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UN Security Council: Protect schools and hospitals from Attack
by ICRC, Coalition to Protect Education from Attack
12:38pm 14th Oct, 2017
12 Oct. 2017
UN Security Council: Protect Education from Attack. (Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack)
Members of the United Nations Security Council and other UN member countries should strengthen efforts to protect education during armed conflict, including by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, Human Rights Watch said today. On October 13, 2017, the Security Council will hold an “Arria Formula” meeting on attacks on education, hosted by Italy, France, Sweden, and Uruguay.
During 2016, the UN documented nearly 500 attacks on schools or related education personnel in 18 of the 20 conflict countries covered by the UN secretary-general’s latest report on children and armed conflict. The UN also found that armed forces or non-state armed groups used schools for military purposes in 15 of the 20 countries.
“Students, teachers, and academics have been threatened, doused with acid, shot at, and summarily executed, and schools and universities have been bombed, burned, and shelled,” said Zama Neff, children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch. “Governments need to strengthen efforts to keep schools, teachers, and students safe during armed conflict.”
Joy Bishara, who was among the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram from a government secondary school in Chibok, Nigeria in 2014, will brief the Security Council at the meeting.
“Students need to feel safe and study their dreams without fear,” Bishara said in her prepared remarks. “I hope and pray that no student will go through what I went through because of an unprotected school.”
Security Council members should endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, an intergovernmental political commitment to protect education in armed conflict and to avoid the use of schools for military purposes, Human Rights Watch said. Since the declaration was opened for endorsement in May 2015 at the Oslo Safe Schools Conference, 69 countries have endorsed it, including countries from all regions, more than half of NATO states, and two-thirds of the European Union. But only five of the current Security Council members – France, Italy, Kazakhstan, Sweden, and Uruguay – have endorsed the declaration.
“The Security Council has focused attention on attacks on schools as a grave violation against children,” Neff said. “Members should show leadership on this issue by endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration and using it to protect schools during war.”
Neff, who also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and Virginia Gamba, the special representative of the secretary-general on children and armed conflict, will also brief the Security Council at the Arria Formula meeting. Such meetings are informal meetings with civil society and other experts to enable Security Council members to discuss matters of concern.
October 2017
Where is the urgency to bring attacks on healthcare to an end, asks ICRC President Peter Maurer. (International Committee of the Red Cross, agencies)
Since my last briefing, brutal attacks have continued, unabated, against the wounded and sick, medical care providers, ambulances and health care facilities.
We are at risk of creating a ''new normal'': too many actors are legitimizing attacks as "collateral damage" rather than outrageous violations.
The question we need to be asking today is ''where is the urgency to bring attacks to an end?''
The regularity and brutality of attacks – committed by both state armed forces and non-state armed groups – that ICRC witnesses is nothing short of alarming. The litany of attacks and killings in CAR, Syria and Afghanistan are well known. The losses are tragic, and they continue to occur with shocking regularity in most of the conflicts where the ICRC works, including in Nigeria, the Philippines, Libya, South Sudan, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
The long-term impact of attacks on healthcare reverberates far beyond the immediate deaths, injuries and pain. They can result in the collapse of entire health systems: communities already enduring armed conflict are exposed to health crises, and without a functioning health system they continue to suffer needlessly. Essential health services are unable to cope; universal health care coverage and health-related sustainable development goals become impossible to achieve.
The single most effective way to prevent such terrible suffering is, without doubt, improving respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) and the basic principle of humanity. Responsibility for respecting IHL lies with the parties to armed conflicts themselves. Additionally, all States must ensure respect for IHL, including within the framework of the Council, and exercise their influence over the practices of their military partners and allies.
The international community has a clear blueprint for action in the recommendations of the UN Secretary-General and by others, including the Health Care in Danger initiative of the International Red Cross Red Crescent Movement. Now Member States must put the political commitments of Resolution 2286 into concrete actions.
Some progress has been made including through diplomatic networks in Geneva and New York, but much more needs to be done, and with much greater urgency.
The ICRC calls for action in six key areas:
One, we need to be better able diagnose the problem. Reliable, systematic data collection is essential. While attention has focused on the devastating attacks in Syria, we know in many places attacks go undocumented, and therefore unnoticed by decision-makers. ICRC is ready to work with States and relevant UN agencies to ensure improved mechanisms are in place. Objective data is the basis for neutral, impartial and non-politicised debates, decisions and implementations of measures on this issue.
Two, we urge all States and parties to armed conflict to scrutinize, without delay, their military doctrine, procedures and practice so that medical care is protected in planning and conduct of military operations. States must take all possible measures to ensure their allies do the same, especially in joint and multinational military operations. Diplomatic and declaratory commitments remain meaningless, unless they are followed by the armed forces of the same actors and their allies on the ground.
Three, States should review their domestic legislation and practice to ensure the delivery of impartial medical care is in line with IHL and medical ethics at all times. Healthcare workers must be free to deliver impartial health care and not be coerced to act against medical ethics, threatened or detained for acting in accordance with the ethical principles of their profession. For example in a welcome step, Nigeria has changed laws so that hospitals can treat gunshot victims immediately, instead of waiting for a police report. It is an astonishing situation indeed when health workers are punished for helping victims while there is no accountability for attacks on hospitals.
Four, I encourage States to voluntarily report on their efforts to implement Resolution 2286. They should support, through technical or financial assistance, the implementation of practical measures by others through their bilateral and multilateral operations.
Five, I ask States to engage with the ICRC in bilateral confidential and operational dialogues with a view to change practices and behaviours by their armed forces and allies whenever we raise these issues. The amount of energy to deny even a confidential conversation to establish the facts and their legal reading is frankly obnoxious.
Finally, the Council should consistently advocate – unanimously and unambiguously – that violence against health care is never acceptable.
We know the solutions, we have the tools, and we have the support of many actors. It is political will that we urgently need.
* ICRC President Peter Maurer''s address at the Ministerial meeting on "Protection of medical and humanitarian personnel in conflict", 31 October 2017, New York.
Safeguarding Health in Conflict Coalition:
* UN Security Council Resolution 2286 adopted in May condemning attacks on health care workers and facilities in armed conflict:
* Protect Education from Attack:
May 2017
Report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, by Antonio Guterres United Nations Secretary-General
Armed conflicts are tearing apart vast swathes of the world and record numbers of people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. Some 97 per cent of humanitarian assistance goes to complex emergencies, the majority of which involve armed conflicts.
Globally, more than 65 million people have been displaced by conflict, violence or persecution. More than 20 million people, including 1.4 million children, are on the brink of famine in Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and Yemen. At the same time, among the international community there is a growing sense of fatigue, even resignation, in addressing the suffering of civilians in conflict.
All State and non-State parties to conflict must respect international humanitarian law, and all States must ensure such respect. Yet, in many conflicts, parties flout their obligations and show contempt for human life and dignity, often with impunity.
Civilians are routinely killed in direct and indiscriminate attacks. As conflict becomes increasingly urbanized, the impact on civilians reaches new lows, with bombs and rockets destroying schools, hospitals, markets and places of worship, while children are pulled from the rubble of their homes.
Sexual violence shatters lives and undermines community cohesion. These horrors are exacerbated when civilians are deprived of basic relief items and services, sometimes even besieged for months at a time. Faced with such brutality, millions of civilians are forced to flee their homes in search of safety. The result is a global protection crisis.
In the present report I set out a path to protection — my vision for collective action to strengthen the protection of civilians in armed conflict. My overarching priority is to galvanize the international community to prevent and resolve conflicts and build sustainable peace.
In the long term, the best way to protect civilians is to tackle the root causes of conflicts, promote human rights and the rule of law, strengthen governance and institutions and invest in inclusive and sustainable development.
There must be a shift from perpetual reaction to early action, including the ability to identify and act upon signs of impending or potential conflict and threats to civilians.
A commitment to conflict prevention also compels us to address illicit and irresponsible arms transfers, which enable conflict and undermine protection and peacebuilding efforts. Indeed, although beyond the scope of the present report, my vision of prevention encompasses not only violent armed conflict, but also the increasingly complex array of crises that take a significant toll on humanity and produce unsustainable levels of human suffering.
Where prevention fails, we must make every effort to protect the lives and dignity of civilians caught up in conflict. In this regard, three protection priorities clearly emerge across conflicts.
First, we must enhance respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law and promote good practice by parties to conflict.
Second, we must protect the humanitarian and medical mission and accord priority to the protection of civilians in United Nations peace operations.
Third, we must prevent forced displacement and pursue durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons. These protection priorities are interrelated and mutually reinforcing. In particular, strengthening respect for international law is a prerequisite to achieving priorities two and three.
Achieving these goals necessitates a multi-faceted approach encompassing a diversity of actors. An intensified global effort is needed at the international, regional and national levels to raise public understanding of the human cost of conflict and enhance respect for international law and the protection of civilians. The Security Council and Member States must be at the forefront of this effort.
In the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States committed themselves to leaving no one behind and to reaching those furthest behind first. The World Humanitarian Summit, held in 2016, reinforced this vision.
Member States must now take specific action to implement their commitments and ensure that civilians in conflict, who are among the most vulnerable, are protected. I am personally committed to ensuring that this becomes a priority in all aspects of United Nations work.
* Report of the UN Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict:
* Referring to the ongoing conflict in Syria: Adama Dieng, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide and Ivan Simonovic, UN Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect state:
''Attacks that are indiscriminate or directly target civilians or civilian objects are a violation of fundamental principles of international humanitarian law. All actors involved in the conflict in Syria have an obligation to ensure that these fundamental principles are respected. The level of violence and suffering inflicted on the Syrian people after almost seven years of conflict should not be tolerated.
More than six million people have been internally displaced by the conflict, many displaced multiple times, and more than five million Syrians have sought refuge in other countries. It is estimated that more than half of the country’s basic infrastructure is damaged or destroyed and over 13 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.
We cannot stand by silently in the face of indiscriminate violence and violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. All the parties to the Syrian conflict, as well as the international community, have a responsibility to protect civilians from atrocity crimes. We urge all stakeholders, including the Security Council, to condemn this violence, and we urge the parties to the conflict to ensure that basic principles of humanitarian law are protected, in particular with regards to proportionality and distinction.”
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein: “Compliance with international law requires that parties to a conflict do their utmost to protect civilians. This includes distinguishing at all times between military and civilian objects.. I repeat my call for all parties to ensure strict adherence to international law including by ensuring the protection of civilians from the effects of hostilities and to allow unhindered access by humanitarian agencies to provide badly needed aid’.

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