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Taking Armed Conflict Out of the Classroom: International and Domestic Legal Protections for Students When Combatants Use Schools

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Schools around the world are being used for military purposes by State security forces and non-state armed groups. A review of conflicts in 23 countries since 2006 reveals that military use of schools often disrupts, or altogether halts, children’s education and places students and schools at increased risk of abuse and attack. While international humanitarian law does not prohibit the military use of schools, failing to evacuate students from partially occupied schools, which have become military objectives subject to attack, may violate humanitarian law. Moreover, where military use impedes education, States may also violate international human rights obligations to ensure the right to education. Despite these negative consequences and the international legal framework restricting this practice, few States have enacted national prohibitions or restrictions to regulate the military use of schools explicitly. However, the experiences of countries heavily affected by conflict – Colombia, India, and the Philippines – indicate that States can counter opposition armed groups while completely prohibiting the military use of schools. This article argues that States should adopt and implement national legislation and military laws that restrict the military use of schools to better comply with their existing international obligations to protect schoolchildren and ensure the right to education.

Affiliations: 1: Children’s Rights Division of Human Rights Watch, sheppab@hrw.org

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