On October 29, 2021, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2601 on protecting education in armed conflict, with 99 Member States joining as co-sponsors. The resolution, co-penned by Niger and Norway, is the first Children and Armed Conflict (CAAC) resolution adopted since SCR 2427 (2018) and the first explicitly focused on the link between education and peace and security.

Resolution 2601 calls on all parties to safeguard, protect, respect, and promote the right to education, including in armed conflict, emphasizing its life-saving role and reaffirming its fundamental contribution to peace and security. Importantly, the resolution condemns the military use of schools, recognizing that such use endangers children and teachers and disrupts education. Though the text explicitly condemns military use of schools “in contravention of international law,” Watchlist calls on parties to conflict to refrain from all military use of schools in armed conflict, recognizing the impact on children and teachers’ safety and access to education and echoing UN policy. The resolution also urges Member States to develop comprehensive measures to prevent and address attacks and threats of attack against schools and educational facilities, including in national strategic frameworks.

Watchlist welcomes the resolution’s particular emphasis on girls’ access to education, as well as the needs of marginalized groups, including children with disabilities and refugee and displaced children. The resolution expresses deep concern that girls, in particular, are denied access to education and are even the intended victims of attacks on their access to and continuation of education, making them more vulnerable to other violations and abuses. It urges Member States to take steps to address attacks on girls’ education.

The resolution further underlines the need to provide inclusive and accessible assistance to children with disabilities affected by armed conflict and to ensure their access to education on an equal basis, as well as the continuation of education for refugee and displaced children. The resolution includes language on the impact of armed conflict on children’s mental health and psychological wellbeing and encourages integration of mental health and psychosocial services in all humanitarian responses.

Resolution 2601 is the first thematic resolution of the Security Council to mention the Safe Schools Declaration, though it falls short of calling on endorsers to ensure its implementation. (Note: SCR 2584 (2021) on Mali was the first Security Council resolution to mention the Safe Schools Declaration.) Recognizing the importance of strengthening governments’ voluntary commitments to protect children in armed conflict, Watchlist would have liked to see language on implementation of the Safe Schools Declaration and reference to the Vancouver Principles on Peacekeeping and the Prevention of the Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers, which did not make it into the final text. However, Watchlist is pleased to see the broadening of previously agreed language to include attacks on schools “and educational facilities,” as well as the strengthened language on condemning the military use of schools.