Safe Schools Declaration February 2016

Thank you for contacting me recently regarding the Safe Schools Declaration.

The military use of educational establishments can have devastating impacts on education systems, disrupting the education of children and potentially exposing them to violence and exploitation.

As I am sure you are aware, the Safe Schools Declaration, amongst other commitments, requires states to use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. 

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), who drafted these guidelines, released the Lessons in War report last year detailing the military use of schools and universities in conflicts. The GCPEA report found that in the majority of countries with armed conflicts, armed forces or armed groups used schools and other education institutions. 

I was incredibly troubled to read in the report, however, that girls are particularly negatively affected by the military use of schools and that, in the worst cases, children have been injured and even killed when their schools have come under attack because military forces were using them.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary has raised the Safe Schools Declaration with the Foreign Secretary who has stated that, although the Government endorse the spirit of this initiative, there are concerns that the Guidelines do not reflect the exact language of International Humanitarian Law.

I know that the GCPEA have noted the UK as an example of "good practice" when it comes to protecting schools and universities from military use, however, I hope the Government will carefully consider the findings of the GCPEA report and the campaign by UNICEF on this matter. More than 50 countries have endorsed the Declaration, and the Government needs to ensure that the UK does its part in safeguarding children. 

It is crucial that all parties to armed conflicts ensure that they are abiding by international humanitarian law at all times, and I agree it is vital that children, wherever they are, do not miss out on an education.  War has enough devastating effects on innocent lives—the least we can do is protect innocent children in their schools. 

I can assure you that I will follow this issue closely. Thank you once again for writing to me and for sharing your views.