28 February 2014

Africa: Armed Groups Target Students, Teachers

A new report says attacking schools and universities has become a weapon of war. It says in the last five years hundreds of students and teachers have been killed and many more injured. The report - Education Under Attack - identifies 30 countries where "there was a pattern of deliberate attacks between 2009 and 2013."

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack published the 250 page study. Diya Nijhowne, the group's director, said, "Attacks on schools, teachers, students, professors, academics [are] much more widespread than previously documented. Schools are being burned, bombed, torched. Teachers are being extorted, abducted. Students are being recruited into armed forces in schools and universities in conflicts across the world."

But why attack schools?

"Schools and teachers often represent the states and so they're soft targets. They're easy to bomb. They're easy to injure - much easier than the hard targets like military posts, for example," she said.

The report says students and teachers in Africa are most at risk. Nine sub-Saharan countries are among the list of 30 nations cited in the report.

Veronique Aubert is conflict and humanitarian adviser at Save the Children - a member of the coalition. She said, "Central African Republic, Cote d'Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Somalia and Zimbabwe have been affected."

She said students and educators are not just caught in the cross fire, but targeted.

"They're shot, threatened, even abducted because of their connection to education. They're easy targets and they need to be protected."

In many cases, schools were used as military barracks, firing positions, weapons depots, and detention and torture centers.

The report said in late 2012 and 2013, more than 100 schools were looted or vandalized in Central African Republic. In the 2010-2011 post-election conflict in Ivory Coast, "more than 500 schools and universities were destroyed, damaged, looted or used by armed groups and national military forces."

The non sub-Saharan countries listed in the report include Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, Egypt, Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Russia and India.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack is urging the adoption of the Lucens Guidelines. They call on warring parties not to use schools and universities for any military purpose. It also says even schools abandoned during conflict should not be taken over by armed groups. The coalition added that students' safety helps ensure a better future for a country once the fighting stops.

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