UN Security Council Should Build on its Momentum in Protecting Schools from Attack and Military Use

GCPEA Media Release, September 5, 2014

(New York, September 5, 2014) The United Nations (UN) Security Council should support specific actions to address the widespread incidence of targeted attacks on education and military use of schools in wartime, said the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) today, in advance of the Open Debate on Children and Armed Conflict scheduled for September 8th. In particular, the Council should call on Member States to support and implement the Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

The Security Council debate will focus on the findings of the Secretary-General’s annual report on children and armed conflict, released in June, which documented attacks on schools, students, and/or education personnel in 17 of the 23 profiled conflicts occurring in 2013. In a more recent report on one such conflict, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic found that intentional or indiscriminate attacks by both Syrian government forces and non-state actors have resulted in the damage or destruction of schools in Dara’a, Aleppo, and Damascus in 2014, with schoolyards being targeted, and parents stating that they have stopped sending their children to class because it has become too dangerous.

“The Security Council should condemn the intentional targeting of schools, students, and teachers as a tactic of war in conflicts around the world” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA Director. “In addition to loss of life and serious injury, attacks cause fear and psychological distress, detrimentally impacting school access, student learning, teacher performance, and education quality.”

Another significant barrier to education in conflict—the use of schools by armed parties as bases, barracks, weapons caches, firing positions, and for other military purposes—was observed in 15 of the 23 conflict situations in the Secretary-General’s report. When soldiers move into schools, students and teachers are displaced, facilities are damaged, and education can be disrupted for weeks, months, or sometimes years. Girls’ education can be disproportionately affected, as parents may be particularly wary of sending their daughters to schools occupied by soldiers, for fear of sexual abuse. Moreover, the presence of troops and weapons inside school grounds can turn the school into a military object and a legitimate target for attack by opposing forces under international law, jeopardizing the safety of students and teachers within the school.

Recent news reports suggest the prevalence of military use of schools in ongoing conflicts. During recent hostilities in Gaza, unidentified Palestinian armed groups stored weapons in three schools operated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), and Israeli soldiers left evidence of having used the Beit Hanoun High School for girls as a base during its military offensive. In South Sudan, armed forces are currently occupying 32 schools, halting education programming in those facilities and interrupting the education of tens of thousands of students. In 2011, the Global Education Cluster estimated that the cost of repairing damage to schools from military use in South Sudan was approximately $67,000 per school, illustrating the crippling impact that military use of schools can have on education systems.

The Security Council should urge Member States to take concrete measures to deter the military use of schools. As part of this process, Member States should support and implement the Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict by integrating them into their legislation, military doctrine, or training manuals.

The Lucens Guidelines were developed through extensive consultation with governments, militaries, UN agencies, and international and human rights organizations. They draw on international human rights and humanitarian law, as well as good practice, to preserve schools and universities as safe zones in the midst of armed conflict. The Norwegian Government is taking a lead role in working with states to elaborate a process for endorsing and committing to implement the Guidelines. A launch and endorsement ceremony is being planned for spring 2015. So far, 27 countries have voiced their support for the Guidelines.

In recent years, the Security Council has made considerable progress in addressing attacks on education and military use. In 2011, the Council issued Resolution 1998, adding recurrent attacks on schools or hospitals as a trigger for listing in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s report on children and armed conflict. This was a significant breakthrough as the Council can take action against listed parties, including by referring them to sanctions committees. Then, in March 2014, the Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2143, which included its strongest language to date condemning military use of schools and calling for enhanced monitoring of the practice. To build on this foundation, the Council must now ensure that these resolutions are followed up with concrete actions.

“The Security Council should continue its trajectory of strengthening protection for schools by encouraging states to support and implement the Lucens Guidelines,” said Nijhowne. “States should seize on the Council’s momentum by expressing support for the Lucens Guidelines at the debate and joining in the process of erecting a framework to safeguard education in times of war.”