Speaking to the United Nations Correspondents on 27 October 2016, UN Special Envoy for Global Education Gordon Brown said:

“With the latest descent into barbarism – with at least 20, and probably upwards of 30, pupils and teachers dead after a succession of strikes on a school complex in Haas in the Western Syrian province of Idlib – the worst assault on school children among 98 separate attacks on Syrian schools in the last two years – I am calling on the Security Council to immediately agree that the International Criminal Court prosecutor conduct an investigation into what I believe is a war crime – with the intention that, if proven, the perpetrators will be hunted down and the case against them prosecuted before the International Criminal Court.

“Article 8, Section 2B of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court states that ‘For the purposes of this statute, war crimes,’ and what are called ‘serious violations,’ include ‘intentionally directing attacks against buildings dedicated to […] education.’

“The Security Council should meet now because while Russia vetoed a resolution to refer atrocities in Syria to the ICC in 2014, the Russian Foreign Affairs spokesperson Maria Zakharova has said of the school killings, ‘We demand all international organizations join the investigation without further delay.’ She stated that there should be ‘prompt involvement of all international institutions in the investigation…we urge maximum attention to this tragedy and its investigation without delay.’

“Now that Russia, for the first time, has urged such ‘an immediate investigation,’ the Security Council should ask the International Criminal Court persecutor for an investigation into what is happening in Syrian schools and in Syria as a whole. Or if they cannot accept this, they should conduct their own investigation as a Security Council as they are entitled to do, and have done so previously in other cases.

“Today I am announcing that the Education Cannot Wait fund is allocating $15 million to children’s education inside Syria, some of which can be used to benefit the children in Idlib province as part of a $42 million investment that will deliver hope to 1.5 million children.

“Yet, already 2017 looks like it too will become a ‘Year of Fear’ for children. A report on Iraq last week highlights torture, executions and sexual violations of children near Mosul. In addition, Yazidi girls in Iraq have been identified as victims of rape and have been sold and trafficked. In Turkey, refugees as young as 11, 12, and 13 – and some even as young as 7 and 8 – have been forced into child labour producing branded textile garments for the United Kingdom, United States and Western markets. And in refugee camps across the region, we have seen the doubling of the rates of forced child marriage. In Nigeria, despite the welcome release of 20 kidnapped school girls, there are unconfirmed reports that one-third of the group of 200 could be dead. In conflict zones, it may be more dangerous today to be a girl forced onto the streets than a soldier in the trenches.

“And in 2016, there are now 30 million displaced children throughout the world – the largest number since the 1940s, who are among the world’s most vulnerable children – the children who need the most help but for whom we do the least. And yet their fate is tethered to the most fragile and least certain of lifelines: a begging bowl we, the international community, circulate when disaster strikes.

“According to figures released to me today by UNICEF, there are a total of 11 million displaced and at risk boys and girls in the Middle East and North Africa:

• 1.75 million school-age children (5-17) in Syria
• 739,000 school-age Syrian refugee children (5-17) in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan,
Iraq and Egypt as of August 2016
• 3 million school-age children (5-14) in Iraq before the Mosul offensive, including
IDPs (6-17)
• 3 million school-age children (5-13) in Sudan in 2014
• 2 million school-age children (5-14) in Yemen in 2016
• 95,000 school-age children (5-14) in Djibouti in 2015
• 279,000 school-age children (6-18) in Libya as of August 2016
• 52,000 school-age children (5-15) in the State of Palestine (SOP) in 2014
• 357,000 out of school children in Chad (ages 6-11).

“But soon this figure will grow again to include many of Mosul’s 600,000 children being forced onto the streets.

“It is urgent that we end the neglect of the lost generation. First, we must close the financing gap which has left appeals for Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt less than 50% funded – a $72 million shortfall this year.ii Second, in Mosul, where six camps catering to 60,000 children have been set up, financing has not been forthcoming to ensure the flash appeal for $284 million that needs to be fulfilled.

“So today I am announcing a $42 million investment in child protection and education to secure the future of 1.5 million children caught in the crossfire in war-torn countries. What is more, the announcement includes $2 million of initial support for an education rapid response to ensure better preparedness to act immediately when disaster strikes.

“The $42 million should serve as a signal flare of optimism for those giving the most at this moment of greatest need – like the White Helmets, the men and women who rush into the rubble and save lives; the brave teachers in Syria’s underground schools ensuring hope is unlocked and potential developed; and those providing psychiatric aid helping children cope with distress.

“The new funding announcement of $42 million includes:

“$15 million for Syria which will:

• Improve access to quality and safe education for 65,000 children;
• Provide professional development opportunities to 2,000 teachers and facilitators;
• Improve the capacity of over 850 local education community groups and
strengthening coordination among the 66 partners operating in 14 governorates.

“$15 million for Yemen which will:

• Provide more than 1.2 million students in the areas most affected by conflict with
safe schooling, renewed textbooks and essential materials.
• Strengthen the local and central capacity of the Ministry of Education and civil
society organizations to bolster the planning and response of providing quality
emergency education.

“These funds are on top of $12 million from the Global Partnership for Education, which I praise.

Click here to download the full release.