Violence Against Education
There is a noticeable increase in targeted violence against education personnel in Nepal and other conflict-ridden countries, reports BRENDAN O’MALLEY
Following the 2006 killing of Safia Ama Jan, director of Afghanistan's Ministry of Women's Affairs in Kandahar, UNESCO announced it would study into violence directed against educational personnel worldwide and into what can be done to improve safety and security. That study is complete and now out. It covers countries in conflict, such as Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Nepal, the Palestinian. What follows is a shorted version of the 45-page report.
In Nepal, 145 teachers and 344 students were killed between 13 February 1996 and 31 December 2006.13 In the 5 years between 1 January 2002 and 31 December 2006, the Maoists destroyed 79 schools, one university and 13 district education offices. In the same five-year period, 10,621 teachers were abducted and 29 teachers were ‘disappeared’, 734 teachers were arrested or tortured, 320 teachers were beaten, 356 teachers were threatened, and 41 were injured. In the same period, 21,998 students were abducted, 126 were ‘disappeared’, 1,730 were arrested or tortured, 368 were beaten, 1,264 received threats and 323 were injured. In 2003, an estimated 30 per cent of Maoist forces were aged 14 to 18.14 Maoists had enlisted an estimated 4,500 child soldiers.[See Note 1]
Issue of authentication
According to the Terrorism Knowledge Base (TKB), which is funded by the United States Department for Homeland Security, the countries suffering the highest number of attacks on educational institutions since1998 are Iraq and Thailand, followed by Afghanistan and Nepal, then Pakistan, Colombia, India, Turkey and Spain.
Many conflict-ridden countries, including Nepal use child soldiers. But finding data on the use of child soldiers is problematic. A Chatham House report last year said that there remained a ‘disturbing lack of information about the involvement and impact of conflict on children in both Sri Lanka and Nepal’. No studies had been conducted to ascertain the actual number of children in the ranks of the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka or the Maoist forces in Nepal.
In 2005, it was reported that more than 250,000 children continued to be exploited as child soldiers. The recruitment or use of child soldiers was continuing in the period November 2005 to September 2006 in Burundi, Chad, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Cote d’Ivoire, Myanmar, Nepal, the Philippines, Somalia, the Sudan, and Sri Lanka. Abductions of children were continuing in Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Sudan and Uganda.
Of all the countries looked at in detail for this study, the most comprehensive figures on attacks on education are available for Nepal, provided by the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), a human rights NGO based in Kathmandu.
In Afghanistan, burning down schools has been the predominant tactic but there have also been explosions and missile attacks. Two conflicts involving a clash between left- and right-wing ideologies – in Colombia and Nepal – have included many incidents of illegal detention, disappearance and torture, usually by state or state-backed forces, as well as abduction by guerrillas. Left-right struggles have also made education trade unionists prime targets for these tactics, as in Colombia and Ethiopia.
In Nepal and Sri Lanka, the root causes of conflict lie in the failure of successive governments to provide broad-based development and social justice, and the role of education is contested. There are arguments over access to education in remote areas, the language of instruction, distribution of the education budget and the focus of the curriculum.
Nepal Case Study: Still filling the ranks with children
Henang had no choice when he was kidnapped, aged 13, by Maoist guerrillas in Nepal. ‘It was purely chance that it was me,’ he recalls. ‘When the Maoists came to our school and asked the way to the nearest village, terrified pupils ran in all directions. A guerrilla soldier pointed his pistol at me and threatened to kill me if I didn’t go with them.’
Henang (not his real name) was interviewed by Save the Children. [See note 2]. He escaped after nine months, covered in scars from punishments. ‘I tried many times to get away. Every time I was caught and beaten by the commander. He always watched me, threatened me and hit me.’
One evening, Henang killed the commander and escaped. But he was taken into army custody and pressured into revealing which villages had co-operated with the guerrillas and the army took retribution.
Now he cannot go home in case he is treated as an informer and traitor. Instead, he lives in a rehabilitation and training centre supported by Save the Children.
An Amnesty International briefing note [See Note 3] on Nepal reported that Maoists had abducted ‘tens of thousands of schoolchildren, along with their teachers’ for ‘political reeducation sessions’. Typically, the tactic was to enter a high school and force all the students and teachers to accompany them to a remote location where hundreds of children from across the area would be gathered.
Many of the children would return after a few days but some would be held back for use as child soldiers – to be assigned such tasks as carrying bombs and ammunition acting as messengers, or in some cases actually taking part in fighting. Others were earmarked for future recruitment. Amnesty International concluded: ‘The scale and frequency of these abductions suggests that they are central to the CPN (Maoist) mobilization strategy.’
Kantipur FM radio reported on 26 January 2005, for instance, that rebels had abducted around 650 students and 47 teachers from 5 schools in Sankhuwasabha district, eastern Nepal, and more than 400 pupils and teachers in Dhading district, to involve them in ‘indoctrination sessions’ at an undisclosed destination. [See note 4]
On 9 June 2005, the Rising Nepal newspaper reported that rebels had taken 150 pupils and 2 teachers by force from Shankar secondary school in Jajarkot district, western Nepal, and that 850 pupils and teachers were missing from 11 other schools. [See Note 5]
According to Human Rights Watch: ‘Once recruited, children were kept in the ranks through punishment or the fear of it: any children who considered escape also had to consider the possibility that the Maoists would exact reprisal upon their families.’ [See Note 6]
Government security forces carried out their own variant on abduction: arresting teachers and students, forcing the disappearance of more than 150 and torturing more than 2,000 others. [See Notes 7] Children were being held for long periods in army barracks, police stations or adult prisons, without being subjected to any legal process. [See Notes 8]
However, according to Human Rights Watch, the abduction of children did not stop with the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement in November 2006.
A Human Rights Watch report [See Notes 9] in February 2007 suggested that the Maoists had failed to release the minors in their ranks and were still ‘frequently’ recruiting children, contrary to the terms of the peace agreement. Sometimes they ordered children to attend ‘educational sessions’ and then prohibited them from returning home.
Disruption is the most common side-effect of attacks, wearing away at the effectiveness of the school system. Amnesty International reported in 2005 that, in many areas of Nepal, schools had been entirely shut down due to the destruction of premises, lack of teachers, military operations and threats by the CPN-M. In other areas, children were getting fewer than 100 days schooling a year because of Maoist activities, such as ’political education’ sessions.
Other effects include student absences, destruction of physical resources, etc. Forced recruitment or voluntary enlistment of child soldiers also prevents children from going to school. Similarly, physical removal by abduction, detention or disappearance prevents teachers and students from going to school or university. Other impediments include murders and assassinations as well as psychological trauma, fear and stress, caused by any of the above. The pressures of constant fear can produce high levels of trauma, as reported among children in Nepal where many fled their villages to avoid abduction and forced recruitment by rebels – at one point, more than 500 children a day were crossing into India.
Atrocities against teachers also leave staff feeling isolated and living under impossible pressures. One Nepalese headmaster was burned to death for refusing to provide food and shelter to the CPN-M. Maoists demanded that teachers hand over a slice of their salary and end practices such as singing the national anthem. If they did not comply, they faced punishment, possibly death. But if they acceded to the demands, they were treated as Maoists sympathizers by the security forces.
Displacement is another common cause of children’s schooling being suspended or permanently ended, because there is no school to go to in their new surroundings or because they must spend their time trying to earn a living in order to survive.
Amnesty International reported in 2005 that, in many areas of Nepal, schools had been entirely shut down due to the destruction of premises, lack of teachers, military operations and threats by the CPN-M. In other areas, children were getting fewer than 100 days schooling a year because of Maoist activities, such as ’political education’ sessions.
UNESCO has taken some steps toward the resolution of the problem. The Office of the Special Representative was given the task of implementing the monitoring and reporting of grave violations in a phased approach beginning with Burundi, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and the Sudan. It has also done so in Nepal and Sri Lanka. Its work has added to previous monitoring by the UN system and by NGOs.
What should be done?
A number of recommendations flow from the findings and analyses presented in this report, notably the following:
• The UN should work with Member States to eradicate impunity in the case of attacks on education staff, students, trade unionists, officials and institutions.
• Greater resources should be given to the International Criminal Court to bring more cases to trial to widen its deterrent effect.
• Governments should use every opportunity to set conditions of adherence to human rights norms, with particular reference to the rights of children, the right to education and protection of both educational institutions and the process of education when entering trade or aid agreements with parties to a conflict.
• UN agencies, NGOs and teacher unions should campaign for international solidarity with targeted groups and institutions to raise pressure for human rights instruments to be applied more widely to attacks on education and for impunity to be eradicated. Further debate is also required on how to make the case for embedding protection of education institutions as zones of peace or safe sanctuaries in human rights instruments.
• The UN Security Council should recognize the role that education can play in both contributing to tension and in promoting peace, and should offer support for strategies to remove education as a factor in conflicts.
• Governments and parties to conflict should work to ensure education is perceived as neutral by ensuring schools, colleges and universities are transparently run in an inclusive, non-sectarian non-discriminatory way and that curricula are non-propagandist and sensitive to local linguistic, cultural and religious specificities.
• The international community, UN agencies and NGOs should devise strategies and campaigns to promote and fund inclusive child-friendly education in conflict-affected countries and establish acceptance of schools as sanctuaries or zones of peace.
• The international community, UN agencies and NGOs should work with governments of conflict-affected states and governments that are assisting in preventing or limiting conflict to:
o Develop mechanisms to protect threatened students, teachers, academics, education trade unionists and officials, and to assist them in relocating internally or externally where appropriate
o Develop ways to support the continuation of education in alternative places or via alternative methods and media in areas under attack
o Develop ways to support the continuation of the work of academics in exile for the education system under attack
• Recognising the limitations of the current reporting system conducted by the Office of the Special Representative to the Secretary General on Children in Armed Conflict, the United Nations should demonstrate its commitment to the right to education by setting up a global system for monitoring violent attacks on education, including attacks on teachers and academics, and support the establishment of a publicly accessible, global database to keep track of the scale of attack, types of attack, perpetrators, motives, impact on education provision and the nature and impact of prevention and response strategies.
• Qualitative research should be undertaken into the underlying reasons why students, teachers, academics, education officials, education trade unionists and educational institutions are targeted for attack, what prevention and response strategies are in place, and which ones are most effective.
• The international media should recognise their critical role and responsibility in bringing to the world’s attention the targeting of education students, staff and trade unionists and officials in conflicts and the impact this has on children.
To read the original UNESCO report released April 27, 2007, click here [pdf file].
1. Human Rights Watch, February 2007, ‘Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal’]
2. Save the Children Nepal briefing, 2007, ‘Rewrite the future’
3. Amnesty International, 2005, ‘Nepal: Children Caught in the Conflict’.
4. The Hindu, 28 January 2005, ‘Maoists Kidnap Over 1,000 Students, Teachers in Nepal’.
5. Chedda, Sudhir. India Daily, 10 June 2005, ‘Nepal Maoists Abducted 1,000 School Children and Hiding Them in Unknown Location – Time for International Action?’
6. Human Rights Watch, February 2007, ‘Children in the Ranks: The Maoists’ Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal’.
7. Figures supplied by INSEC, 2007, op cit.
8. Amnesty International, 2005, ‘Nepal: Children Caught in the Conflict’.
9. Human Rights Watch, February 2007, ‘Children in the ranks: The Maoists’s Use of Child Soldiers in Nepal’.
Posted by Editor on April 30, 2007 1:35 AM