New paper: The Safe Schools Declaration: Reflections on effective post-agreement work

International political commitments made by states are a tool by which civilian protection norms can be advanced. Through affirming principles and committing to specific actions, positive changes in policy, practice and international standards and values can be made.

Reflecting on effective ways of working towards the agreement and carrying forward of such commitments can be valuable for driving particular agreed political commitments forward – and for giving strategic lessons for future similar initiatives to better protect civilians.

In 2019 Article 36 reflected on the process to agree the Safe Schools Declaration (SSD), an international political commitment focused on protecting education from attack during armed conflict and preventing the military use of educational facilities, which was launched in 2015.

This year, we looked into the work that has been done since the SSD’s agreement, to reflect again on elements of effective international work.

Our new paper ‘The Safe Schools Declaration: reflections on effective post-agreement work’ gives an overview of how universalisation, implementation and monitoring activities in support of the SSD have been approached since its agreement in 2015, by the community of states, international organisations and civil society most closely involved in the initiative. It looks at the types of approaches that have been considered valuable for pushing progress forward on the SSD’s commitments and its ultimate goals of strengthening norms and practice around the protection of education.

The purpose of this overview is to produce reflections that might be of interest for the safe schools community, as well as to suggest possible points of learning for other similar international political commitment processes, particularly in terms of structuring, prioritising and sequencing post-agreement work. Its intended audiences are representatives of states, international organisations and civil society interested in reflecting on effective ways of working around international agreements to better protect civilians.

Its key messages are:

  • The Safe Schools Declaration (SSD) is a tool for strengthening norms towards the goal of fully protecting civilians from the impacts of armed violence, focused on protecting education from attack
  • Effective partnership between states, international organisations and civil society with common goals has been key to the SSD initiative
  • Universalising the SSD is a tool in the work of norm-building, helping to keep a focus on the problems the SSD frames and responds to
  • Promoting the implementation of the SSD’s commitments is useful to both norm building and creating practical change
  • Continued monitoring and framing of both the problem of attacks on education, and political progress to respond to it through the SSD, is also crucial to maintaining progress

Some key reflections for similar processes to develop international political commitments to protect civilians are:

  • It is valuable to look towards next steps early during initiatives and text drafting, to strategize on strong implementation and the balancing and prioritisation of different types of norm-building activity
  • Practical exercises, toolkits and discussions are some of the most useful tools in promoting the implementation of commitments
  • Work to build the buy-in of different ministries, whose priorities may be in tension, is crucial to developing commitment in such processes

Featured image: Palestinians inspect a classroom of a United Nations-run school that was damaged in Israeli shelling, Khan Younis, Gaza Strip, 2018. © Reuters/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

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