Following are UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ remarks on the International Day to Protect Education from Attack, observed virtually today:
Allow me to start by thanking the State of Qatar and the Education Above All Foundation for their kind invitation. I also welcome the distinguished guests and representatives joining us at this important event.
The global community needs to speak with one voice — attacks on schools must stop. Schools must be places of learning, safety and peace. Education provides knowledge and skills. But it also transforms lives and drives development. For people, communities and for societies. But the problem is that year after year, this fundamental right comes under attack.
Imagine being a child, sitting in a classroom, eager to learn. Or a teacher, dedicated to shaping the minds of the next generation. Now imagine the horrors inflicted by conflict on learning. Schools being targeted or destroyed or used for military purposes. Children facing violence, exploitation, even recruitment to the fighting — simply because they go to school. Young women and girls completely denied the right to education. Students and teachers wondering if their place of learning will be next.
Between 2015 and 2020, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack collected over 13,000 reports of strikes on education or the military use of educational facilities worldwide. And this threat is not lessening, as the horrifying events in Afghanistan are showing us so starkly.
These are not numbers on a page. These are thousands of individual lives and individual futures. The loss is incalculable. That’s why we call on all countries who have not already done so to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. Endorsed by 111 States so far, the Declaration outlines concrete steps that governments can take to protect schools and learning.
We urge Member States to go beyond their commitments under international law and put in place national policies and laws that protect schools and learners. And that hold perpetrators accountable. In every country and jurisdiction, we need to make attacks on schools unacceptable and punished.
Finally, we call for increased global support for the work of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund), who are working around the clock to protect education, students, teachers and schools in some of the most dangerous places around the world.
While we’ve made great strides in recent years, we need to do more to protect the right to education for all. As Secretary-General of the United Nations, I am proud to stand with you in this important effort. Because when we protect education, we protect the future.