Date of release: Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Professor Steven HainesInternational Guidelines to protect schools from military use and attack, drawn up by a University of Greenwich academic, were unveiled at a meeting of states in the UN Headquarters in Geneva on Tuesday 16 December.

Professor Steven Haines, the university’s Chair of Public International Law, drafted the new Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. Following debates in the UN Security Council in March and September, during which states expressed support for the draft Guidelines, the final version was arrived at and unveiled at the meeting in Geneva hosted by the Norwegian and Argentine ambassadors. 

They 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.

The finalisation of the Guidelines represents the culmination of more than two years of extensive consultations with governments, militaries, UN agencies and civil society to develop guidance to keep armed parties out of schools and universities.

Professor Haines, from the university’s School of Law, says: “On a day when the brutal murder of over 130 school children in Pakistan was dominating news feeds around the world, it required no detailed explanation from me during the meeting in Geneva as to why the Guidelines are required. 

“Far too many children are either killed or have their lives ruined as a result of armed conflict all around the world. The Guidelines will not stop this tragic aspect of modern warfare entirely but we all hope that they will be applied by responsible states and armed non-state actors, and begin a process that will lead to greater protection for education, for children and for staff running schools and universities.

“There is widespread and growing support for the Guidelines. I and my colleagues in the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack are very encouraged by the support expressed by states and by the International Committee of the Red Cross on Tuesday.”

A specialist in the law governing international security and military operations, Professor Haines was an officer in the British Armed Forces for over thirty years, during which time he served in both conflict zones and on the Central Policy Staff in the Ministry of Defence.

A member of the university’s Faculty of Architecture, Computing & Humanities, his academic interests include the use of force and the conduct of military and security operations. He has also worked as an academic international lawyer for the Geneva Centre for Security Policy and as an adjunct member of the faculty at the Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. 

Diya Nijhowne, Director of the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), says of the Guidelines: “They provide a practical tool for preventing schools from becoming part of the front lines during war. By promoting responsible practice by commanders and their troops to preserve schools for learning, theycan help minimise the devastating impact of armed conflict on students.”

Attracted by their often central location, solid structure, and other facilities such as kitchens and lavatories, fighting forces have used schools and universities for military purposes such as bases, firing positions, armories, and detention centres in conflicts in at least 25 countries over the past decade.

Under international humanitarian law, the military use of schools and universities can compromise their civilian status, transforming places of learning into lawful military targets, potentially placing students and staff on site directly in the line of fire from opposing forces.

Also announced in Geneva was an endorsement ceremony for the Guidelines, planned for mid-2015 in Norway, and the intention to prepare a Declaration on Safe Schools, to be adopted at that 2015 ceremony.

“The release of the Guidelines and announcement of the endorsement ceremony are significant milestones in the journey to improve the safety of schools, including in the midst of war,” Diya Nijhowne adds. “Over the next six months, states and non-state armed parties alike should prepare to endorse and implement the Guidelines to keep soldiers out of schools, and schools off the battlefield.”

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Story by Public Relations