Teachers and students increasingly under attack, UNESCO warns

11 Feb 2010

Teachers and students increasingly under attack, UNESCO warns

KABUL - A new report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has found that politically and ideologically motivated attacks against teachers, students and schools are on the rise, calling for greater community involvement to reduce such incidents.

Since the first-ever study on the issue, entitled “Education under Attack,” was published in 2007, the systematic targeting of students and teachers has been on the upswing, especially in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Thailand, the new report noted.

The number of attacks almost tripled in Afghanistan from 242 to 670 from 2007 to 2008, while nearly 300 schools were reportedly blown up by Maoist rebels in India from 2006-2009.

The report also pointed out that sexual violence continues to be perpetrated against schoolgirls and women in conflict areas, with incidents resulting from abduction and attacks at schools or during the journey to them having been reported in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Myanmar and the Philippines.

Teachers' trade unions were also singled out for attacks, including assassinations, false imprisonment and torture in Colombia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe.

“Mostly, attacks occur in conflict-affected countries or under regimes with a poor record on human rights and democratic pluralism,” according to the new publication.

“From 2007 to 2009, State forces or State-backed forces have either beaten, arrested, tortured, threatened with murder or shot dead students, teachers and/or academics in Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Colombia, Ethiopia, Honduras, Iran, Myanmar, Nepal, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Thailand, Turkey, Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

Preventing future attacks hinges on understanding their motives, the report stressed, even though analysis is impeded by factors including limited quality monitoring and reporting and the suppression of information in situations where perpetrators are repressive regimes.

But based on available information, motives include preventing the educations of girls, undermining government control, revenge for killings and silencing human rights defenders.

The study called for involving communities in the running and defence of schools and for renegotiating the re-opening of schools, based on research and a successful programme in Afghanistan.

Community initiatives have been encouraged in the Asian nation since 2006 to mobilize people to deter or resist attacks, with school protection shura, or councils, having been set up.

Research points to a decreased instance of attacks where there is clear community involvement in the running of local affairs, as well as of schools and their defence.

The new report was launched jointly with a second UNESCO publication called “Protecting Education from Attack: A State-of-the-Art Review,” comprising case studies and examinations of international law in preventing and responding to attacks.