India apparently broke silence over a strong desire to make clear that provisions contained in several paragraphs— including on the facilitation of education for refugees—only apply to situations of armed conflict. It seems that these specific proposals by India were not included in the final draft text.

*Post-script: On 29 October, the Security Council unanimously adopted resolution 2601 on the protection of education in conflict. The resolution was co-sponsored by 99 member states.