Oslo Conference - German Statement on Safe Schools Declaration

May 29, 2015

The following statement has been presented by the Federal Republic of Germany at the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools, taking place in Oslo from May 28-29, 2015:

The Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict and the Safe Schools Declaration

Germany is and has always been a strong supporter of the protection of children in armed conflict.  We fully agree with the Safe Schools Declaration regarding the importance of education for individuals and communities. Germany therefore shares the desire to minimize and to avoid altogether the harmful effects armed conflict may have on children, teaching staff, schools and universities. During our recent tenure as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, Germany chaired the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, and actively supported and co-sponsored Council resolution 2143 (2014). Germany therefore adamantly supports all measures aimed at protecting the infrastructure that ensures children have a future: schools and other teaching institutions. We are therefore in full agreement with the objective of the Safe Schools Declaration.

Schools and universities are civilian buildings. As it stands today, international humanitarian law sets out clear rules for the protection of civilian buildings and other civilian objects. They must not be the object of attack. While conducting military operations, constant care must be taken to spare civilian objects. Incidental damage to civilian objects must be avoided or, in all events, minimized. An attack that is expected to cause incidental damage to civilian objects which would be excessive in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage is considered to be indiscriminate and, therefore, prohibited.

We particularly deplore the low standards of implementation of international humanitarian law in the armed conflicts of our time. The widespread damage to civilian objects is the result of a blatant disregard for the rules of international humanitarian law. We therefore stress the particular importance of proper and conscientious implementation of all rules of international humanitarian law, by all parties to all armed conflicts. This would alleviate or prevent much suffering.

In order to underline Germany’s full agreement with the objective of the Safe Schools Declaration, we participated in the Oslo Conference as an observer. Before adhering to the Safe Schools Declaration, we believe a number of important questions need to be discussed in greater detail:

·         How can the consistency of the terminology used in the Guidelines with that of international humanitarian law be enhanced? How can any confusion about the exact meaning of the Guidelines, when applying them in armed conflict, be ruled out?

 ·         How can the precise borderline between binding rules of international humanitarian law and non-binding good practices in the Guidelines be drawn in order to rule out any confusion?

·         How can we ensure that the Guidelines will not have a counterproductive effect and give a non-law-abiding party an additional incentive to use a school building for military purposes in order to benefit from the enhanced protection envisaged in the Guidelines?

With an aim to achieving our joint objective – the protection of schools and universities in armed conflicts - Germany looks forward to discussing these questions.

© German Foreign Office