Children and Armed Conflict: Arria-formula Meeting on the Protection of Education
On Monday (6 December), Security Council members will hold an in-person Arria-formula meeting on the protection of education in conflict. Niger and Norway (the chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict), the co-penholders on resolution 2601 of 29 October on the protection of education, are organising the meeting. Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Anniken Huitfeldt will chair the meeting and Crown Prince Haakon of Norway will provide remarks. The expected briefers are Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict Virginia Gamba and Doris Mpoumou, the Director of the AU Liaison and Pan-Africa Office and AU Representative at Save the Children International. Representatives of UNICEF and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will provide opening and closing remarks.
The meeting will take place in the ECOSOC Chamber at 3 pm EST and will be broadcast live on UNTV.
According to a concept note prepared by the co-organisers, the objective of Monday’s meeting is to assess trends in the disruption of education in conflict. The meeting will highlight the need to implement resolution 2601 as a crucial tool to facilitate the protection of education in conflict. The concept note says that the meeting will also provide a platform to discuss other instruments, lessons learned and good practices on the protection of education, such as the Safe Schools Declaration.
The concept note outlines the negative trends in global threats to education, noting that more than 11,000 attacks and incidents of military use of schools were reported between 2015 and 2019, affecting 22,000 students and educators in at least 93 countries. It says that the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent school closures have exacerbated schools’ vulnerability to attack, as some closed educational facilities are being used for military purposes. The concept note underscores that children who are out of school in situations of armed conflict are vulnerable to recruitment and use by parties to the conflict and to other violations of international law. It further emphasises the gendered aspects of attacks on schools, noting that in some contexts, girls are targeted with the aim of suppressing their access to education.
The co-organisers propose several questions to help guide the discussion at Monday’s meeting, including:
- What can the Security Council, member states, the UN and civil society actors do to ensure the implementation of Security Council resolution 2601?
- What measures and practices can member states and regional organisations implement to reinforce more effective prevention of attacks and threat of attacks against schools and education facilities, and strengthen the prevention mechanisms for the protection of education in conflict?
- How can we build on practical experiences and promising results from other thematic areas on the Security Council’s agenda, such as women, peace and security?
In convening Monday’s meeting, the co-organisers apparently seek to build on the momentum following the unanimous adoption of resolution 2601 and to emphasise the resolution’s unique contribution to the children and armed conflict agenda. The resolution is the first Council product that focuses on the protection of education in conflict in a comprehensive manner. 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.
Resolution 2601 recognises additional challenges to the fulfilment of children’s right to education in situations of armed conflict, such as insecurity in and around schools and displacement. It calls for a systematic response to such challenges, including through preventing attacks and threats of attacks against schools, facilitating the continuation of education in situations where children are unable to access schools, and addressing the long-term needs of those affected by armed conflict. Other new elements in resolution 2601 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.
The adoption of resolution 2601, which was co-sponsored by 99 member states, followed a period of increased attention to the need to protect education from attack, both in the Security Council and in other UN forums. Several Council meetings were convened in recent years to discuss threats to education, including a 10 September 2020 open debate on attacks against schools organised by Niger. During that meeting, the Council adopted a presidential statement on attacks against schools co-authored by Niger and Belgium (the then-chair of the Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict). In addition, Council members have been consistently highlighting the need to protect children’s right to education in their statements, including during this year’s annual open debate on children and armed conflict and the May Arria-formula meeting on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children in situations of armed conflict convened by Estonia.
Although the need to address threats to education has garnered consensus among Council members, the negotiations on resolution 2601 were protracted and apparently not easy. Several issues arose during the negotiations, including regarding the scope of the resolution. 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. Therefore, most language on youth, except for one reference in the preambular part, was not retained in the resolution’s final text.
In addition, it seems that India sought to add qualifiers to several paragraphs in the text— including on the facilitation of education for refugees—which would have clarified that these provisions only apply to situations of armed conflict. These qualifiers were not included in the resolution’s final text. In its explanation of vote following the adoption of resolution 2601, India emphasised that the resolution’s provisions only apply to situations of armed conflict, adding that the Security Council should avoid transgressing into issues that do not pertain to its mandate.
A persistently divisive issue among Council members is references to non-UN normative frameworks on the protection of education, 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. These members usually oppose including references to the declaration in Council products.
Resolution 2601 takes note of “efforts aimed at facilitating the continuation of education in armed conflict, including the efforts of Member States that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration”. As such, it is the first thematic Security Council resolution to reference the Safe Schools Declaration. It seems that the co-penholder initially sought to include stronger language, calling on states to implement the commitments made through the endorsement of the declaration. However, such a formulation was not included in the final text of the resolution because of resistance from several Council members.