Episode 61: Minogue and Haines: Education in Conflict Zones

More than 110 states have now signed the Safe Schools Declaration about protecting educational establishments, students and teachers in war zones.

Orlaith Minogue from Save the Children and Professor Steven Haines from Greenwich University talk to Peter Roberts about what this means for operators, commanders and political leaders.

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  • Peter Roberts: Welcome to the Western Way of War, the weekly podcast that tries to understand the issues around how to fight and succeed against adversaries in the 2020s. I'm Peter Roberts, Director of Military Sciences at the Royal United Services Institute on (mw 00.18). Every week, I'll talk to guests about the issues around the western way of war, national security and the western approach to war. As a core theme of the episodes we've recorded over the past, what, fifteen months now, many guests have expressed a view that how the west use civilians in conflict is a defining feature of how they fight. I suspect if pressed, those same guests would say that they believed that the best conflict prevention investment would be the education of children in conflict zones. 9th September is the United Nations day of the safe schools declaration. The declaration describes the immediate and long-term consequences of attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities and the military use of schools and universities during times of armed conflict. It contrasts this with the positive and protective role that education can have during armed conflict. By joining a declaration, states are required to sign up and formally endorse the guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict.


    And commit to, quote, 'Bring them into domestic policy and operational frameworks, as far as possible and appropriate'. Whether military planners and personnel are aware of this initiative, indeed, whether their respective countries are signatories to the agreement would be interesting to know. But in any case, I wanted to bring the initiative to the attention of listeners. Aside from the moral and ethical elements to this, there is both a non-government organisation set of activities that includes both the lobbying of political leaders on action and a legal set of obligations perhaps. But there is also an operational and tactical element, how do the policy implications of signing up to the declaration, actually get into the deployment order? How do they meet with task deconfliction and what specific training preparations are needed? Indeed, how will policymakers set this as a priority for deployed units against, sometimes, what? Conflicting tasking? Whilst those questions are vital for understanding by military personnel and policymakers, we might not quite get to them today. Today the aim is understanding the declaration and to that end I've invited two guests onto the show. Orlaith Minogue is the senior conflict and humanitarian advocacy advisor at Save the Children UK with a focus on the protection of education in conflict and the humanitarian crises in Syria.


    Orlaith has a decade of experience working on human rights and humanitarian issues within multiple context. Stephen Haines is my other guest, he's currently Professor of International Law at Greenwich University. Having previously served for over 30 years in the Royal Navy. Since 2012 he has acted as legal and military advisor to the global coalition to protect education from active and an active trustee for the NGO Human Rights C. Since 2018, he has been Chair of Save the Children International Civ-Mil Engagement Advisory Board. Given that we're recording this in just the middle of August and the fall of Afghanistan to the Taliban has just occurred, putting confusion into what happened to those schools and educational establishments that so many worked so hard to put in place. We've also had almost continual reports of schools and children being caught in the centre of conflict, from Yemen to Syria, Iraq to the Congo, Mali to Nigeria, across five, six years now. So, let's cut right to the chase. Orlaith, where does the world stand on education in conflict zones right now?


    Orlaith Minogue: Thanks Peter, well you started to mention some of the numbers and countries where we see attacks on education in conflict as a major issue. But it's worth noting that this really is world wide. Attacks on education, so I'm talking here about the threat or use of force for ideological, political or military reasons. Against students, educators, or educational institutions. So, schools, universities, etc. They are just happening worldwide in every region of the world. So, from between 2015 and 2019, a time period that is covered in research undertaken by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack. We had data that tells us that there were more than 11,000 attacks worldwide on schools and students harming more than 22,000 students and educators. It's happening year-on-year and in conflicts that have many different kinds of backgrounds and sources and makeup. But it seems to be sadly really a consistent feature. So, what does that mean? Attacks on education have very obviously an immediate effect on the children themselves that are attending school. So, attacks can result in death and injury, also psychological trauma and then zooming up from that, of course, we have issues of children and their families becoming very concerned about the safety at school. So, it can result in a decline in school attendance, it can result in teacher flight out of an area.


    Or, even out of a country in certain circumstances. Then over the longer term, it leads to economic and social issues around development. We obviously are putting a huge amount of humanitarian and development funding into education in a number of countries worldwide. We see big rollbacks on that where there are any attacks on those education facilities. So, not a pretty picture on that front. However, over the past number of years, we have seen great strides in international recognition and awareness of this issue and an effort to tackle it. So, you also mentioned the safe schools declaration, that is a voluntary international political commitment that is over six years old now. We have 111 governments worldwide that have signed up to that. That is really resulting in action at a community, regional, national and global level, to see how we can share best practice on preventing attacks on education and reducing the impact of those attacks when they occur. Maybe to add onto that as well, to say aside from the physical declaration itself where it's really part of the discussion around the declaration, we have very high-level recognition of this as an issue at all levels of the UN, from a number of countries. You mentioned yourself that September 9th is going to be the international day to protect education from attack and in October, we will have the fourth international safe schools conference to be held both virtually and in Abuja Nigeria. So, there's a lot of movement on it, but the problem remains persistent and really something that needs a huge amount of energy and attention.


    Peter Roberts: So, that feels really quite positive, the problem is massive. I think we'd all acknowledge that, a very western approach to it is the education is where you've got to educate yourself out of this conflict. I think most people understand that, but whilst that's positive, I wonder about how seriously we think it's being taken. Because a number of sectors can just sign up for the declaration and forget it. Stephen can update me in a second, but I don't think the US has signed up to this at all. So, Stephen, what about the UK in all this? Not just in terms of signing up to agreements, but practical steps? Do you think it's being taken seriously in government?


    Stephen Haines: Yes, I do Peter. I think it is taken seriously. It obviously depends to a very large extent on what country, what government you're talking about. Of course, very, very important part of the conflict environment these days is to do with non-state actors. So, let me just add straight away that although its states that formerly sign up to the Safe Schools Declaration, there is also a facility through which armed non-state actors can also signal their intent to comply with the guidelines that are contained within the declaration. And indeed Geneva Call, which is the Geneva-based NGO that deals with armed non-state actors and tries to persuade to comply with international humanitarian law, they've been very, very much involved. And they were involved with me in the drafting of the guidelines years ago. So, it's also our non-state actors, but of course you're not going to get all armed non-state actors or indeed all states to be sympathetic to the approach. I I mean, if I pick out, for example, in Nigeria where we're about to have the fourth state school's conference, the Boko Haran in Nigeria are unlikely to be endorsing safe schools declaration any time soon because they have a particular view of education, which is not consistent with what we are trying to achieve in that context.


    So, the Safe Schools Declaration and the guidelines contained within it, are drafted when we put them together almost a decade ago now. We were very conscious that we needed a practical set of guidelines that were not likely to put people off, that were likely to achieve a widespread endorsement by responsible states. And would be effective and I think that is certainly the case. Now, you mentioned that the United States has not signed up to the Safe Schools Declaration, that's absolutely true. But as an international lawyer, of course I'm very familiar with the United States not signing up to things. But then nevertheless complying with the spirit and the provisions of certain conventions and treaties and so on, nevertheless they are reasonably law-abiding. Whenever I've spoken to the United States about the guidelines and the Safe Schools Declaration, they've been very sympathetic to them. (TC 00:10:00) I believe that they're applying them as much as any other respectable, say, NATO member state is doing so. On the UK front, the UK was cautious. When we've taken the Safe Schools Declaration and guidelines to states and asked them to endorse, we've usually found that-, and this is not a criticism, it's an observation. We've usually found foreign ministries very keen on them and Ministry's of Defence less keen because they're a bit suspicious.


    They see them as a bit of a constraint on their normal military activities. But once they're explained to them and what the thinking behind the guidelines is, they do tend to sign up. It took two or three years, I have to say, for the United Kingdom to come around to endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration. But I'm delighted to say that they were endorsed two or three years ago by Boris Johnson when he was foreign secretary in the margins of the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London. Generally speaking, they are being complied with, they're being actioned and they are being used. They are guidelines, they're not legally binding in and of themselves. But the guidelines I believe are being basically used as a guide to the way that people should behave, military commanders should behave in conflict zones. I can say a little bit about that more if you want me to.


    Peter Roberts: I was going to come back to Orlaith and say what is the practical part of this? Getting status on something is always wonderful and nice, but I think many of us think that they'll sign up to anything providing it makes them look good. What are they practically required to do, apart to sign up to something? Stephen said it's guidelines, but what sort of things do they have to do as a result of them, or what are the things the guidelines contain?


    Orlaith Minogue: Well, I'll let Stephen come in on the guidelines because as author of them, I think it would be very cheeky of me to speak over him. But what I will speak to maybe more broadly, is the guidelines is a key commitment with the Safe Schools Declaration, but there are other things that are mentioned. So, issues such as collecting data on attacks on education and disaggregating that by gender and ability, so we really have a clear picture of where this is happening and what is happening. Speaking out and raising awareness about attacks on education and using international forum to call for accountability when those attacks do occur. There are other issues such as implementing the guidelines but really the commitments more broadly, international legislation policy and practice, and this is what I want to pick up on before we go into the details on the guidelines themselves. Stephen has mentioned this, but we've really gone to states to say, 'This is a key issue. There are a lot of problems here and we know there is a lot of work to do to thinking collectively about how we really tackle this issue.' The Safe Schools Declaration and the community that we create off the back of that with endorsing states is a positive opportunity for states to have those conversations, to come together and even have those pure conversations on what's good practice, what are those challenges?


    What has worked, what hasn't? That's really the approach that we have, and within that we say there is a huge amount that states can do to bring these to life. Within the declaration themselves, we talk about incorporating them into national legislation policy and practice, what does that mean? It has meant really different things in different counties and that's good. That's what we want to see, a contextually specific approach. So, for countries that are themselves affected by attacks on education, so for example in Ukraine, in Mali, in Nigeria. We've seen action amongst government representatives and civil society actors at capital level. To bring together groups of people who know what's going on across education provision in their country who have access to communities, to help them upskill in how to protect themselves. In how to advocate on their own behalf to government about attacks that are happening in developing legislation, etc. So, Ukraine for example has just announced an action plan, a cross-government action plan in tackling attacks on education. What are the steps that they'll take to report on it, how it will be built into broader decision making around military action, around foreign development, foreign affairs discussions in this space. So, it looks really different in different places.


    Then we also have non affected countries, for example the UK or Norway or Spain and there are different steps that they can take. So, Spain earlier this year organised a training for twenty conflict-affected countries, for government representatives to really kick off part of this discussion about what have we learned so for over the last few years on implementation and what more can we be doing. It was a discussion there around examples of legislation, examples of military training programmes, peer to peer training across foreign affairs, education departments and military departments. So, it really cross-cuts various government departments, so it's a complex picture of what can be done, and it looks really different in different places. But we're really happy at the pace at which we see certain countries taking this up. And it's not limited to the ones that you might think. I think we can really bring in unexpected actors to be really stepping up in this space. The government of Italy is really keen to do more and north Africa, how do they have that discussion with countries there around the peer network on developing responses to attacks on education? So, there's a huge amount that can be done and we're seeing a huge amount, but it's an issue that requires that level of response. The guidelines themselves are very specific, and so I'll let Stephen pick up on those.


    Stephen Haines: Thanks, Orlaith. Let me give you a practical example, Peter, of where the guidelines are influential. A few years ago, one of our Save the Children colleagues and myself, we visited West Africa. When I was in Liberia, Monrovia, etc., one of the things that I said to my colleague was I was going to look at schools from a military commander's perspective. I'm the military commander and I'm wanting somewhere to base my headquarters, to accommodate some of my units, and I need this because I've got a humanitarian mission. I'm not fighting a war against the country concerned, I'm trying to provide humanitarian assistance. It's a humanitarian intervention, so it's ticking the right sorts of boxes generally speaking. But there's still a conflict going on, and clearly there is the risk that my force would be targeted and so on and so forth. I look around and I visited one particular school and it was an absolutely ideal setup. An absolutely ideal institution for use as a military headquarters. It had big rooms, it had got the grounds where we could park vehicles. There were lecture theatres, there was accommodation, there were bathroom facilities. It was absolutely perfect, and if I was a military commander, I would think very, very seriously indeed about using that abandoned school for my force and to use it as a headquarters.


    One of the main purposes of the guidelines is to persuade military commanders not to actually use schools in that way. It's a perfectly legitimate thing for them to do under IHL, an abandoned school, it's a potential candidate for use for those sorts of purposes. But one of the risks is as soon as the military force tends to use a school as a base, as a headquarters, as somewhere to store gear, it becomes a legitimate military objective. So, it can be attacked quite lawfully by those who are still engaged in the conflict. One of our other colleagues from Human Rights Watch, Bea (ph 17.43) Shephard, in the early days of the Safe Schools Declaration development, realised that a lot of schools were being targeted not because the people targeting them wanted to target schools, they were targeting the schools because they were being used by the military for very sensible, practical purposes. So, one of the reasons behind the guidelines is to persuade military commanders, if they're operating in those sorts of circumstances, to avoid, if at all possible, even if it would be very convenient, to avoid if possible the use of a school. Because that immediately turns it into a legitimate target for the opposition to use and to target. So, the use of schools by the military, the guidelines don't ban the use of schools.


    And I'll give you a couple of examples of the use of schools that I came across myself when I was still a serving military office in Kosovo. We were using the university in Pristina as a location for training Kosovo liberation people and turning them into Kosovo protection force people. So, NATO was actually using the University of Pristina for that purpose. And in Sierra Leone when I was there, UNAMSIL was using a deserted and abandoned school as a reception base for disarming and reintegrating child soldiers. Now, there can't be anything fundamentally wrong with using an abandoned school for that purpose. So, we didn't want to ban altogether the use of schools by military forces. But we wanted commanders in theatre, when they were deploying, when they were making decisions about where they should base themselves and how they should use the facilities that were available, we wanted them to think very, very seriously indeed before they chose a school as a convenient location for their purposes. The guidelines have been written with that pragmatic solution in place and this was one of the pragmatic elements of the guidelines that once they're explained to sensible military commanders, they say, 'Yes, that makes sense. We like that idea. You're not banning us from using schools, in extremists we may do so, but we need to think very carefully about doing so before we do.'


    There may be serious downstream consequences. And I mentioned Liberia when we were visiting Liberia four or five years ago. (TC 00:20:00) It was almost decades since the Liberian civil war. 90% of Liberian schools and education facilities have been affected by the conflict. Ten years after that conflict ended, they were still showing the results of damage. So, it's a long-term process and of course as we were out there, the Ebola epidemic was beginning to start, and of course, Liberia was suffering because it didn't have sufficient trained nurses and doctors and so on because they hadn't been able to train them themselves in Liberia itself. That's how fundamental education is.


    Peter Roberts: Hugely comprehensive. I'm just now pondering in my mind, the demands on a unit that goes out to theatre, it makes the decisions. Hopefully there is spec about it, enough capacity for the commander to go, 'Yes, I'm not going to use a school. I'm not going to use a church. I'm going to try and find a town hall or I'm going to put it in tents or whatever it is and stay away from it.' But I did just wonder, they are guidelines, right? So, what are the consequences for a commender who goes, 'Yes, I can't do that, I'm putting it in a school.' What are the consequences for that? Or are they at government level or is it individual? Are they held to account?


    Stephen Haines: As a military person Peter, you and I both-, admittedly not in the Army but in the Navy, we're very familiar with things like rules of engagement. We're very familiar with the way that operational instructions and so on are promulgated. Now, obviously every country is different, if you ask how it's done in NATO then you get a pretty standard answer that you and I would be familiar with. If you go to a number of other countries, they do things in different ways. My message to militaries whose states are endorsing the guidelines is to use whatever is the most appropriate method of promulgating the guidelines and checking that they're being complied with. A very obvious answer of course is to take the decision to use the school as a military base away from the tactical commander on the ground at the location. Make it a higher-level decision. But incorporated in military orders, incorporated in rules of engagement if possible, that's only one way of doing it. So, the consequences of breaching the guidelines, if you want to put it that way, is more to do with the military discipline of the armed forces concerned, than it is with the legally binding nature of the guidelines because they are literally guidelines. And it's actually, I think, one of the great benefits of the soft law guidelines status of the Safe Schools Declaration and the guidelines that actually states have been willing to sign up. If you'd asked me just a few years ago if we'd have over 100 states endorsing the guidelines and the Safe Schools Declaration, I would've been-, well, I'd have been a very happy man. Here we are, we've got 111 states signed up and a number of others seemingly complying with them. They are rapidly becoming recognised as a sensible way forward and a sensible framework for military decision-making at the tactical level.


    Peter Roberts: So, I get everyone is signing up to it, and I don't know because I've not had the discussions, I'd be interested to know has that percolated down yet? Through PME, through instructions, through OP orders, to individual units? I don't know if they're aware. And I'd be interested to know, and, again, it's one thing having-, you know (ph 23.13), China, Russian, Iran, North Korea, you wonder if they've signed up. Again, does it trickle down? Would it trickle down through theirs even if they did it in a normative customer way? But the progress on this is incredible. So, I guess my question to Orlaith is, so what next? I mean, you've made this incredible shift forward, you've had a real progress, but there's got to be opportunities, there has got to be something next that you're aiming for, right?


    Orlaith Minogue: Yes, so we've spoken a bit there about endorsement and reaching this really impressive figure of 111 states so far, which of course means that there are many states more to go. Those particular ones just mentioned by you there are not in fact endorsees. So, we're conscious, while we have more endorsements to secure, and I think that'll be really important, what's key in the upcoming period is implementation. We've mentioned some successes but we really are at an early stage of seeing the benefits of this coordinated effort, bed into communities. Really make a difference in that data that I mentioned at the start. The numbers are still far, far too high. Every attack on a school, every attack on a student can be life-changing. So, we want to really see those numbers come down, so that is our focus. Really wanting to ensure that we have a sustainable approach to this. We have a lot of conversations at the international level and Stephen and I and many others are involved in those. But one thing I'm really happy to see and be witness to is a building of communities in affected countries across Africa, Latin America, Asia, in capitals, in affected countries that can really speak to community responses to this, can really work with communities to articulate what they want to see from their own governments, vis a vis protection of education in conflict. So, I think that really is the way forward as we start to see legislative change, policy change and practical change on the ground in those countries. It won't happen overnight and it takes a lot of effort, energy, funding, and we must maintain an eye to accountability and consequences as well at the same time. But I think that's where the conversation is going and I'm very happy to be part of that. It'll be a long journey ahead I think.


    Peter Roberts: Just to finish up, one imagines that this is a central Asian, African problem, but I imagine it's not. I imagine it's far more widely spread, isn't it?


    Orlaith Minogue: Yes, absolutely. I think that's a common assumption, people have countries in their mind and they think, 'Oh, it's definitely those ones.' But it's broader than you might think, so I mentioned some large figures at the start. The 11,000 attacks affecting 22,000 students and educators and that was over a five year period. That data comes from the global coalition to protect education from attack and they have researchers working to analyse reports of attacks on education, worldwide and really it's an excellent resource. They're going to have a new report coming out next spring, which will look at trends on this topic, over 2020 ad 2021. So, a two year period, so that's being updated as we speak and we still see from that initial data that's coming in that it's in a number of countries around the world. The most recent report released last year, indicated that 38 countries had had more than ten attacks over the previous two years. Some of these attacks of course are affecting a huge number of students and educators and having massive impact on the education system in a country. So, yes, really a global problem that requires a global response.


    Peter Roberts: So, I guess my final question goes to Stephen on this, which is it's an easy sell in many ways, this, when you talk about students. But a lot of this must actually be about the teachers, right? Because if you drive teachers away then what you can do with students is a problem. Educators, teachers, whatever we call them, they form a core part of this whole complex dynamic, right?


    Stephen Haines: Yes, of course they do, Peter, and of course, it's teachers that would come under pressure. I mean, I mentioned a military commander quite rationally thinking of using an abandoned school. But of course, we also have to say that quite a lot of schools are not abandoned when they're used by the military. Of course, that's a particularly excruciating problem because if you're putting military forces into a school that's also still being used to teach children, it's legitimate to target it if you're the opposition and you are seeing a definite military advantage to attacking that school. But of course it really puts the school children and of course the teaching staff and everybody else at severe risk. Of course, teachers can be put under pressure, if you're in a conflict zone, if there's a non-international armed conflict. There are different factions fighting for control, teachers are in very vulnerable positions just as their students are. For teachers to be put under pressure to allow a school building to be used for military purpose is clearly a problem. We want students and teachers to get very deeply involved in the process of spreading the buzz on this. Some of the best people I've come across in advocating these guidelines, I have to say, are the school children themselves. I've come across groups of school children in all sorts of places who've taken these Safe Schools Declaration and the guidelines very much to heart.


    They really, really do. I had a really quite moving experience in Tokyo with a bunch of Japanese school children, all of whom incidentally spoke fluent English and were able to communicate with me very, very efficiently. Taking a petition to the parliamentarians in Tokyo, trying to persuade the Japanese government to sign up to the Safe Schools Declaration. There's a school children network around the world that works on this as well, which is very, very encouraging and I'm delighted to see that. But it's a long haul, it's going to take a very long time before people like Orlaith and myself will be able to say this has worked and we can very definitely say that there has been massive progress. Getting states to sign up is one thing, every two years we have the Safe Schools Conference. Every two years GSP produces its report, we need to continue to put the pressure on. We need to continue to ask states to report on how they're implementing the guidelines and what they're doing to make matters better. It requires constant pressure, it's not going to stop anytime soon.


    Peter Roberts: Thank you very much indeed, both of you. It's a really, really important topic and I'm so pleased we could cover it. I hope we're going to come back to it. At the start of this episode, I signposted an event to listeners that we're running on 9th September on this topic with some great speakers. And you can register for that event at RUSI.org/events. While you're there, do consider signing up for RUSI membership or for the RUSI Military Sciences newsletter where you can keep abreast of our research outputs and forthcoming events. This show is produced by Peppi Vaananen and Kieron Yates and is sponsored by the good people at Raytheon UK. Thanks for listening.


    KEY: Unable to decipher = (inaudible + timecode), Phonetic spelling (ph) + timecode), Missed word = (mw + timecode), Talking over each other = (talking over each other + timecode). 

Western Way of War Podcast Series

A collection of discussions with those in the Profession of Arms that tries to understand the issues around how to fight, and succeed, against adversaries in the 2020s. We pose the questions as whether a single Western Way of Warfare (how Western militaries fight) has been successful, whether it remains fit for task today, and how it might need to adapt in the future? It is complemented by the ‘Adversarial Studies’ project that looks at how adversaries fight.


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