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Forest Whitaker joins forces with fellow SDG Advocates to call for renewed international efforts to protect education in conflict

In his contribution to the Distinguished Speaker Series on Law, Education and the SDGs held on 19th May in The Hague, Forest Whitaker and fellow SDG Advocates affirmed that the protection of education in conflict and post-conflict situations is key for the implementation of the SDGs

Forest Whitaker took part on 19th May in the first edition of the Distinguished Speaker Series on Law, Education and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) organized at the Hague Institute for Global Justice by the Education Above All Foundation (EAA), an eminent partner of the Whitaker Peace & Development Initiative. The Hague Institute for Global Justice is an independent, non-profit organization that aims to shape discourse and bridge gaps between research, policy and practice on global issues at the intersection of peace, security and justice.

The seminar aimed to raise awareness of leaders from all sectors on the imperative to protect education in conflict and post-conflict situations, bearing in mind that one quarter of all school-aged children live in countries devastated by conflict. South Sudan, where WPDI is very active, is home to the highest proportion of out of school children in the world. As of 2016, the civil war had forced 413,000 children out of school, and led to the destruction of more than 800 schools.

Efforts by the international community to address attacks on schools, students and teachers remain insufficient. One main conclusion of the meeting is that the protection of education could well be a cornerstone in the achievement of the SDGs. For fellow SDG Advocates Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser, founder of EAA, Graça Machel, founder of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), and Forest Whitaker, the meeting was a unique opportunity to join forces and deliver the message that the SDGs call for unprecedented efforts across all domains. Their message was captured in a joint letter to the Editor of the TheTimes published on the same day as the seminar.

The opening ceremony featured a keynote address by HH Sheikha Moza, and was attended by HM Queen Maxima of the Netherlands, who takes a strong interest in this policy area, as well as Dick Benschop, chair of the Supervisory Board at The Hague Institute and President of Shell Netherlands. In her address, HH Sheikha Moza affirmed that long-term peace and the wider sustainable development agenda remains unachievable unless a stronger global governance system is established based on a common goal – to protect education in conflict. In her view, the international community has therefore the responsibility to mobilize and unite to ensure accountability for crimes against education and children and to create opportunities to prevent conflict and establish peace and security.

In his contributions to the discussions, Forest Whitaker remarked that, taking into account the number of children out of school in conflict-affected and post-conflict countries, protecting education was both a long-term investment and a vital emergency. The stakes are high for these countries because they risk having a lost generation: failing to recognize education as an emergency in time of conflict would give rise to a generation of soldiers in waiting. It was also important to take into account the quality of education, namely its relevance. It was, for instance, crucial to have peace education & trauma healing fully integrated to education in conflict for children and youth to rebound and grow harmoniously. However, he noted, it is somehow difficult to promote education in conflict and post-conflict situations precisely because humanitarian intervention and development action are mostly disconnected on the international agendas. He recalled that Secretary-General António Guterres had called to bridge this gap.

He added that protecting and promoting education in conflict and post-conflict can have a dual preventive aspect by keeping children and youth out of conflict in the present and by preparing them for a better future. Elaborating on his work in South Sudan, he concluded that young people must be considered as key actors and partners of prevention and reconciliation.

The seminar also included contributions from Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children UK and Laila Bokhari, State Ministry, Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.