News and Announcement

Talk on Taliban's war on schools

Friday, August 30, 2013

On 30 August 2013, UMT School of Law and Policy [SLP] hosted a talk, titled "Taliban's war on schools in KPK and FATA," by Rehman Azhar [LL.M. (Fordham); Advocate, High Court; Broadcast Journalist]. The participants included law professors, lawyers, police officers, and alumni of Harvard Law School.

Mr. Azhar discussed the issue of Taliban attacks on schools based on his experience covering the Swat operation in 2009 and 2010 and his subsequent academic research on the topic. He elaborated on the issue of why schools are targeted, what laws are applicable to this problem, and the extent to which such laws have been complied with.

The speaker offered some background regarding the relevance of this problem, and highlighted the divisions among the Taliban, their reasons for attacking schools, and data about the number of people affected. He stressed the psychological impact on the inhabitants of KPK and FATA due to this kind of attacks.

In terms of the applicable laws, Mr. Azhar mentioned several international commitments and constitutional provisions that establish a right to education in Pakistan, and child protection during armed conflict. He also provided an overview of international humanitarian law, according to which schools can be attacked if they qualify as a military objective, as long as those attacks are not indiscriminate or disproportional. In addition, international criminal law is an important dimension, since some scholars argue that non-signatories to the Rome Statute can be held accountable of war crimes because such norms have obtained the status of international custom, and are thus binding for all states. The speaker also mentioned other scholarly opinions and previous cases that were heard by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, to argue that non-state actors can be held responsible for these violations and that attacks on schools constitute war crimes.

It was further ascertained that some UN bodies have also worked on this issue, but Pakistan is not being monitored by the UN Monitoring and Report Mechanism, since such protocol is limited to cases of child soldiers, and UN offices have not considered that the situation in Pakistan is as dire as to amount to armed conflict.

The speaker further examined the position that the Pakistani government has taken, dealing with the Taliban's war on schools as an internal law and order problem, despite the prominence of the international dimension. This approach entails that Taliban fighters do not have to be treated as prisoners of war, and the Geneva conventions do not apply.

Eventually the speaker moved to evaluate the Pakistani government's response and presented recommendations for the future. He found that the government has failed to provide adequate security, and courts have been similarly apathetic. In order to address this problem, the speaker provided several suggestions, namely, accurately determining the situation in KPK and FATA, classifying attacks on schools as a specific crime, ensuring that Taliban respect schools, giving preeminence to reconstruction of girls' schools, establishing rapid response and recovery mechanisms, setting up substitute places for education, and protecting schools at the community level.

A discussion ensued, and Salman Choudhry [LL.M. (Hamburg); Deputy Inspector General, Punjab Police], clarified the position of the government in this thorny issue to contribute to the vibrant debate.

In the end, Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad [LL.M. (Harvard); Advocate, High Court; Founding Director and Associate Professor, SLP] thanked Mr. Azhar for sharing his views and experiences on this issue of national interest.

Professor Asad speaks at Heidelberg University, Germany  Professor Asad speaks at Heidelberg University, Germany 

Professor Asad speaks at Heidelberg University, Germany  Professor Asad speaks at Heidelberg University, Germany 

Professor Asad speaks at Heidelberg University, Germany  Professor Asad speaks at Heidelberg University, Germany 

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