Statement by Ms Bokova, Director General of UNESCO at the side-event Children in Armed Conflict

Jun 30, 2011

For United Nations webcast-TV see:

(as delivered)

United Nations Secretary-General Ban-Ki moon,

Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nazzer, UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education,

United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy,

Ambassador Dr. Peter Wittig, Permanent Representative of Germany,


Ladies and Gentlemen,

This debate marks a milestone.

The time has come for the international community to take stronger action to prevent attacks on schools and ensure access to safe and secure education for children and young people in conflict situations.

The tragic attacks this week on hospitals in Afghanistan are powerful reminders of the timeliness of our meeting.

I wish to commend Germany and the United Nations Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict for this initiative.

UNESCO fully supports Germany’s intention to hold a thematic debate at the Security Council next month to discuss expanding the Security Council’s Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism to include attacks on schools and hospitals as a trigger and to have a resolution adopted.

I am deeply grateful to the United Nations Secretary-General for his sustained efforts in this area.

Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nazzer leads from the front in promoting the right to education in emergency situations. This was embodied in the General Assembly Resolution that Qatar sponsored successfully one year ago. I thank you Your Highness also for the energy she brings to her role as UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education. I would also like to express UNESCO’s special gratitude to you for supporting our Education under Attack series. Through research, analysis and advocacy work, this series contributed to bringing the issue of targeted violence against education to international attention, and taught us also about the many challenges of reporting and monitoring such attacks. Our presence here today owes much to your engagement in alerting the international community to this human crisis.    

There are today 28 million primary school-age children and as many or more young people living in conflict areas who are denied the chance to learn.

These figures are a call to action.

In focusing on the big picture, we should remember what these figures mean.

Take the example of South Sudan -- which, in nine days time, will become the world’s newest State.

Twenty one years of civil war have left 2 million dead and displaced 4 million others. South Sudan has the highest maternal mortality in the world.

Schools and schoolchildren were systematically targeted during the conflict. South Sudan has today the world’s lowest primary school enrollment rates. Teenage girls are more likely to die in childbirth than complete their schooling. Only 8 percent of women are literate.

No country better illustrates the importance of the right to education.

Statehood is more than a declaration.

It must be built in schools, it must be nurtured in the minds of boys and girls, it must be constructed through the capacities of every woman and man.

South Sudan makes clear the stakes of our meeting.

It is not the only case.

School children are on the frontline of armed conflict across the world. They are the victims of attacks on schools, forced recruitment into armed militia, and an epidemic of rape and sexual violence.

UNESCO’s 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report shines the spotlight on this hidden crisis.

The facts are alarming. Between 1998 and 2008, an estimated 2 million children were killed in conflicts, with 6 million left disabled. Around 300,000 children are being exploited as soldiers. Sexual violence is becoming systemic Across the world, classrooms and the kids sitting in them are increasingly seen as legitimate targets.

This is an immediate human rights crisis. It is also a long term development disaster.

We know the importance of education.

Quality education is the best way to break cycles of violence.

It is a fundamental human right, and it is vital for overcoming poverty and building sustainable growth.

It can help societies avoid reliving the nightmares of history -- by teaching human rights, by reaching out to all groups.

Fundamentally, education provides hope, a sense that the future may hold something other than war.

Education lies on the frontline of conflict; it must be at the forefront of building peace.

We must act now to protect children and schools, to reconstruct education, and to tap education’s power to build peace.

Along with our partners, UNESCO is working hard to protect the right to education in conflicts.

We do so, first, by documenting the challenge – through our Education under Attack studies and, most recently, the 2011 Global Monitoring Report, launched in many places in the world, including last week in Juba, South Sudan and previously in Kabul.

We act also on the ground, with a focus on educating girls and women.

UNESCO leads the largest education programme today in Afghanistan, where we are reaching some 600,000 learners in 18 provinces.

UNESCO is providing for teacher training and the rehabilitation of higher education in Iraq. We have established five Community Learning Centres outside Baghdad to provide literacy to girls and women.

With the Office of Her Highness, our office in Iraqrecently launched a Literacy Initiative for Empowerment project, to reach an estimated 5 million vulnerable illiterates by 2015.

The UNESCO Ramallah office has developed an integrative response for the protection of education for schools at high risk in the Gaza Strip.

We have joined our voice to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. UNESCO participated in the launch last week of this important campaign.


Our priority must be to stop appalling violations of human rights.

Governments must bring those responsible to account, and the international community must do its part.

For this, we need better monitoring and reporting of attacks and violations.

Better data is vital for understanding the nature of the challenge and for ending impunity.

Making attacks on schools and hospitals a trigger for listing would ensure that violations are addressed in action plans aimed at addressing such criminal acts. It would provide for more consistent data collection on attacks by country-level Monitoring and Reporting Task Forces.

The time has come to make full use of all accountability measures to end impunity for attacks.

We must send a clear message to perpetrators that attacks on education will not go unanswered. Failing to act carries an unacceptable price.

We look forward to strengthened protection of children in armed conflict through a possible resolution in the Security Council to protect schools from attack.

Thank you.

© GermanyUN & UNESCO