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(Amsterdam) – A generous grant from the Dutch Postcode Lottery will help end the dangerous practice of armed forces using schools for military purposes during wartime, Human Rights Watch said today. The €1,010,500 award is being made to Human Rights Watch, which has done extensive work on the subject.

“Human Rights Watch is extremely grateful for the support and confidence that the Postcode Lottery has shown for our campaign to make schools safer for students around the world,” said Anna Timmerman, Netherlands senior director at Human Rights Watch. “This generous contribution has emboldened us in our campaign to get soldiers out of classrooms during wartime .”

In a Dutch-language video, Human Rights Watch calls for an end to militaries using schools during times of armed conflict. The use of schools by government armed forces and non-state armed groups for military bases, barracks, detention centers, and weapons caches has been documented in at least 25 countries in the past decade, most recently in Europe in the conflict in Ukraine.

Human Rights Watch reporting has shown that military use of schools endangers the lives of students, teachers and administrators, and can expose children to sexual violence, recruitment into armed groups, and other forms of abuse and exploitation. It also interferes with students’ right to education as children are prevented from attending school, or their parents keep them at home rather than send them to study alongside armed fighters, potentially in the line of fire.

The new, voluntary Guidelines to Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict were released at an event at the United Nations in Geneva on December 16, 2014. The Guidelines were developed through consultations with experts from each region of the world, including representatives from the Dutch Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Defense.

The Guidelines bring together existing obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law, and combine them with examples of good practice already used by some armed forces. The result is six practical and realistic guidelines that if implemented by government armed forces and non-state armed groups would better protect students and schools.

At the December event, the Dutch mission to the United Nations in Geneva welcomed the initiative to create the Guidelines, although the Dutch government has to date made no commitment to implement the Guidelines into Dutch military policy and doctrine. The Dutch government will have the opportunity to formally endorse the Guidelines and make  a commitment to implement them into Dutch military policy and doctrine during an international “Safe Schools” conference that is being organized by Norway and Argentina for mid-2015.

Human Rights Watch will use the Dutch Postcode Lottery grant to continue to investigate incidents of military use of schools around the world, and to expose the negative consequences it has for children’s and teachers’ safety, as well as for children’s access to a safe and good quality education. Human Rights Watch will also be raising public awareness within the Netherlands of the problem of military use of schools, and highlighting the response of the Dutch government to this practice. The Dutch Postcode Lottery is not part of the Dutch government, and is funded by the lottery’s participants.

“The Netherlands has long been at the forefront of advocating that respect for basic humanity is not abandoned even during times of war,” Timmerman said. “We are confident that with the support of the Dutch Postcode Lottery and Dutch society, we will prevail in our goal to ensure children’s right to go to a safe school, no matter where in the world they should happen to be born.”

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