Education and Non State Actors: Towards a Comprehensive Agenda

About the author(s):

Katharine Fortin is an Associate Professor at Utrecht University where she teaches IHL and IHRL. Before joining Utrecht University, she worked at the ICTY, ICC and Norton Rose Fulbright. She is the author of The Accountability of Armed Groups under Human Rights Law (Oxford University Press, 2017) which won the 2018 Lieber Prize. She has written widely about the framework of law that applies to armed groups in non-international armed conflicts and is one of the editors of the Armed Groups and International Law blog.

Pages from EAA1949-20150922A thought-provoking report was published last week by Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC) on ‘Education and Armed Non State Actors: Towards a Comprehensive Agenda’. The report, written by Jonathan Somer at Persona Grata Consulting (formerly from Geneva Call), addresses education and non State actors. It was written for a Workshop on Education and Armed Non-State Actors organized by PEIC and Geneva Call in June 2015.

Somewhat uniquely, the report deals not only with the manner in which armed groups may attack schools or use them for military purposes, it also deals with the provision of educational services by armed groups. This latter issue has up until now been given relatively little attention by researchers and poses particularly difficult questions for policy makers.

Structure of the report

The first section of the report surveys ‘what ANSAs do’ in terms of practice. Its focus is on three aspects (i) provision of education (ii) attacks on education and (iii) the military use of schools and universities.

The section on the provision of education is by far the longest, and contains the most interesting and groundbreaking research. Acknowledging that the data on the role of ANSAs in the provision of education is sketchy, the report highlights key instances in which ANSAs have provided primary, secondary or higher education around the world. It also highlights instances in which ANSA in control of territory have cooperated with the existing government to provide educational services in the territory under their control.

The section ends by providing some comments on the quality of education provided by ANSAs and the challenges they encounter in its provision. It also cites instances in which aid and donor agencies have been prepared to work with ANSAs in their efforts to provide education or protect child rights. Importantly, the report also considers the impact of ANSA education on a country’s transition out of armed conflict to a state of peace.

The report then continues by shortly considering the negative aspects of ‘what ANSAs do’. In particular, it focuses on attacks on education and military use of schools and universities.  It highlights that research shows that ANSAs are generally more prone to make attacks on educational establishments than states. Conversely, it shows that States have been more often implicated in the use of schools for military purposes than ANSAs.

The second section of the report surveys ‘what ANSAs say they will do’ in terms of doctrine. In doing so, it provides examples of pledges, laws, statements, commitments by armed groups on (i) the provision and facilitation of education by armed groups (ii) the protection of schools and (iii) the military use of schools and universities.

The third section of the report looks at the normative framework of IHL and IHRL considering ‘what ANSA are obliged to do’. This section points out that the legal framework protecting schools from attack is relatively straightforward and stems from international humanitarian law rules and principles. It shows that the legal framework prohibiting schools from military use is less straightforward, as there is no absolute international law prohibition against using schools and universities for military purposes.  The report points out that the legal framework pertaining to this issue would be more restrictive if it is accepted that ANSAs are bound by the IHRL obligations to protect and fulfil the right to education. Clarity on this issue would also assist in clarifying the scope of ANSAs duties to ensure education.

The final substantive section of the report looks at the international norms and policy provisions relative to the engagement of ANSA in general, and in the area of education in particular. It also look conducts a preliminary survey of international response in practice. In doing so, the author of the report utilises anonymous interviews with people working in humanitarian agencies to illustrate some of the difficulties agencies face on these issues.

Discussion framework

The report ends by identifying key areas for discussion that are distilled into three major questions followed by further sub-questions:

  1. To what extent should ANSAs be engaged with and supported in their efforts to ensure and regulate education?
  2. How can the response be improved?
  3. How should international actors approach education an ANSA issues in peace and transition processes?

The report is too dense and too richly written for me to summarise further in a blog post, but it is a rare piece of writing about the provision of public services by armed groups in territory under their control. This is a topic that is too rarely acknowledged in writing relating to armed groups but which certainly deserves more attention by  lawyers and policy makers.

In paying attention to these issues, the report is extremely thorough at looking at the issue from every angle and from the perspective of every actor. Ultimately, it exposes the tensions that humanitarian agencies face when trying to secure the needs of those on the ground without reinforcing the government capacities of the armed group or reinforcing the breakdown of the State.

One of the stated purposes of the report was to ‘initiate a dialogue among policy makers, practitioners and researchers … in the pursuit of universal access to quality education for all – even for those who find themselves under the control or influence of ANSAs’. There is very little doubt in my mind that this report must have prompted interesting discussion at the workshop in June on this issue. Hopefully the report of the workshop will be coming out soon, and when it does, we will post it here.

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