Date of release: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Steven HainesInternational guidelines to protect schools during war, drawn up by a University of Greenwich academic, have been endorsed by more than sixty countries.

Steven Haines, the university's Professor of Public International Law, is the author of International Guidelines for Protecting Schools From Military Use during Armed Conflict, launched three years ago.

Professor Haines was present in Buenos Aires at the Second Safe Schools Conference recently hosted by the Foreign Minister of Argentina, when the Belgian Ambassador announced that his country would become the 62nd state to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration.

The guidelines state that government armed forces and non-state armed groups should refrain from using education facilities for military purposes, and should take special care when attacking schools that are being used by opposing forces for military purposes.

A member of the university's School of Law, Professor Haines is a specialist in international security and international humanitarian law. He served for over thirty years in the British Armed Forces, including in the Balkans and Sierra Leone, and on the Central Policy Staff in the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall.

His guidelines represented the culmination of more than two years of extensive consultations with governments, militaries, UN agencies and civil society.

Professor Haines says: "Schools are frequently damaged or destroyed completely during armed conflict. This fundamentally undermines the ability of conflict-torn societies to recover from the horrors of war.

"In Liberia, for example, more than a decade after its civil war, in which 90 per cent of schools were affected, the system of education remains severely damaged. This continues to have a devastating impact on that country.

"Today, in Syria, the problem of protecting schools is immense. It will take decades for education to recover. It is vital that schools be protected from conflict and that armed forces do their best to protect them in order to assist recovery after conflict." 

Supported by the United Nations (UNICEF, the UNHCR and UNESCO), the guidelines are well on the way to becoming the benchmark guidance for military interaction with education in conflict zones.

They have featured in debates within the UN Security Council in New York, and been welcomed by, among others, Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, Leila Zerrougui, the UN Special Representative for Children in Armed Conflict, and Gordon Brown, former British Prime Minister and UN Special Envoy for Global Education.

The guidelines are being used in Syria today, and the Nigerian Government is using them to change its policy in Northern Nigeria in the wake of the Boko Haram kidnapping of over two hundred schoolgirls.

Professor Haines adds: "I am extremely heartened by the global support for the guidelines that I, and colleagues within the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), have produced.

"The fact that over sixty states have now formally endorsed them is a remarkable achievement for an initiative that formed only three years ago within civil society. As an academic and an international lawyer, it is enormously satisfying to know that I have been able to use my knowledge and expertise to work on a project that is absolutely vital for the future of children caught up in conflict."

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Story by Public Relations

Picture: Professor Steven Haines.