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© 2003 UN Photo Stephenie Hollyman
Attacks on education occur in many countries affected by armed conflict, insecurity and weak systems of human rights protections or political pluralism. Schools and universities should be safe havens where students and educators can work toward a better future. Instead, in at least 31 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East, education has become the target of violent attacks or threats by both state security forces and non-state armed groups.
According to the Education under Attack studies commissioned by UNESCO in 2007 and 2010, students of all ages, teachers, academics, teachers unions, and education institutions have been the target of intentional attacks for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic, religious or criminal reasons.
The types of attacks documented by the UNESCO study include killings, disappearance, abduction, forced exile, imprisonment, torture, maiming, rape, recruitment and use of child soldiers, and occupation and destruction of educational buildings and materials.
UN Secretary-General’s most recent report on children and armed conflict documents direct physical damage to schools, closure of schools as a result of threats and intimidation, military use of schools as recruiting grounds in armed conflicts across the globe. The UN Security Council has expressed deep concern about the growing number of attacks or threats of attack against schools and education facilities, teachers and pupils.
These attacks violate the right to education enshrined in key international human rights treaties. They may also violate international humanitarian and criminal law and constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity during war or peacetime. The use of education institutions by security forces and other armed groups may place students and educators at risk of attack.
The short and long term impacts can be devastating. The immediate effects can include death, injury, and the destruction of educational facilities, together with disrupted access to education. In the long term, attacks can lead to diminished education quality, loss of teachers and academics, and weakened educational systems and create a culture of impunity. The relevance of higher education can be degraded and research, academic freedom and innovation curtailed. Weakened education adversely affects a country’s economic, political and social development and civil society.
Timely and accurate monitoring and reporting on attacks on education is crucial for responding to attacks, for holding perpetrators accountable, and for seeking to prevent attacks from occurring in the first place.
In order to protect education from attack, field based practitioners, communities and government education actors in a number of affected countries have developed a range of measures and programs to reduce or prevent attacks on teachers, students and education institutions.