We must bring what is happening in Belarus to the world’s attention and hear from those on the ground. Briefers on #BYHumanRights: UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Anaïs Marin; Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya; Vice-Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Center, Valiantsin Stefanovic; Legal Expert for the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Volha Siakhovich. The meeting is chaired by Urmas Reinsalu, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia. The meeting was initiated by Estonia and co-sponsored by UN Security Council members the United States and United Kingdom, as well as Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine.

Statement by Ambassador S. Jürgenson at UN Security Council Debate on Children and armed conflict: Attacks against schools as a grave violation of children’s rights

 We thank all briefers for sharing their views today. We particularly value the direct experiences shared by Ms Mayaki and hopefully if technology permits be able to listen to Hadiza.

We also express our gratitude to Niger for drawing the Council’s attention to this topic, including for its excellent work – with Belgium – in finding an agreement on the presidential statement adopted by the Council.

We strongly support the statement and hope that it mobilises further efforts by this Council, member states, the UN system, international and regional organisations as well as civil society organisations to protect schools.

Estonia strongly condemns all violations of international law, including attacks against schools. We are alarmed by attacks against schools and hospitals in the Syrian Arab Republic, the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Afghanistan and Somalia. We share the deep concern about the sharp increase in the number of schools forced to close and due to insecurity, with almost 650 000 children affected, in the Sahel since 2017.

We call on parties to armed conflict to immediately cease attacks and threats of attacks against schools and other educational facilities, as well as on students, teachers and other persons entitled to protection.

I want to particularly highlight the following points in this regard:

  • We need to continue to improve monitoring and reporting on attacks on education, including by disaggregating data by gender. We also need to strengthen accountability for these attacks.
  • In addition to the national level, the UN monitoring and reporting mechanism plays a key role in detecting attacks against schools and related personnel as well as engaging with parties to address and prevent them. The Secretary-General’s report serves a tool for early warning, the basis for engagement with parties, but also as a step towards ensuring accountability for grave violations against children.
  • The mechanism needs sufficient human and financial resources. We continue to strongly support ensuring continued dedicated child protection capacity in the UN missions.
  • In the broader context, we welcome all initiatives at national, regional and international levels that aim to strengthen the protection of children in armed conflict, including from attacks against schools.
  • Estonia has endorsed the Paris Principles and Paris Commitments, as well as the Vancouver Principles, and joined the group of over 100 countries endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration earlier this year.
  • There is a need for better protection of women and girls. Girls attending or on their way to school are often targeted because of their gender and they face specific consequences of attacks, including rape and others forms of sexual violence, including forced marriage, pregnancy, as well as subsequent stigmatisation undermining further their access to education.
  • With specific attention needed for children in vulnerable situations, Estonia continues to support access to education and psycho-social services to refugee children in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and East Africa, as well as IDPs in eastern Ukraine.
  • Access to safe, quality education for children affected by armed conflict has an important role in their reintegration and breaking the cycle of recruitment and violence.
  • The number of verified attacks against schools remains high and continues to increase. As the evidence shows, the attacks have not decreased in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, while the vulnerability of schools and students has been compounded by it.
  • The school closures heighten the risk of child recruitment, sexual violence, child and forced marriage, and child labour. We underline the importance of reopening the schools where it is possible, safe and secure in dialogue with all parties, communities and children.

Mr Chair, we agree with you and all speakers today that there are clear steps that we can and should take to protect schools, students and teachers: grave violations against children are unacceptable. But it is also one of the most effective ways we can address sources fuelling conflict and violence and ensure peace and security in the long term.