|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference on ‘Education under Attack 2010’ Report
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in a new report issued today, argued that attacks on education should be a trigger for Security Council intervention through its monitoring and reporting mechanism on children in armed conflict, on par with action now being taken to combat child soldiering.
Speaking at a Headquarters press conference to launch the report, Mark Richmond, UNESCO’s Director of the Division for the Coordination of United Nations Priorities in Education, said Education under Attack 2010 contained numerous examples of attacks on educators, including teachers being targeted for assassination by Thai rebel groups opposed to the State education system.
According to Brendan O’Malley, the report’s author, who spoke alongside Mr. Richmond, school attacks had quadrupled in Thailand ‑‑ where the Government was battling a separatist movement in the South. Hundreds of incidents had also been identified in India, another country threatened by separatists. Violence against schools was also documented in Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the two nations were engaged in protracted fighting in their hinterland. It was unclear whether national authorities were investigating those incidents.
The study recommended that investigations be launched by the International Criminal Court against high profile attackers as a deterrent, he said. When asked to name the top offenders, Mr. O’Malley singled out Thailand, Afghanistan, India and Pakistan.
Highlighting the report’s other findings, he said it contained descriptions of attacks on students, such as the forced recruitment of child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It also discussed instances of sexual violence against children at school, or on their way to school.
Also speaking at the press conference, Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, explained that school attacks fell under the six grave violations against children during armed conflict, monitored by the Security Council through a special reporting mechanism. Three key areas had emerged as particular concerns -- bombing and other artillery attacks on school buildings; violence against pupils, teachers and school administrators; and use of schools as camps by armed groups.
She said attacks on educational institutions in the past had traditionally been aimed at squelching political dissent in universities. But, in modern warfare, schools with younger students were also being targeted for attack by rebel groups viewing them as the embodiment of foreign values, such as Taliban fighters opposed to schooling for girls.
Mr. O’Malley presented examples contained in the report of preventive measures adopted by the education sector in Afghanistan. In one case, direct negotiations between the Education Minister and Taliban communities in 2008 led to the re-opening of 161 schools in the spring of 2009. A notable outcome to the negotiations was that, in the first month of the term ‑‑ when schools were particularly vulnerable to violence ‑‑ no incidents were reported, supporting experts’ views that schools built with community support were less likely to be attacked.
Describing a similar situation, Ms. Coomaraswamy spoke of a visit to a girls’ school in Afghanistan two years ago, where the school headmistress ‑‑ backed by community leaders ‑‑ agreed to include some Islamic teaching in their curriculum to appease local religious leaders.
Also, to sidestep violent opposition to girls’ schooling in Afghanistan, Mr. O’Malley said that 8,000 classes were set up in private homes. The strategy fulfilled the dual aim of providing education in remote locations and removing the visibility of schools at risk of attack.
He stressed the importance of linking improved access to education with protection, saying the study called for internationally endorsed guidelines on protecting education in conflict. Although human rights activists had long campaigned for schools as zones of peace, key players, such as commanding officers in the military, were yet to embrace the concept.
In a question-and-answer session with journalists, Ms. Coomaraswamy confirmed that there had been reports of recruitment of child soldiers in Yemen, and she added that she planned to address the issue soon with the Permanent Representative of Yemen to the United Nations. Because Education under Attack 2010 only covered events up to July 2009, reports from Yemen were not included.
The study’s findings were collected between January 2007 and July 2009 and covered over 30 countries.
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