Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack

Newsletter​: July 11, 2013

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Message from the Director

Tomorrow is Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday. The Pakistani school girl was shot by the Taliban last October for demanding education for girls. Malala’s story is not an isolated one. Students and teachers across our globe are intimidated and harassed, injured, raped, and even killed. Schools are burned, bombed, and destroyed. A horrific attack that occurred last weekend in northern Nigeria illustrates the brutality of many of these incidents. Gunmen from the group Boko Haram, whose name means ‘Western education is sacrilege,’ broke into a secondary boarding school in the early hours of the morning, killing 41 students and one teacher and setting fire to the school’s administrative buildings and one dormitory, according to  news reports.. One student described the carnage: “They burned children alive.” In other conflicts, too, violence directed at students, teachers, schools, and universities is widespread. According to the UN Secretary General in his 2013 annual report on children and armed conflict, 115 schools were attacked last year in Mali, 321 in the occupied Palestinian territory, 167 in Afghanistan, and 165 in Yemen.

 GCPEA has devoted much of the last year to an issue that substantially increases the likelihood of attacks on schools and universities:  their use by armed forces and armed groups for military purposes. Following extensive consultations with representatives from governments, militaries, UN agencies, and international humanitarian and human rights organizations, we just released the Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. We are currently reaching out to states, multilateral institutions, and other organizations to garner support for their adoption, endorsement, and implementation. These Draft Guidelines draw on GCPEA’s study, Lessons in War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions in Conflict, which documents the widespread use of schools and universities for purposes such as barracks, bases, weapons caches, and interrogation sites. Military use of schools makes students, teachers, and their school buildings vulnerable to violence by opposing forces. As a mother in Thailand stated, “I had nothing against the soldiers when they were outside the school…. But when they moved into the school, I feared there would be an attack on the school, so … I withdrew my children…. If there was a hit on the grounds, the children would be hit.”

Malala’s brave stand against those denying schooling to girls in Pakistan brought the issue of attacks on students, teachers, schools, and universities into the media spotlight and shocked the world. But recognition of this problem and outrage are insufficient: they must be accompanied by action to protect students, educators, and education systems. Endorsing and implementing the Draft Lucens Guidelines is one concrete step states can take to honor Malala’s courage and that of tens of thousands of students around the world who risk their lives daily to learn. We call on governments, militaries and armed groups, international agencies, and civil society, to promote these guidelines and protect the right of children and young people to an education even, and especially, in communities ravaged by conflict and insecurity.

Diya Nijhowne
Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA)

In this Newsletter:
  • Developing International Guidelines to Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use
  • Protections for Education at the United Nations
  • Spotlight on GCPEA’s Affiliates: Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Northern Mindanao  (RMP-NMR)
  • GCPEA in the Media
  • Resources
Developing International Guidelines to Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use

GCPEA’s Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict are intended to inform the planning and implementation of military operations in order to better protect schools and universities. GCPEA is currently encouraging states to champion the Draft Guidelines by: providing technical and diplomatic support to finalize them; once finalized, formally endorsing them and encouraging other states to do the same; and, once endorsed, implementing them in their own legislation or military doctrine.

The impetus for preparing guidelines on military use lies in research on the incidence and impact of this practice. In November 2012, GCPEA released Lessons in War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions in Conflict (now also available in French and Spanish with Arabic forthcoming). This study sets out how armed forces and non-state armed groups have used schools and universities as bases, barracks, weapons caches, firing ranges, recruitment grounds, and interrogation and detention centers in most conflicts around the world in the last seven years. The numbers affected are significant: in South Sudan, for example, 21 schools were used for military purposes in 2011, impacting approximately 10,900 children, according to the UN Secretary General. The Education Cluster noted that the cost of repairing the damage that resulted was some US$67,000 per school.

The report also describes the deadly consequences of the practice, including converting education facilities into legitimate military targets under international law, and the resultant risk of students being caught in attacks by opposing forces. Moreover, it shows how, in addition to the risk of death or severe injury from attacks, students attending classes occupied by troops may witness violence or even be exposed to physical or sexual abuse by the armed forces. A 13 year old in Yemen describes the situation in his school: “When they tortured the old man here we got very scared. They beat him and electrocuted him right in the courtyard of the school. It was during recess.” The presence of troops and the attendant threats, or perceived threats, often lead to students dropping out, reduced enrollment, absenteeism by teachers, and overall poorer educational attainment. Given education’s key role in achieving other economic and social indicators, military use of schools and universities can ultimately diminish the capacity of communities to reach global development goals.

In 2012, GCPEA held two expert consultations with representatives from governments, militaries, UN agencies, and international humanitarian and human rights organizations, some of which have direct and indirect contact with non-state actors, to discuss how to address military use of schools and universities. At the first meeting, held in Geneva in May, participants recognized the need for clear international guidelines setting out recommendations for minimizing military use of education institutions. In response, GCPEA commissioned a former British military commander to prepare draft guidelines based on input from the consultation. This draft was reviewed at a second expert consultation with wider participation, including representation from 12 states, at the Château de Lucens in November. A preliminary draft of the Lucens Guidelines was the outcome of deliberations at this meeting. This early draft was subsequently revised by a drafting committee comprised of state representatives as well as other experts to ready the Guidelines for wider, external circulation and consultation. 

In June, we presented the Draft Guidelines to the Committee on the Rights of the Child encouraging them to raise the issue of military use in their examination of states. We also introduced them to representatives of permanent missions to the UN from 13 states, and a range of UN agencies and NGOs, to generate awareness of the issue and to cultivate support. Finally, we travelled to Oslo and presented the Draft Lucens Guidelines to the Norwegian ministries of foreign affairs and defense, and a number of NGOs, and are looking forward to continued engagement as we move toward finalizing and officially launching the Guidelines.

Protection for Education at the United Nations

The Security Council

In recent months, protecting education from attack has received significant attention in UN settings. Two years after the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1998 asking the Secretary General to list parties to armed conflict that attack schools and hospitals or threaten and attack their personnel (listed parties are required to create time-bound action plans to stop their abuses), the Secretary General in his 2013 Annual Report on Children and Armed Conflict highlighted military use of schools as one of three key issues, stating:  "The use of schools for military purposes puts children at risk of attack and hamper's children's right to education….Such use of schools not only results in reduced enrolment and high drop-out rates, especially among girls, but may also lead to schools being considered legitimate targets for attack." He mentioned that education-related violations, including looting, bombing and damaging schools, using schools for military purposes, and intimidation and attacks on students and teachers, occurred  in 19 of the 22 country situations included in his report. As in his 2012 report, parties listed for attacks on schools or school personnel were from Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, and Syria.

Since 2010, GCPEA, in collaboration with other organizations, has encouraged members of the Security Council and other states to strengthen the UN monitoring and reporting mechanism on children and armed conflict’s approach to attacks and threats of attack on schools and school personnel, as well as military use of schools. This year, ahead of the annual UN Security Council debate on children and armed conflict, held on June 17, the Coalition urged states to make strong statements against attacks on education and military use of schools during the debate. Fifteen states and the European Union referred to the issue in their spoken statements.  For example, Argentina highlighted “the growing use of schools for military purposes and the increase in attacks on schools, teachers, and schoolchildren,” recommending that “the international community should devote particular attention to that problem, as the right to education of thousands of children is being dramatically affected.” Canada, in its written statement on behalf of the Friends of Children and Armed Conflict, which represents some 38 states, noted “The Friends Group condemns the widespread intentional targeting of schools, teachers and students as a tactic of war and further condemns the practice of using schools for military purposes during armed conflict.”

Concern about attacks on schools at the Council has extended beyond the children and armed conflict agenda. In February 2013, the Council’s President issued a statement following the open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, expressing, “deep concern about the severity and frequency of attacks against schools, threats and attacks against teachers and other protected persons in relation to schools, and the use of schools for military purposes, and significant implications of such attacks on the safety of students and their access to education."

Treaty Monitoring Bodies

Some treaty bodies, particularly the Committee on the Rights of the Child, have condemned attacks and military use of schools in their examination of states.  Most recently, in March 2013, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) made special mention of attacks on education in its concluding observations on the fourth periodic report of Pakistan emphasizing a “deep concern at reports of on-going violent attacks and public threats on female students, teachers and professors by various non-State actors, as well as the escalating number of attacks on educational institutions, in particular a large number of girls’ only schools, which has disproportionately affected girls and women’s access to education” and specifically, ”recent attacks on school buses targeting children, including girls.”

GCPEA hopes to see treaty bodies raise the issue of attacks on education and military use of education institutions in their questions to states, and in their concluding comments, when relevant, as part of their standard practice. In addition to presenting the Draft Lucens Guidelines to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in June, we also met with the Secretariat of the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights to highlight the issue of military use.  In advance of its examination of Afghanistan, on July 10, 2013, GCPEA made a submission to CEDAW, encouraging the treaty body to address the issue of military use of schools and colleges in that country.

Education Cannot Wait

GCPEA is currently an active member of Education Cannot Wait, an affiliation of organizations working to support the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Initiative by focusing on its commitments to strengthen education in conflict-affected communities. The Inter-agency Network for Education in Emergencies (INEE) is coordinating a working group to support the activities of Education Cannot Wait, and GCPEA, with UNICEF, is co-chairing the sub-working group focused on achieving the second of the three pillars of the Education Cannot Wait Call to Action: keeping education safe from attack.

Amongst the activities GCPEA has participated in with Education Cannot Wait, it attended its high-level launch event at the UN General Assembly. GCPEA also contributed to the preparation of a briefing note distributed at the Learning for All Ministerial meetings at the World Bank on April 18, attended by finance ministers from eight countries as well as the World Bank President, UN Secretary General, and UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

Spotlight on GCPEA’s Affiliates:

GCPEA has 81 affiliates in 31 countries. All affiliates are asked to sign on to GCPEA’s mission, vision, and goals. The information in this section is based on an interview with one of our affiliates:

The Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Northern Mindanao (RMP-NMR)

RMP-NMR operates in rural northern Mindanao, in the Philippines, an area intensely affected by conflict between government troops and the rebel New Peoples’ Army. RMP-NMR reports that both parties are using schools as barracks, rest stops, and training grounds. They claim that use of schools by state military forces—typically for a couple days at a time—endangers students and teachers and causes evacuations and school closures, as well as vandalism of buildings and classrooms. They also note that state troops often leave the buildings in a state of disarray, and leave warnings to the local communities not to support the rebel groups. In addition, RMP-NMR reports improvised explosive devices being planted near school grounds.

RMP-NMR is a branch of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, a national, inter-diocesan and inter-congregational organization comprised of both priests and lay people, who live and work with rural populations. The organization’s general mission is to empower rural poor farmers, agricultural workers, and the indigenous population to attain land reform and self-determination. Additionally, because many indigenous communities are far from accredited government schools and are unable to pay the required school fees, the organization, like other NGOs, provides them with alternative learning schools.

RMP-NMR partners with UNICEF and other human rights organizations to train local teachers and community leaders to monitor and report on violations against children in situations of armed conflict. The organization advocates with local governments, churches, academics, and NGOs to increase the visibility of schools that are vulnerable to attacks. They also dialogue with concerned military units, the Department of Education, and local government with the aim of reducing attacks and military use of schools.

In July 2012, RMP-NMR, in collaboration with the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Livelihood Development (Alacadev), and the B'laan Literacy School and Learning Center (BLSLC), hosted Save our Schools (SOS), a Mindanao-wide Conference in Defense of Schools Under Attack. The conference brought together teachers, directors of literacy and non-formal schools, community leaders, and school children to analyze attacks on schools; consider collective steps and make recommendations for upholding the right to education;  draw government, international, and public attention to increasing threats to schools; and urge accountability for violations of children’s rights. Among other recommendations, the conference organizers called for military and paramilitary units to immediately pull out of all communities and for an investigation of military and paramilitary harassment of children and school personnel.

According to RMP-NMR, this conference and the organization’s advocacy efforts have resulted in some recent successes. Two months after the conference, RMP-NMR had the opportunity to discuss the problem of attacks and military use of schools with the Department of Education and its Indigenous People’s Education Department. The IPE subsequently scheduled visits to schools run by SOS stakeholders across Mindanao.  

Today, RMP-NMR is continuing to work towards popularizing their community schools, while campaigning against attacks on and militarization of schools and communities. Staff told GCPEA  that “international attention to the state of children’s education in resource conflicted areas of Mindanao…is an indispensable element that will keep our schools going—for the indigenous children, for the very marginalized indigenous population.”

GCPEA in the Media

Statements and Presentations 

News Articles