Attacks on schools and hospitals during conflict is one of the six grave violations identified and condemned by the UN Security Council. The six grave violations form the basis of the Council’s architecture to monitor, report and respond to abuses suffered by children in times of war. Ending and preventing these violations is also the focus of the Special Representative’s work and advocacy.
Attacks on schools and hospitals is a trigger to list parties to armed conflict in the annexes of the annual report of the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict.
Schools and hospitals must be zones of peace, where children are granted protection even in times of conflict. Yet, there is an increasing trend of schools and hospitals being attacked with detrimental effects on children.
Direct impact of conflict
Apart from the direct and physical damage to schools and hospitals, conflict can result in the forced closure or the disrupted functioning of these institutions. Children, teachers, doctors and nurses are also subject to threats by parties to conflict if suspected, for example, to support the other party to the conflict. Also of great concern is the use of schools for military purposes, as recruitment grounds and polling stations.
Indirect impact of conflict
Some armed groups are opposed to secular and girls’ education, or to girls being treated by male medical personnel and subsequently hamper access to these services. A general climate of insecurity as a result of conflict also prevents children, teachers and medical personnel from attending school or seeking medical assistance. Parents, for example, may find it too risky to send their children to school in a volatile security situation, or children may be denied timely access to hospitals because of checkpoints and roadblocks.
Prohibition under International Law
Under international humanitarian law, both schools and hospitals are protected civilian objects, and therefore benefit from the humanitarian principles of distinction and proportionality. Direct physical attacks and the closure of these institutions as a result of direct threats have since 2011 been added as triggers for inclusion on the list of the Secretary-General of parties to conflict committing grave violations against children in armed conflict.
Act To Protect: Guidance Note on Attacks Against Schools and Hospitals
In 2011, by adopting resolution 1998, the Security Council gave the United Nations a mandate to identify and list, in the annexes of the Secretary-General’s annual report on Children and Armed Conflict, the armed forces and groups who attack schools or hospitals, or protected persons in relation to schools and hospitals. The resolution asked listed parties to conflict to work with the United Nations to prepare concrete, time-bound action plans to end and prevent the violations. This is crucial to ensure children can enjoy their rights to education and health and that violators no longer enjoy impunity.
With our partners, we are strengthening our capacity to monitor and report incidents affecting children’s right to health and education in situations of conflict. We are also enhancing our advocacy and dialogue with perpetrators to put a stop to these violations.
On May 22, 2014, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui, launched a Guidance Note on Attacks against schools and hospitals to help ensure that everyone involved in monitoring, reporting and advocacy is equipped with the best tools to end and prevent attacks against schools and hospitals.
The guidance note also addresses the issue of the military use of schools and the Special
Representative has undertaken significant advocacy efforts on preserving the civilian status of these institutions, including in light of the adoption of the Safe Schools Declaration in May 2015. As of April 2017, the declaration has been endorsed by 63 States, including 9 countries on the children and armed conflict agenda (Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lebanon, Nigeria, State of Palestine, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan).
Ensuring access to education and healthcare, in contexts of armed conflict and in situations where children are displaced, has also been a priority for the children and armed conflict mandate. Funding for education and healthcare in emergencies is vital to maintain even a minimal level of services for conflict-affected children and has been a key focus in recent advocacy initiatives.
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The world has denounced the recruitment of child soldiers; the world has decried sexual violence in conflict. We now have to condemn and take action against attacks on schools and hospitals with the same strength and conviction.