Taliban attack on Pakistan school an act of ‘horror and rank cowardice', says UN chief

Pupil of a primary school class in Pakistan. Photo: UNESCO/Akhtar Soomro

16 December 2014 – United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today strongly condemned the “blood-curdling attack” on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, which has cost the lives of at least 130 people, the vast majority of whom were children.

“It is an act of horror and rank cowardice to attack defenseless children while they learn,” Mr. Ban said this morning ahead of an address to the Security Council on regional cooperation. “The hearts of the world go out to the parents and families who lost loved one in the horrific attack.”

Stressing that the UN would continue to support the Government of Pakistan in its fight against terror and extremism and urging the Government to bring the perpetrators to justice, he said “no cause could justify such brutality.”

“Getting an education is every child’s right. Going to school should not have to be an act of bravery,” he continued, sending his condolences to everyone affected by the tragedy.

Senior officials from across the Organization echoed the Secretary-General’s comments, with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, also condemning “an utterly despicable and incomprehensibly vicious attack on defenseless children.”

“The Taliban have sunk to an all-time depth with this attack,” Mr. Zeid said. “Everyone must now unite to combat this type of savage extremism. No Government or intelligence agencies, no religious figures, no wealthy sponsors, no members of the general public can possibly justify continuing support for the Taliban, ISIL, Boko Haram, Al Qaida or any of these takfiri groups which appear to be competing to attain the highest level of human barbarity.”

“We must all join together to counter such extremism and violence – not only in Pakistan, but anywhere where children's rights and human rights are attacked in this way,” declared the High Commissioner.

He referred to the speech given by Malala Yousafzai on receipt of her Nobel peace Prize in Oslo last week. Herself the victim of such a Taliban attack, she said she wished her generation would be “the last that sees empty class rooms, lost childhoods and wasted potentials,” and noted that despite her celebrity her home village does not yet have a secondary school for girls.

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, also expressed her shock and outrage at the massacre.

“The Tehrik-i-Taliban, who claimed today’s attack, continue to demonstrate that they have no regard for human rights,” Ms. Zerrougui said. “They must be held accountable.”

There were 78 attacks against schools, teachers and schoolchildren reported to the United Nations in Pakistan last year, most of which were carried out by the Tehrik-i-Taliban and aligned local groups in Khyber Pakhtunkhw province, of which Peshawar is the capital.

UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Director-General, Irina Bokova condemned the attack as “a crime against the future of all children and the nation of Pakistan” and “against learning and innocence”.

“Terror will not silence the millions of voices around the world that are demanding education to be a right and for schools to be safe. We will not let fear nor terror have the upper hand,” she said.

The Executive Director of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Tony Lake, called the attack “horrific” and “callous” and said it should have more effect than merely to shock the conscience of the world.

“It must also summon us, all the more, to support the parents of Pakistan who wish for their children the best possible education – and all those who are working to provide it,” he said.

The UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown, spoke during a visit to Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is visiting schools and meeting children.

Mr. Brown said the world was mourning “a human tragedy of monstrous proportion” that would bring grief to every school in the world.

“The whole world will be shocked and heartbroken at the massacre in Peshawar that has destroyed so many innocent young lives,” he said. “Prime Minister Sharif has called the attack a national tragedy and our thoughts are with families and school friends. Our hope is that emergency assistance can come immediately to those who are injured.”

Echoing those sentiments, Sam Kutesa, President of the UN General Assembly, condemned the Peshawar attacks and, in a statement issued by his Office late this evening, conveyed his deepest sympathy and condolences to the victims of this heinous act and to their families, and to the people and the Government of Pakistan.

“President Kutesa expresses the solidarity of the United Nations General Assembly with the people and Government of Pakistan in this difficult moment,” said the statement, adding that he stressed the importance of ensuring the right of every child to have access to education in a safe learning environment.

In addition, the UN Security Council condemned the attack, calling it a “heinous act of terrorism” and reiterated its condemnation of violations and abuses committed against children by terrorists. The Council welcomed the ongoing efforts of the people and officials of Pakistan to protect schools and schoolchildren.

Underlining the need to bring perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism to justice, the Council urged all States, in accordance with their obligations under international law and relevant Council resolutions, “to cooperate actively with relevant authorities in this regard.”

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