Leaders from 38 UN member nations met today at the United Nations Security Council to pass a new resolution aimed at protecting schools and hospitals during times of conflict. The resolution identifies these buildings as safe havens for children and will add to the UN’s yearly ‘list of shame’ any parties that target schools or hospitals.
UNICEF was pleased at the decision because schools and hospitals are areas to shelter children and provide safety from conflict happening around them. They also play a big role in a child’s development and access to healthcare and education are among the basic rights of children.
Speaking at the council, Anthony Lake, UNICEF’s executive director, welcomed the resolution, “adding attacks on schools and hospitals as a trigger for listing parties will heighten awareness of these grave violations and the terrible impact they have on the lives of children”.
Protecting schools and hospitals has become an important issue after recent reports revealed armed forces in at least 31 countries were targeting these buildings and the people inside them. In Afghanistan, there were over 1,100 attacks on education targets between 2006 and 2008. Children were afraid to go to school and hundreds of schools had to be closed for safety. Israel’s representative at the Security Council spoke of how his three children growing up in Jerusalem had to get used to the sight of an armed guard outside their kindergarten.
Attacking these important community buildings has more effects than just destroying the walls and killings or injuring people inside them. If children and teachers are frightened of going to school or doctors fearful of working in a hospital because of a possible attack then it means the schools and hospitals must be closed. Over the past six months in Southern Israel, over 100,000 children have not gone to schools through fear of terrorist attacks.
Without classes, children could miss out on education and an opportunity to improve their circumstances. No hospitals mean that people with illnesses or injuries cannot be looked after. By identifying and punishing armed groups who attack these vital services, the UN is hoping to protect schools and hospitals, but most importantly children’s lives, for the future.
The meeting also addressed the wider issue of children who are affected by armed conflict. In 2008, UNICEF estimated that over 250,000 children were used in armed forces and millions have been killed or injured during conflict. The UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon delivered a stern message of support that the United Nations was fully committed to protecting children in armed conflict.
UNICEF has been involved in monitoring and reporting armed forces that violate children’s rights in conflict. Besides creating reports, UNICEF also teams up with local groups to remove children from the ranks of armed forces and help reintegrate them into local communities afterwards. Last year, UNICEF worked with the government in Afghanistan to re-open 256 schools.
There were positives to take out of the Security Meeting, the USA representative Susan Rice stated that so far in 2011 6,300 children had been released from armed conflict. However, the overall tone was one of marked caution. Liechtenstein pointed out that 16 conflict parties in the UN shame report have violated children’s rights for five or more consecutive years. Bangladesh, meanwhile, called upon the 50 UN member states that had not yet declared their support for children in armed conflict to act.
It was clear to all involved that the next steps for the UN would be concrete actions to ensure the resolution does not simply become a scrap of paper.
Tony Lake concluded his speech: “Let us never forget, human rights are not an end in themselves; the lives of people, of children, are our purpose. Rights are a context for upholding human dignity and for creating conditions for human progress. It is the practical steps we take to protect these rights- and the impact of our actions –that change the world.”