(Geneva) - States should act to deter the military use of schools and universities, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) in a study released today. The use of schools and universities for military purposes during conflict by armed forces and non-state armed groups endangers students and their education.

GCPEA called on governments to join a “Safe Schools Declaration” that will be finalized by states at an inter-governmental conference in Oslo, Norway, on May 28-29. The Declaration will represent a political commitment to improve the protection of education during conflict, including by implementing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. States should follow the lead of countries that have been impacted by war, such as Côte d'Ivoire, Croatia, Liberia, and Palestine, which have already expressed their intention to join and support the Declaration.

 

The 92-page study, “Lessons in War 2015: Military Use of Schools and Universities during Armed Conflict” documents how in the majority of conflicts around the world, schools and universities are converted into barracks, logistics bases, operational headquarters, weapons and ammunition caches, detention and interrogation centers, firing and observation positions, and recruitment grounds.

“When soldiers use schools and universities, they endanger the lives of students and teachers, and risk causing long-term damage to education,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Director.  “We urge all states to join the “Safe Schools Declaration” because this is a global problem in need of a global response.”

The study reveals that schools and universities have been used for military purposes by armed groups, regular armies, multinational forces, and even peacekeepers in at least 26 countries with armed conflict since 2005. Snipers have been positioned at classroom windows, concrete fortresses have been erected on school roofs, razor wire has been fixed around playgrounds, sandbags have been used to block school gates, schoolyards have been used to park armored vehicles in, and soldiers have slept in children’s classrooms.

Sometimes soldiers take over a school entirely, but often they use just a part of the school or university – a few classrooms, an entire floor, the playground – and in doing so they expose students to attack or 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.

The study also notes that both male and female students have been sexually assaulted and harassed, and illegally recruited into armed groups by undisciplined soldiers using their schools or universities.

The educational consequences of military use of schools and universities can include high student dropout rates, reduced enrolment, lower rates of transition to higher levels of education, overcrowding, and loss of teaching time. Girls are particularly negatively affected.

“The more we learn about the detrimental consequences of the military use of schools on students and their learning, the harder it becomes for governments and armed groups to explain or justify their use of schools for military purposes,” said Nijhowne. “Students deserve safe schools where they can study and learn without fear.”

Access to safe learning facilities can provide important protection and a sense of stability for students during times of armed conflict, GCPEA said. Safe schools and universities can provide lifesaving information, mitigate the psychosocial impact of war, and protect children from trafficking and recruitment by armed groups. In the long term, a good quality, equitable 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.

Reflecting increased international attention to military use of schools, in 2011 the Security Council requested regular reporting on the problem; in 2014 it twice demanded that schools in Syria be demilitarized; and in 2014 it also encouraged all UN member states to consider concrete measures to deter the use of schools.

States’ endorsement and implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, through the “Safe Schools Declaration,” would constitute such appropriate concrete measures, GCPEA said. The Guidelines were developed through more than two years of consultations with governments, armed forces, civil society groups, and international organizations from around the world, and build upon good practice already applied by some states. They are designed to encourage armed forces and armed groups to exercise restraint with respect to the military use of education facilities and reduce the impact that any such use can have on students’ safety and education when it does occur.

“The insidious practice of military use of learning facilities is often overlooked when we think of the dangers that students and schools and universities face during conflict. But this is the threat to students’ security that we can most easily take action to reduce,” Diya Nijhowne said. “States’ obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill students’ security and right to education should be reflected in the conduct of their armed forces.”

Download a full copy of the report here:  http://protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/lessons_in_war_2015.pdf

For a list of states that have expressed support for the process of developing the “Safe Schools Declaration” and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use please see:  http://protectingeducation.org/guidelines/support