UN Head Urges India to Join Safe Schools Declaration

Ending Military Use of Schools Protects Students, Teachers
Human Rights Watch, June 24, 2021

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recently called on India to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political commitment to take common-sense measures to make it less likely that students, teachers, and schools are targeted for attack during armed conflict. Guterres made the call in his annual report on children and armed conflict, in which he also noted that the UN had verified the use of seven schools by Indian security forces for four months during 2020.

Human Rights Watch previously found the use of schools by Indian security forces hurts children’s education and leads many, particularly girls, to drop out of school or attend less regularly.

Indian law already protects schools from being used for military purposes. Security forces engaged in military maneuvers are not authorized to enter, let alone encamp, in educational institutions. Government authorities are also banned from requisitioning any part of a school.

India’s National Commission for Protection of Child Rights has said the use of schools by security forces “violates the spirit and letter” of India’s 2009 Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, and therefore “schools should never be used as temporary shelters by security forces.”

Indian courts, at both the state level and the Supreme Court, have ordered security forces to vacate schools they were occupying.

Guterres’ call is just the latest – albeit the highest profile – in a line of attempts by UN experts to better protect schools in India, including in 2014 when the UN committee for women’s and girls’ rights noted that “girls are subjected to sexual harassment and violence,” and called on India to take measures to “prohibit the occupation of schools by security forces in conflict-affected regions in compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law standards.” Similarly the UN children’s rights committee has now twice urged India to prevent and prohibit the occupation of schools by security forces.

The Indian government should stop delaying this important action and endorse the Safe Schools Declaration – which 109 countries have already done – and implement the declaration’s commitments to ensure that schools are finally protected from military use, and all children in India can study in safety.