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Human Rights Watch expresses concern at attacks on schools

Access to education, Right to Education

The Human Rights Watch has expressed concern at the growing attacks by Naxals on schools and teachers in India, especially in some districts of Bihar and Jharkhand, and at the occupation of educational institutions by the security forces.

Global survey

The government of India and the State governments concerned should improve protection for students and teachers during such a naxal-police conflict by outlawing attacks on schools and curtailing their use by the security forces, the international watchdog said in a report, ‘Schools and Armed Conflict: A Global Survey of Domestic Laws and State Practice Protecting Schools from Attack and Military Use.’ The report, which was released on Wednesday, is annexed with a 103-page chapter relating to the situation in India.

Schools disrupted

While Naxals blew up school buildings, the security forces disrupted education for long periods by occupying schools as part of the anti-Naxalite operations. The Human Rights Watch documented that at least 36 schools in Jharkhand and 23 in Bihar were attacked in 2009. These did not include schools occupied by security forces at the time of attack.

“Governments have been slow to update and align their domestic legislation with the explicit prohibition on attacks on schools under international criminal law,” the report said. They were also failing to account for the negative consequences for the children’s right to education when the armed forces converted schools into bases and barracks.

“Children are entitled to go to school in a safe environment, even during the times of conflict,” said Bede Sheppard, author of the report and senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Attacks on schools and the military use of schools jeopardise children’s safety and education. An attack on a school is an attack on a child’s future and on a country’s development,” he said.

Armed conflict

The report said that on July 12 this year, the United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution relating to attacks on educational institutions in armed conflict and asked the U.N. Secretary-General to add parties that attacked schools or hospitals to the “list of violators” included in his annual report on children and armed conflict. “India is one of the countries the Security Council recommended to be placed on this list,” the report claimed.

The Hindu, July 20, 2011

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