Assassinations, kidnappings, disappearances, illegal imprisonment and torture, mass poisoning, acid attacks, sexual assault, forced recruitment as soldiers or suicide bombers, rocket and mortar attacks, gunfire, aerial bombing, burning, and looting: All these forms of violence have been perpetrated on teachers, students, schools and universities in the past three years, according to a report commissioned by UNESCO and released in New York on 10 February.
The report is entitled Education Under Attack 2010: A global study on targeted political and military violence against education staff, students, teachers, union and government officials, aid workers and institutions. Following up on his 2007 study of the same name, author Brendan O'Malley tracks incidents from January 2007 to July 2009 in 32 countries.
"The dramatic intensification of attacks reported in Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Thailand and the sudden explosion of attacks during military operations in Georgia and Gaza have been the most worrying new trends," O'Malley writes. "Failure to eradicate the problem in Colombia, Nepal and Iraq and the scale of ongoing attacks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia and Zimbabwe are matters of grave concern."
The report highlights two deeply disturbing new phenomena: "first, the alleged mass abduction and indoctrination of schoolchildren in Pakistan and Iraq to become suicide bombers; and, second, the targeted killing of schoolchildren so young that they could scarcely be considered a political threat, as has occurred in Afghanistan and elsewhere. What had they done to provoke their killers? They had simply gone to school."
The 250-page report examines the scale of the problem, the nature of attacks, targets and motives, the impact on education and development, protection and prevention measures, monitoring and impunity. It concludes with a series of recommendations and an annex with detailed reports on attacks in 32 different countries.
Not surprising to EI's defenders of human and trade union rights, it notes: "Teacher trade unionists are still being singled out for assassination, arbitrary detention, disappearance and torture in Colombia, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe, particularly by state or state-backed forces."
"This report paints a very grim picture indeed, one that should spur us on to greater efforts to confront these atrocities and help bring them to an end," said EI Deputy General Secretary Jan Eastman.
"These attacks are deliberate attempts not only to destroy education institutions, but to violate the fundamental human right to education. They attack the cornerstones of democracy itself."
O'Malley points out that the research into such attacks is still at an early stage and many questions remain to be investigated. "So far, for instance, very little research has been carried out into why particular armed groups regard schools or even schoolchildren as legitimate targets and why so many governments persecute academics in their own universities."
However, EI and other organisations including UN agencies and NGOs are building an international movement to ensure that schools everywhere are respected as sanctuaries and zones of peace, and that those who launch attacks on education are held to account.
Education International's Declaration on Schools as Safe Sanctuaries was adopted in 2009.
To read the full report, please follow the link below.