By Kevin Watkins, director of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report
The real measure of the Education for All Global Monitoring Report’s impact is not how well it is received by governments, but whether it makes a difference – however small – to the lives of people denied opportunities for education.
So, let’s start with some good news. This week the United Nations Security Council put its weight behind one of the major recommendations of the 2011 Education for All Global Monitoring Report, The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education.
Resolution 1998, which the council adopted unanimously on Tuesday, recognizes attacks on schools as grave violations of human rights, adding them to the crimes for which government forces and armed militias can be named in the UN secretary-general’s annual report on children and armed conflict. Several of the governments that backed the resolution – including Germany, France and the United States – specifically cited the evidence provided in the Global Monitoring Report as grounds for action. Special mention should be made of the role of the the Germany, which used its presidency of the Security Council to provide leadership and take action.
Will the new Resolution make a difference? It’s easy to roll your eyes and yawn at the prospect of (yet another) high-sounding statement of principle and intent from the Security Council. But Resolution 1998 fills an important gap. The annual list that “names and shames” human rights violators is part of the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism. Parties that end up on the list can only be removed if they develop and carry out national action plans to end grave violations, including recruiting children as soldiers, killing or maiming children, and sexual violence against children. Until now, attacks on school have not been treated as a trigger either for naming and shaming or for investigation, creating an unbalanced human rights architecture – and, more important, diminishing the disincentive facing armed groups willing to countenance attacks on classrooms.
The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education laid out the devastating scale of deliberate attacks on schools. Education infrastructure has been destroyed recently in conflicts in Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
The big question is whether Resolution 1998 will deliver results on the ground and stop such attacks. There is some evidence that naming and shaming has an impact. For example, rebel groups in the Central African Republic, the Philippines, Nepal and Sudan have all released child soldiers after being named on the UN list. “It’s a disgrace for the countries, governments and rebel groups which are on this list,” Peter Wittig, the German ambassador to the UN, told the news service Deutsche Welle. “They want to get off the list.”
Mr Wittig is right – up to a point. Unfortunately, there are plenty of rebel groups and governments who appear on the UN list as serial offenders. When it comes to sexual violence and other physical attacks on school children, the destruction of schools, and the intimidation of teachers, the UN secretary-general has spoken of “a culture of impunity” surrounding the perpetrators of even the most egregious human rights violations.
That culture reflects the failure of the international community to adopt more robust measures – including targeted sanctions and referral to the International Criminal Court – against those responsible. Put differently, impunity is a symptom of the apathy, indifference, inertia and, let’s be honest, the willingness of some governments to turn a blind eye to human rights violations against children in countries seen as strategic allies, or as sites of commercial opportunity.
Resolution 1998 is a step in the right direction. We should applaud Germany’s leadership and welcome the support provided by other Security Council members. More important, we should now demand that the principles and the fine language in the resolution are translated into actions that provide real protection where it is most needed – in the lives of those trapped in violent conflict.