Universities must be protected from attack

The European University Association (EUA) invited all European universities to observe a minute’s silence on Monday 27 April, in remembrance of all those killed in and affected by the heinous attack on Garissa. EUA also reminds us of the many attacks that have been launched on other universities and on university values around the world. The Board of the Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions observed the minute’s silence here in The Hague, where we currently visit to engage in discussions with representatives of VSNU, our sister institution in The Netherlands.

The terrorist attack on the Garissa University College killed 147 students and left many people wounded. EUA is right in pointing out that even though the events in Garissa were particularly gruesome, the attack that occurred on 2 April is just one of many acts of violence that have targeted educational institutions.

Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) has collected evidence from 2005 until today about how schools and universities are being used by military forces in warfare. The situation is discouraging and individual stories are heartbreaking. In at least 28 countries, schools and universities are occupied by military forces.

This has severe consequences for hundreds of thousands of pupils and students worldwide. Schools are closed, pupils are abducted, lives are put in danger, and girls are kept home from school for fear of abuse from male soldiers.

One of many stories goes back to 2011, when Yemeni forces conquered The Superior Institute of Health Science, an institute for the training of pharmacists and assistants in Yemen. According to GCPEA the forces set up an armored car with machine guns outside the building, entered classrooms and patrolled the school roof. They shot from the building, also during lessons. On 17 October, a 60 year old father was shot at the entrance to the department when he was about to register his son for studies. How is it to live, study and teach under such circumstances?

Against this rather somber backdrop I am pleased that Norwegian authorities have taken responsibility for implementing Lucens guidelines (pdf), international guidelines to protect schools and universities from military use. In fact, last summer our Minister of foreign affairs announced that the government will take a lead in promoting these guidelines internationally.

We look forward to learning how the government plans to carry out this work.

Protection of schools and universities in warfare can be compared with the protection of hospitals and clinics. Schools and universities are places where refugees seek shelter and places where pupils and students should feel safe to acquire knowledge in peace – for the betterment of society.

As representatives of academic institutions we should support the steps that are taken to implement the Lucens guidelines, and we may also contribute by taking part in international networks that seek to protect researchers or students that are put in danger. All Norwegian universities and many colleges are part of Scholars at Risk, a network that promotes academic freedom and protects researchers and scholars who are deprived of this freedom. The network has created a portal for reporting attacks on scientists. Scholars at Risk helps individual researchers who need to carry out their work in exile for a period of time.

Upholding and safeguarding the freedom and safety of universities, scholars and students must be seen as tasks of utmost importance.  Collective action is needed.

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I have written about this issue (in Norwegian) in Dagsavisen:   "Utdanning under angrep"

Links:

Av Ole Petter Ottersen
Publisert 27. apr. 2015 23:37 - Sist endret 19. juni 2017 14:54
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