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Protect education from attack and military use

Last updated: 04.04.2014 // The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) and the Permanent Mission of Norway and Argentina hosted a meeting to present The Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict at Palais des Nations in Geneva 2 April. The coalition developed the guidelines with experts and a core group of supporting states. The goal is to finalize the guidelines, and that they will be adopted and supported by various stakeholders and States. This will be a key factor in the prevention of education institutions being used for military purposes.

The expert panel was made up of Mr. Bede Sheppard, Deputy Director, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch/ Steering Committee member of the GCPEA, Mr. Steven Haines, Professor of Public International Law at the University of Greenwhich, Drafter of the Draft Lucens Guidelines,   Ms. Ellen van Kalmthout, Senior Education Adviser for the Coordinator Education Cluster, Ms. Ann Makome, Judicial Affairs Officer, Criminal Law and Judical Advisory Service, Office of Rule of Law and Security Institutions at  UNs Department of Peacekeeping Operations. The meeting was moderated by Ms. Anita Bay Bundegaard, Director and UN representative from Save the Children. The Norwegian Ambassador Mr.Steffen Kongstad and Argentinian Ambassador Mr. Alberto Pedro D'Alotto both held opening remarks.  

Norwegian Ambassador Mr. Kongstad stated in his opening remark that “The importance of access to education for the individual and for society at large cannot be overstated. Recognising that we have to attach more attention to this issue in our foreign and development policy, the Norwegian government has decided to strengthen this segment of our development policy and to increase its efforts to support and protect education in emergencies.”

Argentinian Ambassador Mr. D’Alotto stated that “The Lucens Guidelines will represent a concrete measure that we can take for the protection of schools and educational universities during conflicts, as required in the Resolution of the Security Council.”

GCPEA states that government security forces and non-state armed groups are often attracted by the location, solid structure, and ready facilities found in schools, universities, and other education institutions during times of conflict. They have used these sites in a variety of ways, including as military bases, shelters, weapons caches, and outposts, with their use lasting weeks, months, and even years. Such military use not only seriously disrupts students’ learning, it also provokes attacks from opposing forces.

According to the GCPEA study Lessons in War, between 2005 and 2013, armed forces or groups used education institutions in conflicts in at least 24 countries, including: Afghanistan, Burma / Myanmar, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, India, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nepal, Occupied Palestinian Territory/Israel, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Uganda, and Yemen.

Mr. Sheppard addressed some of the issues that can occur when schools are used for military purposes.  “There is an obvious safety issue. The schools turn into targets, so the students and personnel can get seriously harmed, even killed.”

He also states that the students are exposed to physical and sexual violence and recruitment pressure from the soldiers. This is especially affecting girls, and parents have refused to send their girls to school because of incidents of sexual harassments. This leads to an overall low school attendance, and more students end up as drop outs.

There is also a risk after the occupation of the schools. As the armed forces or groups often leave in a hurry they dump weapons and ammunition at the schools’ property.

The Lucens Guidelines are intended to build global recognition of the negative consequences of military use of schools and universities, and the need – and commitment – to restrict the practice.

Mr. Haines emphasizes that the guidelines are not meant as a change in the law, the guidelines are based on International Human Rights and Humanitarian laws, and will respect the law as it stands.

 “The aim is to enhance compliance with international law by encouraging behavior that does more to protect schools than the law requires” he says.

He continues by stating that “The guidelines are practical and achievable and recognize that the demands of armed conflict produce difficult dilemmas requiring pragmatic solutions. They are produced specifically for armed conflicts, but they also prove useful in situations of insecurity during either post-conflict or pre-conflict.”

The guidelines are intended for all parties to armed conflict, both states armed forces and non-state armed groups.

Ms. Kalmthout stated that presented guidelines is an excellent and manageable framework and can play an important role in the protection of schools. Ms. Makome agrees and adds that the guidelines also provide very pragmatic and practical guidelines for UN peacekeepers, and that they can bring it back to their national forces. 

The Draft Lucens Guidelines have received great support from States and civil society. There is a strong basis for States and NGOs to work cross-regional towards the implementation of the guidelines. 

Read more about GCPEA and the Lucens guidelines here.

Read Ambassador Kongstad’s entire statement here.

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