The year 2014 ended with the starkest of reminders of the deadly dangers some students in the world face just trying to attend school. On December 16, 132 school children (and 13 others) were killed in an attack on their school in Peshawar, Pakistan, by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban.
But 2014 also brought some signs of hope. Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her extraordinary activism on behalf of children’s right to education, as demonstrated by her unwavering commitment to this goal even though it made her into a target of attack. The United Nations continued to increase the quality and effectiveness of its own monitoring, reporting, and shaming of the perpetrators of attacks on schools and the military use of schools (although more progress toward consistent reporting continues to need to be made). And encouraging progress was made with the unveiling of new Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict toward ending the practice of national armed forces and armed groups occupying and converting schools into barracks, bases, storage depots, and detention centers.
So here’s the top 10 list of the conflicts we see where more action needs to be taken in 2015 to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack or military use:
- Central African Republic
- Democratic Republic of Congo
- South Sudan
Yes, that’s more than 10. No matter how editorially satisfying it would be to keep this list to another “New Year’s Top 10 List,” the reality on the ground is too concerning for that. Instead, in 2015 we need to see attacks on students, teachers, schools, and universities, and military use of schools be prevented in almost every country experiencing conflict. This will require increased accountability for perpetrators of these crimes, improved monitoring and reporting of the problem, better programmatic action to prevent and mitigate attacks, and changes in military doctrine and practice to better reflect existing international legal obligations and best practice.
Let’s hope for a shorter list in 2016.