(New York) – The use of schools and other education institutions for military purposes by armed forces and non-state armed groups during wartime endangers students and their education around the world, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack in a study released today.
The 77-page study, “Lessons In War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions during Conflict”, examines the use of schools and other education institutions for military purposes by government armed forces and opposition or pro-government armed groups during times of armed conflict or insecurity. Schools are used for barracks, logistics bases, operational headquarters, weapons and ammunition caches, detention and interrogation centers, firing and observation positions, and recruitment grounds.
“The moment troops establish a base inside a school, they can turn it into a target for attack,” said Diya Nijhowne, director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. “When soldiers use schools and universities they are often putting their own convenience over the safety and education of students.”
Countries around the world should adopt policies and laws to restrict military forces and armed groups from using schools and other education institutions during times of armed conflict, the coalition said.
Between January 2005 and October 2012, the study found, armed forces and armed groups used education institutions in at least 24 countries, a substantial majority of the countries with armed conflicts during this period. The list included countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America.
Sometimes soldiers take over a school entirely, but often they use just a part of the school or university – some classrooms, an entire floor, the playground –and in doing so expose students to attack and other violence. In the worst cases, children have been injured and killed and schools damaged or destroyed as belligerent forces attack schools because military forces had been using them.
Students’ safety may also be jeopardized by the misconduct of poorly trained or undisciplined soldiers within their school or university. The risks include sexual abuse and harassment and the accidental or misdirected firing of weapons or explosion of ordnance.
“When countries go to war, education facilities usually end up on the battlefield,” Nijhowne said. “Governments need to send a clear message that even during times of armed conflict, access to a safe education should be a priority, and armed forces need to respect students’ right to education.
Military use of education institutions can cause damage to already-fragile education infrastructures and systems, the coalition said. The educational consequences of military use of schools and other education institutions include high dropout rates, reduced enrollment, lower rates of transition to higher education levels, overcrowding, and loss of instructional hours. Girls are particularly negatively affected.
Access to safe learning facilities provides important protection for students during times of armed conflict, the coalition said. Safe schools and universities provide lifesaving information, mitigate the psychosocial impact of war, and protect children from trafficking and recruitment by armed groups. In the long term, a quality education promotes peace and post-conflict reconstruction and helps young people develop the skills and qualifications they need to build lives for themselves and prosperity for their communities.
While international humanitarian law contains no general ban on the use of school buildings for military purposes, it does prohibit armed forces and armed groups using them at the same time as they are being used by students and teachers for education purposes. Under international law military use of an education institution can convert it into a legitimate military target, placing students and teachers at risk of attack by opposing forces. Even when there is no physical attack, the deterioration in access to schools and universities, quality of teaching, and opportunities to learn can lead to violations of the right to education under international human rights law.
The study highlights examples of good practice, in which governments have adopted policies that explicitly ban or restrict militaries from using education facilities. For example, Ireland and the Philippines have domestic legislation banning military forces from using schools. In India and Colombia, courts have ordered troops out of schools they were occupying. The Philippines and Colombia have adopted military policies that prohibit military forces using schools. And the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations has just released a new Infantry Battalion Manual that requires peacekeeping troops to not use schools in their operations.
The study also calls upon states, local organizations, and relevant international agencies to rigorously monitor military use of education institutions to devise effective, coordinated responses, including preventative interventions, rapid response, and both legal and non-legal accountability measures for those individuals or groups who contravene existing laws, judicial orders, or military orders.
“Governments that have learned from their own experiences of war that they can pursue military operations without endangering schools should encourage other countries to follow their lead,” Nijhowne said. “Schools and universities should be places of learning and safety, not soldiering and fear.”
The countries with reported military use of education institutions between 2005 and October 2012 are:Afghanistan, Burma/Myanmar, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, India, Iraq, Israel/Occupied Palestinian Territory, Libya, Mali, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Uganda, and Yemen.
The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) is an alliance of United Nations agencies and organizations from the fields of education in emergencies, higher education, international human rights, and international humanitarian law, dedicated to addressing the problem of attacks on students, teachers, schools, and universities during armed conflict. GCPEA is governed by a steering committee made up of Education Above All, Human Rights Watch, Save the Children International, Scholar Rescue Fund, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). “Lessons In War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions during Conflict” is the result of an independent external study commissioned by GCPEA. It is independent of the individual member organizations of the Steering Committee of GCPEA and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Steering Committee member organizations.