Attacks on Education in Armed Conflict
In its year-end report for 2010, Human Rights Watch spotlights attacks against educational institutions and against students and teachers during armed conflict. After discussing the scope of such attacks (which are committed by both states’ armed forces and non-state armed groups), Zama Coursen-Neff and Bede Sheppard identify some of their causes and consequences, and proffer suggestions on how to halt them.
International humanitarian law (which applies only during armed conflict) protects educational institutions as civilian objects. Under IHL, civilian objects may not be attacked, unless and for such time as they are used for military purposes and become a military objective. Similarly, students and teachers, as with all civilians, may not be attacked, unless and for such time as they participate directly in hostilities. For its part, the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court makes it a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts to “[i]ntentionally direct attacks against buildings dedicated to (…) education (…), provided they are not military objectives”. For more information on the legal protection afforded by IHL against attacks on education, see Peter Rowe’s chapter in the 2010 UNESCO report on “Protecting Education from Attack.”
The HRW researchers argue that “[p]utting an end to attacks on schools, teachers, and students requires action at national and international levels on three fronts: Stronger monitoring systems; Targeted preventive measures, and more decisive and timely response when incidents do occur; and Effective justice mechanisms that hold violators of domestic and international law accountable.” They highlight the role of the Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) associated with Security Council Resolutions 1612 (2005) and 1882 (2009), which aims to halt six grave violations against children in armed conflict. One of those grave violations is attacks against schools or hospitals.
Submitting that the MRM “provides a vehicle that, if more focused on [attacks against schools], could have particularly far-reaching impact” on education in armed conflict, Coursen-Neff and Sheppard note that:
Supported by the MRM, the UN has achieved substantial successes reducing the use of child soldiers by negotiating action plans with both governments and armed groups to demobilize children from their forces and end new recruitment of children. To achieve similar success in ending attacks on education, the UN-led country teams that monitor violations against children in armed conflict should improve their monitoring of attacks on education, providing the Security Council with more information and recommendations for action. Additionally, the Security Council should include attacks on education as a "trigger" to start up the MRM. [At present the MRM is only "triggered" by evidence of the war crimes of recruitment and use of children as soldiers, sexual violence against children in conflict, and killing and maiming of children. Once it is operational in a country, however, the mechanism is required to monitor other abuses, including attacks on education.]
Additional resources on attacks against educational institutions and against students and teachers in armed conflict are available at the resource page for HPCR’s Live Seminar on “Education and Armed Conflict” and in the 2010 UNESCO report.More on: HRW 1612 ICC Education MRM