Campaign to stop attacks on schools

BBC News, May 29, 2015

More than 30 countries have signed up for a Safe Schools Declaration in response to the deliberate targeting of education in war and terror attacks.

It comes in the wake of attacks on a school in Peshawar in Pakistan, Garissa University in Kenya and the abduction of schoolgirls in Nigeria.

The international meeting on Friday has been convened in Oslo by the Norwegian government.

It calls for students and places of education to be protected in conflicts.

The 37 signatories want staff, students and buildings to be given a protected status during military campaigns.

The international declaration follows a pattern of deliberate attacks on students, teachers and school and university buildings.

Targeting education

This has seen violent assaults such as Taliban gunmen killing more than 140 students and staff at a school in Peshawar in December and the al-Shabab attack which killed more than 140 people at Garissa University in April.

But this is part of a much wider problem, with researchers estimating that there were 10,000 violent attacks on education between 2009 and 2013, in 70 countries, with particular problems in parts of the Middle East, Africa, south Asia and Latin America.

These have included shootings, abductions, intimidation and arson.

Researchers at the University of Maryland, who maintain a Global Terrorism Database, said earlier this year that Pakistan has seen more attacks on education than any other country.

The levels of attacks on education are higher than at any point in four decades of records, with the most recent increase including the threat in Nigeria from Boko Haram.

The countries signing up to the Safe Schools Declaration want to build an international consensus around protecting pupils and education staff, both from deliberate attacks and accidental damage in conflict.

Protected status

They want to establish protected status, so that during any armed conflict, school buildings are not used as barracks or as part of military defences or for any other military purposes.

There will be a commitment to record any assaults or casualties and, when there are attacks, to support ways of helping pupils to continue with their studies.

The declaration calls for the investigation and prosecution of anyone suspected of violating international and national law in such attacks on schools and universities.

“Targeted attacks on education are robbing a generation of the chance to realise their potential, with a huge long-term social cost,” said Diya Nijhowne, director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, which is co-ordinating the declaration with the Norwegian government.

The coalition includes organisations such as Unesco, Unicef, Save the Children and Human Rights Watch.

Among the countries which have signed the declaration are Afghanistan, Argentina, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Nigeria, the Netherlands, Poland, Qatar, South Africa, Spain and Switzerland.