Attacks targeting teachers and students worldwide on the rise, says UNESCO report

©Panos Pictures/J.Oerlemans

The number of politically and ideologically motivated attacks on teachers, students and school buildings is rising, says the report Education Under Attack 2010, launched by UNESCO on 10 February.

These attacks are perpetrated by non-state armed groups and state actors alike.

Education under Attack 2010 is the second report on the subject; the first was published in 2007.

This report is launched together with a second UNESCO publication entitled Protecting Education from Attack: A State-of-the-Art Review, in which several experts take critical stock of knowledge on prevention and response, with respect to both international law and interventions on the ground. The review also shares the recommendations generated by a seminar on the subject held in Paris in 2009.

The publication of these reports has been made possible by the generous support of Her Highness Sheikha Mozah Bint Nasser al-Missned of Qatar, UNESCO Special Envoy for Basic and Higher Education, whose work in recent years has helped bring the issue of attacks on education to the attention of international policy-makers and the wider public.

The two texts comprise both an assessment of the current situation and a call to action, in the face of violence that appears to be rising dramatically, following a more general pattern of increased attacks on civilians and aid workers in recent years.

Three years ago, when UNESCO commissioned the first Education under Attack study, the problem was little known. Education under Attack 2010 notes growing awareness within United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and public opinion of the recurring nature of these attacks, which  are not exceptional or isolated incidents. Above all, the report demonstrates that the destruction of schools and the murder of students and teachers are not limited to acts by the Taliban in Afghanistan or Pakistan in opposition to the education of girls and women.

The 2010 report reveals that the problem is much more extensive. Education was attacked in at least 31 countries between January 2007 and July 2009. Often, an attack on the educational system represents an attack on the State. Conversely, certain States or paramilitary organizations may target academics in order to neutralize real or imagined opponents.

The report also covers the issue of child soldiers – the number of which is currently estimated at 250,000 worldwide. Abductions are frequently carried out for the purpose of forced recruitment or sexual violence against girls. The report expresses particular concern about the systematic nature of crimes committed and sinister tactics used in several countries against teachers, pupils and unionized education workers.

Irina Bokova, the Director-General of UNESCO, has underlined that UNESCO is concerned by these attacks for three reasons: they “constitute a threat to the right to life, and a threat to the right to education, which is itself the key to other freedoms and basic rights; lastly, these attacks jeopardize the achievement of the Education for All goals.” The Education for All (EFA) campaign is a global commitment to provide quality universal education by 2015.

The report also examines the reasons why attacks on education often attract little attention and it points to the role that the International Criminal Court (ICC) could play in strengthening accountability and ending impunity for such attacks.

In his recommendations, author Brendan O’Malley advocates the creation of a global observatory on the subject. The United Nations currently lacks reliable data for an accurate assessment of the problem. More in-depth research is needed, he says, to enable better analysis and understanding of the causes, means and impacts of attacks on education.

So far, he notes, very little research has been carried out into why particular armed groups regard schools or even schoolchildren as legitimate targets or why so many governments persecute academics in their own universities. Almost no research has been carried out on the impact of repeated attacks on education systems.

Finally, while we have limited information on the effectiveness of protective measures and negotiations with armed groups, O’Malley lists possible solutions: providing armed guards at schools or for transport to or from school, encouraging community defence of schools, providing distance learning where it is too dangerous to attend classes, relocating schools within community homes to make them less visible targets, and providing rapid repair and resupply of educational materials.

Related Links


Protecting Education from Attack: A State-of-the-Art Review

Interview with Brendan O'Malley

Post-Conflict Post-Disaster Education

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