Protecting education during conflict

Doha Center for Media Freedom, February 20, 2017

By Peter Townson

The importance of defending education during times of conflict was highlighted during the International Conference on Human Rights Approach to Conflict Situations in the Arab Region, during a working group which brought together a number of legal and educational experts to discuss best practices for ensuring that children’s rights to education are not violated during times of war.

The panel was organised by Education for All’s Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC) programme, with the aim of discussing the best ways of protecting education during armed conflict, and the Qatar-based organisation mentioned a number of its projects in the region.

Academic advisor, Maleiha Malik highlighted the urgent importance of raising this issue with the high numbers of children currently affected by conflict in the Arab world.  

She spoke about the need for the international community to work in a more effective manner to ensure that human rights violations are punished and that states and non-state actors are held to account for denying childen the right to education during times of conflict.

Jill Coster Van Voorhout from the Hague Institute for Global Justice spoke about the importance of protection, prevention, prosecution and partnerships to improving this pursuit of accountability for  violating the right to education.

While there remain serious issues with each of these processes, Van Voorhout offered a number of recommendations, arguing that the problem requires an interdisciplinary, comprehensive aproach which focuses on the legal gaps – but mostly implementation – through close local, regional and international partnerships.

She also highlighted the need to foster a culture of rule of law to ensure that treaties and statutes ratified are respected, and that laws can be implemented to ensure that theories about justice and protecting human rights can be brought into practice.

Peter Klanduch from PEIC at Education Above All spoke about the military use of schools and the safe schools declaration, outlining the specific guidelines for protecting schools and students.

These guidelines stipulate that schools should not be used at any point in conflict, that abandoned schools should only be used in extenuating circumstances and that schools should not be targeted as a preemptive measure.

The rules also indicate that if facilities are used by enemy forces they should be neutralised in the least destructive manner possible, that security forces should not be used to work in schools and that these guidelines should be incorporated into military manuals and codes of conduct.

This inclusion in manuals and codes of conduct was reiterated throughout the session, emphasising the need to foster the culture of respecting the rule of law and encouraging implementation to protect the right to education.

Engaging non-state actors

Hichem Khadraoui, head of operations at Geneva Call then gave a presentation on  working with armed non-state actors (ANSA’s) on these issues, describing his organisation’s work in attempting to encourage commitment to the basics of international humanitarian law (IHL).

Explaining that ANSA’s are now involved in all the world’s major conflicts, Khadraoui noted his work in promoting a deed of commitment with these groups, mimicking agreements signed by state actors to promote awareness of IHL, knowledge of relevant norms and policy change as well as changes in terms of practice.

Having engaged around 100 ANSA’s already, Geneva Call has managed to encourage some 50 groups to sign these deeds of commitment, which has resulted in the release of child soldiers and other positive developments.

Khadraoui emphasised the need to promote partnerships to ensure the rights of children are protected, and highlighted the importance of working to provide education for children who are living in areas controlled by ANSA’s during times of conflict.

Chloe Jane Dennis from the Lawyers for Justice in Libya group reiterated the importance of adopting multi-stakeholder approaches to promoting human rights and defending children’s rights, and also argued for including youngsters themselves in their own advocacy.

Whilst noting the intense suffering of children in Libya, and especially Benghazi, she promoted the adoption of creative forms of advocacy to pursue accountability in cases of various actors violating children’s rights to education.

Recommendations from the working group were presented to the organising committee for the conference, and a number of the issues discussed throughout were presented as part of the event’s final communique and declaration.