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UN expert calls for end to impunity for attacks on educators

15 August 2008

The Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education of the Human Rights Council, Vernor Muñoz Villalobos, released the following statement today in Geneva, on the Taliban attack that killed four aid workers supporting education in Afghanistan:

There must be an end to impunity for those who attack schools, students and educators. In the latest such attack on Wednesday, the Taliban brutally murdered four staff of the International Rescue Committee, working on education projects in Afghanistan.

A Taliban spokesperson declared the movement does not “value” such aid projects and does not believe their victims were working for the progress of the country. The Taliban do not simply fail to value education: they deliberately target it. They strike at Afghan girls in particular – but also boys - who so desperately want and need education, as well as at the dedicated professionals who try to provide it. Their attacks on schools, teachers and others working on education are systematic, not random. They are part of a deliberate attack on human rights, on equality for women and on any attempt by their fellow citizens to control their own destiny.

Jackie Kirk was an Adjunct Professor at McGill University and Technical Adviser to IRC; she played a key role in the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies. She and her IRC colleagues - Shirley Case, Nicole Dial and Mohammad Aimal - were dedicated human rights workers, trying to ensure that this generation of Afghan children would not be denied an education, like so many of their parents.

In the midst of conflict, education can be both life-sustaining and life-saving. It is the basic right of every girl and every boy, vital for their enjoyment of all other human rights and critical to the future of any society.

Jackie Kirk knew that better than anyone. She was a major contributor to, and inspiration for, the report on the right to education in emergencies that I submitted to the Human Rights Council in June, and for the one the General Assembly will discuss this fall. In these reports, I urge States and the international community to intensify efforts to put an end to the growing pattern of attacks on education and educators that have become common in armed conflicts. Such attacks violate international humanitarian law and international criminal law, and their perpetrators must know that they will not go unpunished.

The murder of Jackie Kirk and her colleagues is a crime, a tragedy and a terrible loss for Afghanistan. Their only sin was to want Afghan children to get the education they and their parents hunger for. Jackie Kirk was a friend, a colleague and a great champion of the right to education. She contributed directly to all my activities as a Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council, and was a central reference for the work of the international community to ensure greater attention to the right to education in emergency situations.

I wish to extend my sincere condolences to the victims’ families, friends and colleagues, as well as to the people of Afghanistan who have already lost so much. Their loss highlights starkly the extreme risks faced by all those promoting the right to education in conflict areas and the urgent need for the international community, and all those involved in this and similar conflicts, to put a stop to such attacks.

The Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to help States, and others, promote and protect the right to education. For further information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and copies of available reports, please consult the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
( http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/education/rapporteur/index.htm)