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Attacks on education increased worldwide during pandemic

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Attacks on Education Increased Worldwide During Pandemic

More than 5,000 Attacks in Past 2 Years

This report was authored by a partner organization, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and is distributed by Human Rights Watch.

(New York) – More than 9,000 students, teachers, and academics were harmed, injured, or killed in attacks on education during armed conflict over the past two years, according to Education under Attack 2022, a 265-page report published today by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). More than 5,000 separate attacks on education facilities, students, and educators, or incidents of military use, took place in 2020 and 2021, a significant increase over the previous two years.

Researchers for Education under Attack 2022 found that the number of attacks on education and military use of schools increased from 2019 to 2020 by one-third, and continued at this heightened rate in 2021, even as schools and universities around the world closed for prolonged periods during the Covid-19 pandemic. GCPEA found attacks on the rise in countries including Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ethiopia, Mali, Myanmar, and Nigeria, and emergent in others such as Mozambique and Azerbaijan, while downward trends were identified in South Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Attacks intensified in 2022: Over a thousand schools and universities have been damaged in Ukraine since February 24, according to Ukraine’s Ministry of Education and Science and civil society groups.

“It is crucial for governments and armed groups to end attacks on education, and stop using schools and universities for military purposes,” said Diya Nijhowne, GCPEA executive director. “Governments should investigate attacks and prosecute those responsible for abuses. In post-Covid-19 ‘back to school’ campaigns, they need to fully integrate students affected by attacks, expanding alternative education programs developed during the pandemic as necessary.”

Attacks on education involve armed forces and non-state armed groups bombing and burning schools and universities, and killing, injuring, raping, abducting, arbitrarily arresting, and recruiting students and educators at or near educational institutions, during armed conflict. In addition to the deaths and injuries caused by these attacks, destroyed and occupied schools upend learning, sometimes permanently, and have long-term social and economic consequences.

Explosive weapons, which were involved in one-fifth of all reported attacks on education, had particularly devastating effects, killing or injuring countless students and educators and damaging hundreds of schools and universities. In Afghanistan, attacks on schools involving explosive weapons killed or injured at least 185 students and educators, nearly all of them girls, in the first half of 2021 alone. In Palestine, air-launched and ground-launched strikes damaged a quarter of Gaza’s schools during an escalation of hostilities in May 2021.

Attacks on schools made up nearly two-thirds of all reports of attacks on education and military use collected by GCPEA, a similar proportion to the previous two years. In 2020 and 2021, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Palestine were the countries most affected by attacks on schools, with each experiencing over 400 threatened or actual attacks.

Rates of military use of schools and universities by armed forces and non-state armed groups more than doubled in 2020 and 2021 as compared with the previous two years. Driving this increase was an uptick in schools used as barracks, detention centers, or for military operations. Myanmar had more than 200 such cases, mostly after the February 2021 military coup.

Targeted attacks on students and educators were also widespread. In Nigeria, over 1,000 students or educators were reportedly abducted, injured, or killed, at least one-third of them women and girls. The rate of these attacks, many by unidentified armed groups, escalated from December 2020. Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Palestine, Somalia, and Colombia also had high numbers of students and educators threatened, abducted, injured, or killed.

Armed groups or armed forces also targeted schools to recruit children. In the past two years, state armed forces or armed groups reportedly recruited students from schools in Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, and Yemen, while armed forces, security forces, or armed groups were reportedly responsible for sexual violence in, or on the way to or from, schools and universities in at least seven countries

Universities, and their students and staff, also came under fire over the past two years, with over 320 reported incidents. Most of these attacks targeted university students and personnel, while a quarter of incidents targeted university facilities. Over 550 university students or personnel were injured, abducted, or killed and another 1,450 were detained, arrested, or convicted.

The Covid-19 pandemic did not slow attacks on education. In fact, some violations became more prominent in 2020 and 2021. Armed forces and non-state armed groups took advantage of vacant schools to use them for military purposes, including in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, and Syria. Elsewhere, the police responded with excessive force to students’ and educators’ protests over policies related to the closure or reopening of schools and universities during the pandemic, including using water cannons and teargas. In other countries, such as Colombia and Palestine, after lockdown measures were lifted, schools that had sustained damage during attacks experienced delayed reopenings, or reopened with damaged facilities.

This report was released on the seventh anniversary of the Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment to protect education in armed conflict, endorsed by 114 countries. By joining the Declaration, countries commit to taking concrete steps to safeguard education, including by using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use During Armed Conflict. Since the Declaration was opened for endorsement in 2015, governments and their partners have made tangible improvements in law and practice to protect education from attack. Over one-third of the countries profiled in the report are not signatories.

“As attacks on schools and universities, their students, and educators continue to occur in both new andprotracted conflicts, the Safe Schools Declaration, on its seventh anniversary, remains a critical tool,” Nijhowne said. “All governments should endorse and implement the Declaration to save lives and safeguard the right to education for all, including those in the most dire situations of war.”

Notes to editors:
The report is the sixth in the Education under Attack series. It analyzes global trends and profiles attacks and military use of schools and universities in 28 countries.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA)  is a coalition of United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations working in the fields of education in emergencies, protection, and higher education.

Support for Education under Attack 2022 has been generously provided by the Education Above All Foundation, Education Cannot Wait, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and an anonymous donor.