World Report 2017: Iraq
In Iraq, clashes with ISIS intensified in 2016, operations to retake Mosul displaced more than 45,000 Iraqis, and credible allegations emerged of summary executions, beatings of men in custody, and enforced disappearances.
Stephen Goose, director of Human Rights Watch's Arms Division, was instrumental in bringing about the 2008 convention banning cluster munitions, the 1997 treaty banning antipersonnel mines, the 1995 protocol banning blinding lasers, and the 2003 protocol requiring clean-up of explosive remnants of war. He and Human Rights Watch co-founded the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize. Goose created the ICBL’s Landmine Monitor initiative, the first time that non-governmental organizations around the world have worked together in a sustained and coordinated way to monitor compliance with an international disarmament or humanitarian law treaty. In 2013, he and Human Rights Watch co-founded the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1993, Goose was a US congressional staffer and a researcher at the Center for Defense Information. He has a master's degree in International Relations from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. in History from Vanderbilt University.
(Beirut) – The Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of banned antipersonnel landmines in Yemen has caused numerous civilian casualties and hindered the safe return of civilians displaced by fighting, Human Rights Watch said today. The Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh should immediately cease using these weapons and observe the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which Yemen ratified in 1998.
Houthi-Saleh forces have used landmines in at least six governorates since the Saudi Arabia-led coalition began military operations in support of President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi in March 2015. Mines appear to have killed and maimed hundreds of civilians and disrupted civilian life in affected areas. Landmines continue to pose a threat to civilians long after a conflict ends.
“Houthi-Saleh forces have been flouting the landmine ban at the expense of Yemeni civilians,” Steve Goose, director of the Arms Division at Human Rights Watch, said. “Yemen prohibited antipersonnel mines nearly two decades ago and no authorities should tolerate their use.”
Human Rights Watch researchers visited the southern port city of Aden in early 2017, and interviewed and collected data from mine clearance experts, local security officials, landmine victims, and activists, and interviewed victims and activists in other governorates by phone. Human Rights Watch investigated 10 incidents where landmines laid by Houthi-Saleh forces in Sanaa, Marib, Aden, and Taizz governorates exploded, killing two people and wounding eight.
While comprehensive landmine casualty figures are not available, health professionals and local activists provided lists of people wounded by landmines in several governorates. The Center for Prosthetic Limbs and Physiotherapy in Aden provided the names and ages of 24 people who had recently lost limbs to landmines. Against Mines National Organization reported that landmines killed at least 18 people and wounded more than 39 in two districts of Taizz governorate between May 2015 and April 2016. And the National Organization for Defending Rights and Freedoms (HOOD) documented cases in which more than 80 people were killed and 136 wounded by landmines in Marib and al-Jawf governorates since the conflict began.
The Landmine Monitor initiative by the International Campaign to Ban Landmines reported that at least 988 people were killed or wounded by landmines or other explosive remnants of war in Yemen in 2015.
Human Rights Watch previously documented Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of antipersonnel mines in Aden, Abyan, Marib, Lahj, and Taizz governorates in 2015 and 2016, as well as their indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines.
Houthi-Saleh forces have also made and used improvised antipersonnel mines, Human Rights Watch said. In Yemen, antivehicle mines or other explosives are sometimes triggered by an individual using a pedal a few meters away. In February 2017, the Yemen Executive Mine Action Center (YEMAC) found and cleared improvised mines on civilian roads near the port city of Mokha in Taizz governorate, from which Houthi-Saleh forces had recently withdrawn.
The Houthi-Saleh forces use of antipersonnel landmines violate the laws of war and individuals involved are committing war crimes, Human Rights Watch said. Houthi-Saleh forces have also used antivehicle mines indiscriminately in violation of the laws of war and failed to take adequate precautions to avoid civilian casualties.
In an April 2 response to a Human Rights Watch letter regarding recent landmine use, Yemen’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in Sanaa, controlled by the Houthis and Saleh’s General People’s Congress Party, said the Sanaa-based authorities are “vigilant in abiding by [their] commitments” under the Mine Ban Treaty. The ministry denied that Houthi-Saleh forces had used antipersonnel landmines or that the Sanaa-based Defense Ministry stockpiles antipersonnel mines. It said that “armed factions and terrorist groups” have produced and used improvised landmines, often referred to as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or booby traps. Victim-activated IEDs fall under the definition of an antipersonnel landmine and are prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.
The ministry also said that after the conflict ends, the Sanaa-based authorities are prepared to create a committee to investigate the use of landmines in Taizz and to investigate any new information or documentation on the use of antipersonnel mines elsewhere, and to “take the necessary steps in accordance with national laws and regulations and its international obligations.”
The Houthi-Saleh authorities should take immediate steps to ensure that affiliated forces cease using antipersonnel mines, destroy any antipersonnel mines they possess, and appropriately punish those using these indiscriminate weapons, Human Rights Watch said.
International assistance is urgently needed to equip, train, and assist clearance personnel to systematically survey, clear, and destroy Yemen’s mines and explosive remnants of war, Human Rights Watch said. International donors should also urgently assist victims of landmines and explosive remnants of war in Yemen. Appropriate compensation, assistance, and support should be provided to those wounded by mines, or to the families of those killed. Assistance should include medical care, prosthetics, and ongoing rehabilitation.
Houthi-Saleh forces are not the only party to the Yemen conflict using landmines. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has used landmines, particularly improvised mines. After the Saudi-led coalition captured the eastern port city of Mukalla from AQAP in April 2016, large stocks of explosives were found, including 116 antipersonnel mines in Hadramawt, which were believed to have belonged to the armed group. Mine clearance personnel also told Human Rights Watch that AQAP laid landmines in Abyan governorate.
The Yemen Executive Mine Action Center’s southern branch reportedly found and destroyed 65,272 landmines, including 20,807 antipersonnel landmines, between July 21, 2015 and March 2, 2017 in Aden, Abyan, Lahj, al-Dhale, and Taizz. These include both landmines cleared by demining personnel and stocks found in weapons stores.
Since 2015, about 20 YEMAC staff members have been wounded or killed during clearance operations. Brig. Gen. Sheikh Zaid Thabet, who heads demining efforts in Marib, said his team lacks proper equipment: “Some of them work without shoes, barefoot… We lost six members of our team and more than 10 were wounded in different accidents.”
In Aden, YEMAC and the Yemen Society for Landmine Survivors said that all support from YEMAC’s Sanaa headquarters ceased when the Houthis took control of the capital.
“The Houthi-Saleh forces’ use of banned landmines is only going to prolong Yemen’s eventual recovery from this bloody conflict,” Goose said. “Governments should condemn antipersonnel landmine use and work with Yemeni officials to ensure that those who used them are held accountable.”
Human Rights Watch documented 10 incidents in which landmines killed or wounded people in Sanaa, Marib, Aden, or Taizz governorates.
Houthi-Saleh forces control most of Sanaa governorate. The eastern Nihm district, on the border of Marib governorate, has been one of the conflict’s static front lines. Brig. Gen. Thabet, who heads demining efforts in Marib and nearby areas under Hadi government control, said that his team began demining efforts in Nihm in March 2016, gradually expanding their operations as Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from different areas.
January 22 and 23, 2017, Nihm District
In January, Thabet’s demining team conducted clearance operations in Nihm district, Sanaa, in an area from which Houthi-Saleh forces had only recently withdrawn. On January 22, a team member, Muhammad Abo A’lba, stepped on a landmine and was killed. The next day, his colleague, Abo Mursi, stepped on an antipersonnel landmine and lost both his legs. The area was not known to be mined prior to the current conflict.
May 24, 2016, Al-Saad Village, Nihm District
On May 23, 2016, Saleh Ahmad, in his mid-forties, returned to his home in Al-Saad village in Nihm district, Sanaa with his wife, two daughters, and two sons. His entire village, about 60 families, were displaced from the area in 2015 when Houthi-Saleh forces advanced, he said. He and his family returned the day after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew “because we couldn’t afford to stay out of our home anymore.”
The next day at about the time of the early evening prayer, his wife, Rawiya al-Dahak, 30, went to bring back the sheep from grazing. Ahmad said he heard an explosion:
I ran to the place [about 300 or 400 meters from our home], and found my wife with her right leg completely missing. She was unconscious and bleeding. Her clothes were torn. ... I carried her to the closest health center.
When Ahmad’s eldest son, Muhammad Saleh, 23, heard about the accident, he went to check the area on foot. Another mine exploded. “I was not there,” Ahmad said. “The neighbors called me and they told me that I lost my beloved son.”
A few days later, a demining team cleared about 13 antivehicle mines from around Ahmad’s home. Saad believed a mine attached to a large explosive charge wounded his wife and that another killed his son, due to the severity of the burns on his son’s body and the force of the explosion that wounded his wife. Antivehicle mines that have been modified to explode when a person is nearby are considered antipersonnel mines prohibited by the Mine Ban Treaty.
In 2017, the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen reported that Houthi-Saleh forces were using victim-activated IEDs that deployed antivehicle mines as the main charge in Taizz. The UN Panel found that until these mines were defused, they prevented civilians from returning.
Displaced people have a right to return home safely as soon as the reasons for their displacement cease to exist. The laws of war obligate warring parties to facilitate their safe return.
Two days after Saad’s son was killed and his wife wounded, another man living near the village of Al-Saad detonated an improvised mine, losing both his legs, Ahmad said. About a week later, a few kilometers from the village, 10 sheep were killed by an improvised mine, according to Ahmad.
Houthi-Saleh forces controlled most of Marib between May and October 2015, laying landmines as they withdrew, deminers and local activists said.
General Thabet said that he and several other deminers had destroyed 510 antipersonnel mines on February 6, 2016, and another 350 about a month later, in addition to 3,390 improvised landmines. Marib remains heavily contaminated with mines, he said.
Ali Al-Tam, director of the Civil Protection Organization, a Marib-based group that has documented civilian victims of landmines, said antipersonnel mines, including improvised mines, had been found in civilian-populated and agricultural areas after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew, including the districts of Marib City, Harib, al-Abadiya, Sarwah and Majzer. These areas were not known to be mined prior to the current conflict.
Saleem Allaw, the HOOD Team Coordinator in Marib, al-Jawf and al-Bayda, shared a list of names, ages, and dates of people killed or wounded by landmines in Marib and al-Jawf governorates since October 2015. HOOD reported that 80 people were killed, including two women and eight children, and 136 wounded, including four women and 14 children, by landmines in the two governorates.
March 1, 2016, Al-Jufina Farming Area, Marib City District
At about 1:30 p.m. on March 1, 2016, Ali al-Ansi, 35, stepped on a landmine while he was working in an orange grove in Marib, which Houthi-Saleh forces had controlled before withdrawing in late 2015. He said he was returning from lunch with his wife and two daughters: “I walked inside [the grove]. Then, suddenly I heard the blast. I didn’t see anything except the dust flying over my head. I looked at my legs, and saw my right leg had been blown apart.”
Other farm workers took al-Ansi to a hospital, where a doctor amputated his right leg. He stayed at the hospital for four days. Hospital staff then asked al-Ansi to return home as they needed space for other patients.
A few days later, al-Ansi guided deminers to the location where he was wounded. The team cleared four small mines. Al-Ansi said they were “black-greenish” and about “the size of a can.” Human Rights Watch researchers showed Al-Ansi a selection of photos depicting landmines used recently in Yemen, and he said they looked like a GYATA-64 antipersonnel mine.
Al-Ansi has been unable to work since his injury and depends on support from family members.
The orange grove was not known to be mined before the Houthi-Saleh forces occupied it.
In March 2015, Houthi-Saleh forces entered Aden, eventually occupying nearly half of the city’s districts, including Sheikh Othman, al-Buraika, Krater, Khormaksar, and Dar Saad. They laid antivehicle and antipersonnel landmines as they withdrew from the city in July 2015, according to YEMAC and security officials.
Two fighters from Aden lost limbs after stepping on antipersonnel mines in the Khormaksar and al-Basateen neighborhoods in July 2015, soon after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew. They said the areas were heavily mined when the forces entered. The neighborhoods were not known to be mined before the current conflict.
Yemeni mine action officials began emergency clearance of landmines and explosive remnants of war almost immediately after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from Aden. YEMAC officers and a demining activist said that since that time antipersonnel mines have been cleared from 11 neighborhoods: Al-Basateen, Green City, and Al-Luhoom neighborhoods in Dar Saad district; al-Emad and al Masa’abi neighborhoods in Sheikh-Othman district; Bir Fadhl and Ja’ulaa neighborhoods in al-Mansoora district; Bir Ahmad and Ras Amran in al-Buraika district; and al-A’areesh and al-Nasser neighborhoods in Khormaksar district.
Since Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew more than a year-and-a-half ago, YEMAC has been clearing landmines from the city. The National Demining Training Center showed Human Rights Watch photos of an antivehicle mine and two PPM-2 antipersonnel mines discovered and cleared from a heavily frequented road in al-Emad, north of Sheikh Othman district, on February 1. On March 29, YEMAC removed six more PPM-2 antipersonnel mines next to one of Aden’s main highways in Khormaksar, which they said were laid by Houthi-Saleh forces.
Yemen’s Health Ministry, currently based in Aden, told Human Rights Watch in February that soon after Houthi-Saleh forces withdrew from the city, Aden’s hospitals were receiving about seven to eight people wounded by landmines each week and that they have continued to receive landmine victims.
February 6-8, 2016, Al-Naser Neighborhood, Khormaksar District
On February 6, 2016, a car carrying a family of four struck a landmine, killing the father and two children, according to YEMAC.
YEMAC sent a team to the site, which cleared three antipersonnel mines and an antivehicle mine on the first day and eight “German-made” antipersonnel mines on the second.
On the third day, Abdo al-Ashwal, a 45-year-old YEMAC deminer, was working in the area:
“I took out a mine, but we had a technical problem with the detector [that YEMAC was using] … The detector didn’t detect the mine that was under a [cylinder] block. I stepped on the block. Then I lost my consciousness.”
Team members took al-Ashwal to a nearby hospital. He lost one leg and stayed in the hospital for 22 days. Al-Ashwal, who is married with five children, said he can no longer work and has been unable to provide an income for his family. He has not received any compensation.
September 17, 2015, Bir Ahmad Neighborhood, Al-Buraika District
At about 10 a.m. on September 17, 2015, Yassin Omar, a 33-year-old from Aden, drove a construction vehicle over a small dirt mound at a farm where he was working. The farm was near Bir Ahmad military camp, which had been controlled by Houthi-Saleh forces prior to their withdrawal from Aden. His vehicle triggered a landmine explosion that threw him out of the vehicle: “I tried to run, but I couldn’t, I didn’t know that I had lost my right leg, so I crawled for five or six meters. Then I lost consciousness.”
Omar, who has three children, said he had been worried about taking the job at the farm because he had heard people had been wounded by landmines in the area after Houthi-Saleh forces left. He said he had been assured the area was safe.
July 24, 2015, Al-Basateen Neighborhood, Dar Saad District
At about 9 a.m. on July 24, 2015, Muhammad Hansh, 43, entered al-Basateen neighborhood with other men from Aden fighting Houthi-Saleh forces. He stepped on a landmine: “I saw my leg at that moment – fragmented, chopped off.” He was taken to a hospital in Sheikh Othman, where his right leg was amputated.
July 14, 2015, Al-Nasser Neighborhood, Khormaksar District
Sameer Derwish, 42, a plumber and a builder, joined local forces fighting Houthi-Saleh forces after they entered Aden. On July 14, 2015, he and a group of fighters came under fire in Khormaksar district. He said: “[The Houthis] forced us to take a path which is for civilians. There were some houses there, but they were empty because people left when the Houthis were controlling the area, so I walked and stepped on a landmine.”
Derwish said the mine was an antipersonnel mine, and that he saw other mines next to it after it exploded, including two small antipersonnel mines and “one big one, for tanks”. “I didn’t lose consciousness. … I was asking those around me, ‘What happened? What happened?’ They already saw that my leg was gone completely, but they didn’t say anything, they didn’t want to tell me.”
Derwish was kept in hospitals in Aden for about three months before being transferred abroad for rehabilitation and to get a prosthetic limb. Derwish, who is married and has six children, said, “I was working [before the war], my income was great, I was healthy, but now, I have no work.”
The area where Derwish was wounded is not believed to have been mined before the current conflict.
In September 2016, Human Rights Watch documented the use of landmines by Houthi-Saleh forces in Yemen’s third-largest city, Taizz, investigating the cases of five people who had been maimed by antipersonnel mines between March and June 2016.
Taizz city and Taizz governorate have had heavy ground fighting throughout Yemen’s two-year-long war. In late 2016 and early 2017, coalition-backed forces affiliated with the Hadi government began advancing up Yemen’s western coast, eventually pushing the Houthi-Saleh forces out of the port city of Mokha in Taizz governorate.
YEMAC quickly began demining areas in Mokha from which Houthi-Saleh forces had retreated. YEMAC said that in February it had cleared and destroyed 770 mines from Bab al-Mandab district, about 75 kilometers south of Mokha, including about 150 mostly PPM-2 antipersonnel mines.
In December 2015, a 12-year-old boy and his sister were grazing the family’s sheep near a site held by Houthi-Saleh forces since early 2015, his family said. His family had taken their livestock to graze in that area without incident before the Houthi-Saleh forces occupied the area.
After the mid-afternoon prayer, he stepped on a landmine. He lost both his legs and now has prosthetic ones. He said: “I was awake when that happened. I didn’t cry. My sister rescued me, she carried me out of there… I want better legs. I want to walk and play football.”
Yemen and the Mine Ban Treaty
A total of 162 countries are party to the Mine Ban Treaty, which comprehensively prohibits the use, production, transfer, and stockpiling of antipersonnel mines and requires their clearance and assistance to victims. In keeping with the international norm being established by the Mine Ban Treaty, Human Rights Watch condemns any use of antipersonnel mines by any party at any time.
Yemen ratified the Mine Ban Treaty in 1998 during the rule of former President Saleh. In April 2002, Yemen reported to the UN that it had finished destroying its stockpile of antipersonnel mines. Yemen subsequently found additional stocks in 2006 and destroyed those in December 2007.
The Houthi-Saleh forces have deployed at least two types of blast antipersonnel mines: GYATA-64 made in the 1980s in Hungary and PPM-2 manufactured in the 1980s in the former East Germany. A Claymore-type directional mine with Chinese-language markings has also been used, but it is unclear if it was victim-activated, i.e. triggered by an individual and thus an antipersonnel mine, or command-detonated, i.e. detonated via remote control. Yemen did not report these mines among the four types of stockpiled antipersonnel mines it declared to the UN secretary-general in 2002.
The evidence of further use of antipersonnel mines during the current conflict, including types that Yemen did not report as stockpiled, suggests either that the 2002 declaration was incorrect, or that these mines were acquired from another source after 2002.
An army officer assisting demining efforts said the army conducted a number of public displays after Yemen signed the Mine Ban Treaty in which they destroyed 70,000 antipersonnel mines previously stored in Aden and Taizz, primarily POMZ-1 and POMZ-2 types. The officer said that other antipersonnel mines were rerouted to Sanaa and never sent to Aden for destruction. The Ministry of Human Rights in Aden has alleged that the Houthi-Saleh forces acquired mines when they looted the stores of YEMAC, as well as arms stocks of the Yemeni military.
In September 2016, YEMAC found and destroyed about 16,729 landmines, including 6,135 antipersonnel mines, on Mayoon (Perim) Island in the Mandab strait. YEMAC said about 1,700 antipersonnel mines were planted around a fort on the island, while the rest were stockpiled in warehouses. Before the current conflict, the Yemeni army had officers stationed on the island, residents said.
Human Rights Watch has also documented Houthi-Saleh forces’ apparently indiscriminate use of antivehicle mines, including TM-62 and TM-57 mines manufactured in the former Soviet Union, and UKA-63 antivehicle mines manufactured in Hungary. Antivehicle mines, while not internationally banned, are often used in violation of the laws of war, for example when used indiscriminately or when inadequate precautions are taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Human Rights Watch is a co-founder of and chairs the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which received the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to bring about the Mine Ban Treaty and for its contributions to a new international diplomacy based on humanitarian imperatives.
The Houthi-Saleh forces use of banned antipersonnel landmines in Sanaa, Marib, Taizz and Aden governorates has caused civilian casualties, hindered the return of families displaced by fighting and likely constitutes war crimes. The Houthis and forces loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh should immediately cease using these weapons and observe the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, which Yemen ratified in 1998. The international community should also urgently fund mine clearance and victim assistance efforts.
In early 2017, Human Rights Watch visited Aden and interviewed and collected data from mine clearance experts, local security officials, individuals wounded by landmines, and activists and researchers from local organizations, and conducted phone interviews with landmine victims, activists, and others in other governorates. Landmines had killed or maimed dozens, if not hundreds, of people since the start of the conflict, according to deminers, health professionals and local activists.
(Sydney) – The Australian government should immediately halt military sales to Saudi Arabia following numerous unlawful Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Australia should also release details about military weapons and material it has sold to other members of the Saudi-led coalition carrying out the Yemen campaign and whether any Australian-made arms have been used in unlawful coalition attacks.
In the past year, based on media reports, the Defense Department has approved four military export licenses to Saudi Arabia, but it has not released information on the types or quantities of arms and equipment sold. Since the Saudi-led coalition began its military campaign in Yemen in March 2015, the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, have documented numerous unlawful coalition airstrikes, some of them apparent war crimes, on homes, markets, schools, and hospitals.
“Prime Minister Turnbull has approved military sales to Saudi Arabia when he should be using Australia’s leverage to press Riyadh to end unlawful airstrikes in Yemen,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Until the Saudi-led coalition credibly investigates and curtails its unlawful attacks, Australia should stop selling them arms and equipment.”
After two years of fighting, at least 4,773 civilians have been killed and 8,272 wounded, the majority by Saudi-led coalition airstrikes, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The coalition has not seriously investigated alleged laws-of-war violations, and has provided almost no information on which country’s forces participated in such attacks.
The coalition has also imposed a naval blockade on Yemen that has exacerbated the country’s grave humanitarian crisis, which the UN recently declared one of the world’s worst. The blockade has diverted ships carrying life-saving medical supplies and delayed shipments of civilian goods for up to three months. Nearly 19 million Yemenis – over two thirds of the population – need humanitarian assistance, and seven million are facing starvation.
Opposing Houthi-Saleh forces have also been implicated in numerous serious violations of the laws of war, including using antipersonnel landmines and restricting and impeding the flow of aid.
Several countries are showing increasing reluctance to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons, Human Rights Watch said. In March 2016, the Dutch parliament voted to ban arms exports to Saudi Arabia. United Kingdom arms sales to Saudi Arabia are currently under judicial review.
Several United States senators recently introduced a bill to limit the sale of US weapons unless Saudi Arabia acts to minimize civilian casualties in Yemen.
“Halting defense sales to Saudi Arabia would send a strong signal to Riyadh that the Australian government is committed to ensuring respect for the laws of war, and to the Australian people that the lives of Yemeni civilians are of genuine concern,” Pearson said.
Just before 7 p.m. on March 16, 2017, US aircraft attacked the Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque near al-Jinah, a village in Aleppo province in northern Syria, where about 300 people had gathered for religious lectures and the Muslim Isha'a, or night prayer. The attack completely destroyed the service section of the mosque and killed at least 38 people.
US military authorities have acknowledged that they carried out the strike, saying that they targeted a meeting of al-Qaeda members. A US military spokesperson said that the US military carried out extensive surveillance before the attack and that they take “extraordinary measures to mitigate the loss of civilian life” in such operations. However, Human Rights Watch research suggests that US authorities failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid or minimize civilian casualties in the attack, a requirement under the laws of war.
While US officials acknowledged that there was a mosque nearby, they claimed that the targeted building was a partially constructed community hall. But information from local residents, photographs, and video footage of the building before and after the attack show that the targeted building was also a mosque. While the mosque did not have a minaret or a dome that would have been visible by aerial surveillance, local residents said that dozens, if not hundreds, of people were gathering in the building at prayer times. Aerial surveillance of the building should have shown this. Local residents also said that the mosque was well known and widely used by people in the area. Any attempt to verify through people with local knowledge what kind of building this was would have likely established that the building was a mosque.
While the US authorities appear to have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the building they attacked, they also appear to have inadequately understood the pattern of life in the area. A US official said that the attack happened after evening prayer had concluded, implying that civilians had left the area. While it is not clear which prayer the official referred to, US statements about when the attack happened and information from those present at the mosque show that the attack happened at about 6:55 p.m., just 15 minutes before night prayer on that day. The fact that the night time prayer was about to begin is relevant even if US authorities believed that the targeted building was a community hall since they knew that a mosque was nearby. Information about prayer times is easily accessible online and should have been well known by US authorities.
Local residents also said that it was well known in the area that the religious group in charge of the mosque was holding religious lectures in the targeted building every Thursday between sunset prayer and evening prayer, around the time of the attack. Any attempt to gather pattern of life information about the targeted building from people with local knowledge might also have alerted US authorities to this fact.
Human Rights Watch interviewed by phone 14 people with first-hand knowledge of the attack, including four who were in the mosque at the time of the attack; eight local residents, first responders, and local journalists who arrived at the site shortly after the attack; and two medical personnel who treated people injured in the attack.In carrying out the investigation, Human Rights Watch used some of the research provided by the open source investigative group Bellingcat, which analyzed video footage and photographs from the attack, and Forensic Architecture, which created models of the mosque and a reconstruction of the attack. However, Human Rights Watch, Bellingcat, and Forensic Architecture conducted separate investigations into the attack.
The people who were in the mosque said that a religious lecture in the service section of the mosque, held every Thursday, had just finished so people were spreading out in the mosque, getting ready for night prayer, when the attack happened. The first wave of attacks struck the service section of the mosque, completely reducing it to rubble. One mosque employee who was in the service section said:
My lower half was buried under the rubble. I couldn’t move my head. Someone’s legs were beneath me. Half an hour later we started hearing a faint voice, people were calling out, so we shouted back. The civil defense started digging us out, using only their hands. Two hours later they got to us through a hole. There was rubble as high as four meters above us. They stayed there working till the following morning, trying to rescue as many people as possible. I had wounds all over.
A second wave of attacks killed and injured people who were trying to flee.
Human Rights Watch has not found evidence to support the allegation that members of al-Qaeda or any other armed group were meeting in the mosque. Local residents said that there were no members of armed groups at the mosque or in the area at the time of the attack. They said that the victims were all civilians and local residents. First responders said the dead and injured wore civilian clothes and that they saw no weapons at the site. US authorities have so far released no information to support their claims.
Even if there were armed group members in the mosque, understanding the nature of the targeted building and the pattern of life around the building would be crucial to assess the risk to civilians and take necessary precautions to minimize civilian casualties. Striking a mosque just before prayer and then attacking people attempting to flee the area without knowing whether they were civilians or combatants may well have been disproportionate and a violation of the laws of war even if there were armed group members in the mosque.
Syria Civil Defense, a search and rescue group operating in opposition-controlled territory, said that they recovered 38 bodies from the site. The group published the names of 28 who were identified by relatives at the site, including five children, saying that 10 bodies were unidentified.
The laws of war strictly prohibit attacks targeting civilians or civilian structures (including mosques unless they were being used for military purposes), indiscriminate attacks that fail to distinguish between military and civilian targets, and disproportionate attacks where the civilian casualties or damage to civilian buildings is excessive to the military advantage gained.
Serious violations of the laws of war can amount to war crimes. These include deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects (including mosques), knowingly launching indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks resulting in death or injury to civilians, or being criminally reckless in so doing. The US authorities’ failure to understand the most fundamental aspects of the target and pattern of life around the target raises the question whether officers were criminally reckless in authorizing the attack.
US authorities have said they will investigate both whether civilians were killed in the attack and whether the building hit was part of a complex belonging to a mosque.
Human Rights Watch calls on US military authorities to conduct an objective and thorough investigation, make public the detailed findings of the investigation, and provide adequate redress to civilian victims or their families. If the authorities find serious violations of the laws of war, they should refer those responsible for appropriate criminal prosecution. The findings should include information on accountability measures taken with explanations, and the redress provided to victims or their families.
Human Rights Watch interviewed by phone 14 people with first-hand knowledge of the mosque, the attack, and the victims of the attack. The people interviewed included four people who were at the mosque at the time of the attack; eight first responders, journalists, and local residents who arrived at the scene shortly after the attack; and two medical personnel who treated victims from the attacks.
Human Rights Watch found the witnesses through already existing contacts in the area or by reaching out to people who posted information about the attack on social media. Interviews were conducted in Arabic. Human Rights Watch gave interviewees the option of requesting us to not publish identifying information if they were worried about their security. The report contains identifying information only if the interviewee agreed to publishing such information and if Human Rights Watch did not separately assess that it would put the interviewee at risk.
During the research Human Rights Watch exchanged information with Bellingcat, a group specializing in analyzing information posted online, including videos and photographs. Many of the videos referred to in this report were initially identified and analyzed by Bellingcat.
Human Rights Watch also exchanged information with Forensic Architecture, an organization specializing in building three-dimensional models and reconstructions of events related to human rights violations. Forensic Architecture built a model of the mosque and reconstructed the attack, based upon its investigation.
The Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque is located about 1.5 kilometers southwest of al-Jinah, a village of about 10,000 people in western Aleppo province. Local residents told Human Rights Watch that it originally consisted of a small mosque right next to the road, but that construction started on a large building behind the old mosque in 2013. The construction had remained unfinished because of lack of funds, they said.
The March 16 attack completely destroyed the northern part of the newly built structure. During press conferences and in written statements following the attack, US military officials acknowledged that they had carried out the attack, but said that they had not deliberately targeted any mosque, that the target of the attack had been a “partially constructed community hall,” and that a nearby mosque was intact after the attack. Comments included in an e-mail with an aerial photograph of the site after the attack show that US military officials referred to the original mosque.
But all local residents that Human Rights Watch interviewed said that the new building was also a mosque. “Abu al-Ezz,” a local resident whose family members were killed and injured in the attack, said:
This is a civilian area. It’s a residential area, full of people, homes, houses, and this mosque is next to them. This is a mosque for people, a place for sheikhs, for preachers, a religious center, a place of god. Anybody can stop by to pray.
Video footage and photographs of the building from before and after the attack, compiled and analyzed by Bellingcat, also show that the building was a mosque. Based on this footage and information from local residents, Forensic Architecture created a three-dimensional model of the mosque, which consisted of two parts, a northern and southern part, connected by a set of staircases. Footage shows that there were speakers on the roof of the building, used for the call to prayer and a sign at the western entrance of the mosque which says Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque. A video shared by a mosque employee shows that the sign was there also before the attack.
According to residents and footage, the southern part, which was largely undamaged in the attack, contained a large hall. There are carpets on the floor and at the end of the hall there is a mihrab, a semicircular niche in the wall that indicates the direction of the Kaaba in Mecca and hence the direction that Muslims should face when praying. Under the staircase, by the entrance to the prayer hall, there are shelves to put shoes during prayer.
The northern part, which was completely destroyed in the attack, is the service section. The ground floor consisted of a kitchen and eating area, toilets, and a washing room. The second floor of the service section consisted of several rooms that were sometimes used for religious classes for children and the imam’s apartment. Some local residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that displaced families were staying in the mosque as well.
Human Rights Watch interviewed separately four local residents, including a mosque employee, who were in the mosque at the time of the attack. They gave similar accounts of what happened.
All four witnesses said the attack took place just before or around 7 p.m. Their claim is supported by other sources. A first responder, who was waiting for permission to go to the site and therefore consulted his watch, said that the time of the attack was 6:55 p.m. A US official also said that the attack took place at about 7 p.m. local time.
According to media reports, Eric Pahon, a spokesperson for the US Department of Defense, said US surveillance of the target area indicated evening prayers had concluded before the attack, implying that civilians had left the area. While it is not entirely clear which prayer Pahon referred to, he might have referred to the Maghrib (sunset) prayer, which had indeed concluded by the time of the attack. On March 16, the sunset prayer in Aleppo started at 5:39 p.m., according to Islamic Finder, an online resource.
However, the attack took place only about 15 minutes before the Isha'a (night) prayer, which on March 16 was due to start at 7:09 p.m. Because night prayer follows shortly after sunset prayer many people stay in the mosque between the two prayers. “Abu al-Ezz” said: “Usually people move from the prayer hall to the kitchen area after sunset prayer to eat and rest before the night prayer.”
In addition, local residents, including the mosque employee, told Human Rights Watch that preachers hold a religious lecture in the mosque between sunset and night prayer every Thursday, the day of the attack. On the day of the attack, as they usually do when it is cold outside, they used the eating area in the service section for the lecture because the large prayer hall in the southern section was poorly insulated.
All four witnesses said that there were about 300 people in the mosque attending the weekly religious lecture. The lecture had just finished and people were dispersing in the mosque, waiting for the night prayer. The mosque employee said: “Some stayed in the praying hall, others went to get something to eat or to the toilet, or they went into the large praying hall to read the Quran, pray or talk with each other.”
The witnesses said that the first wave of attacks struck the service section of the mosque. “Ahmed” told Human Rights Watch:
Everything happened so quickly, in under one minute. We didn’t hear a plane but, suddenly, we heard something fall. There was a faint sound of something falling, and then an explosion. It seemed like the whole mosque fell on our heads. The first bomb fell right on the mosque, north of the entrance.
“Mahmoud” said: “The first attack filled the place with thick dust and smoke. I put a piece of cloth over my nose and mouth and went outside through the door. It was horrible. I couldn’t see anything but rubble.”
A US military spokesperson circulated to journalists an aerial photograph of the building taken shortly after the attack, which shows the entire northern half of the mosque was reduced to rubble. Multiple video clips and photographs, compiled and analyzed by Bellingcat, show the destruction from the ground.
Witnesses said that some people who were in the large prayer hall in the southern section ran out of the building after the first attack while some decided to stay. They said that they heard other explosions, but not as powerful, shortly after the attack striking the building. “Mahmoud,” who had returned to the mosque, said:
By the time I got back, there was another attack outside. Around four missiles. I was inside, I didn’t see what was hit exactly, but it’s either the street or the mosque itself. People who tried to flee right away and people from surrounding areas who came to the rescue, got hit outside, and torn into pieces. Many died in that strike.
First responders, local residents, and journalists who arrived at the site shortly after the attack described a scene of destruction and carnage to Human Rights Watch. Ammar Selmo, the Aleppo director of Syria Civil Defense, said:
As we moved closer we started hearing people screaming, pleading for help. So we ran into the mosque compound. There was widespread destruction. The building was completely ripped to pieces. The explosion was so intense that people were thrown everywhere, wedged between the dirt and the stones. You could barely see them. We could hear screams from under the rubble.
A local journalist who arrived at the site about one hour after the attack told Human Rights Watch that Syria Civil Defense had recovered about 35 bodies by then and were about to leave, when they suddenly heard people yelling from underneath the rubble. “We had to call them back so that they could pull the people out,” the journalist said. “It was a terrifying sight that night. I saw things, I swear to God, unimaginable things, flesh on the ground, bones, people’s clothes, everything was on the ground.”
US military officials said that the target of the attack were members of al-Qaeda in Syria who were meeting in the target building and that the attack had killed dozens of “core al-Qaeda terrorists,” including “likely high-value individuals.” They said that they had conducted extensive surveillance of the area. In the immediate aftermath of the attack, a news website also reported that a proselytizing center affiliated with Hayyat Tahrir al-Sham, also referred to as al-Qaeda in Syria, had been attacked, but it later retracted the message, saying that the center was not affiliated with this group.
Human Rights Watch has not found evidence to support the allegations that the mosque was a meeting place for members of al-Qaeda in Syria or other armed groups. On the contrary, the witnesses who were at the mosque during the attack said that there were no members of armed groups there. “Mahmoud” said: “Some were old in their 70s and 80s, some young in their 20s, children. I know most of them, they’re from the village. There weren’t any people affiliated with armed groups there, nothing of that sort.”
“Ahmed” gave a similar account: “This is a mosque. It was a time for prayers. Who do you think was there? People who come to pray. Older people, clerics, children. Children were inside. We were all civilians, there weren’t even people there from the Free Syrian Army.”
A local resident living about 500 meters from the mosque said: “There are no armed Islamist groups here, no al-Qaeda at all. The mosque is for civilians to pray, not for al-Qaeda meetings. Even in the village, there are no headquarters for armed groups.”
Local residents and a mosque employee said that the mosque and the religious center were run by Ahbab al-Daw’at w al-Tabligh, a global Sunni Islamic proselytizing movement that says it is apolitical and rejects violence. “Abu al-Ezz” said of the preachers:
They are a hundred percent civilian. We call them “the beloved.” They don’t preach jihad or war. They preach only god and Islam. They rotate between different villages. There are 10-15 from our village. 10-15 from another village and so on. These people they practice itikaf [the practice of staying in a mosque for a certain number of days, devoting oneself to worship and staying away from worldly affairs]. They’re just spreading the word of god.
Other local residents, including those who were present at the time of the attack, gave similar descriptions of the group and its preachers.
First responders and journalists who arrived at the site shortly after the attack also said that there were no signs that an armed group had been meeting there. Ammar Selmo, the director of Syria Civil Defense in Aleppo, told Human Rights Watch:
The injured were wearing normal, non-military clothing. People from the area came, asking about their relatives who were in the mosque so we knew they were civilians from the village. When we were doing the rescue, I didn’t see any armed forces come from the area. In these areas there are no fighters; there are no bases there. They are in other places. Here there are only civilians…
Mohammad Halak, the Atarib Syria Civil Defense director, said: “We didn’t find any weapons, none of the people we carried out of the rubble had weapons. Nothing indicated that they belonged to armed groups, nothing on them, and nothing in the surroundings. There are no [armed groups] headquarters in the place.”
Human Rights Watch searched online for each of the names of the dead and reviewed Facebook pages for those that could be found, but was not able to find any indication that any of the killed victims belonged to an armed group. For one of the injured, the profile picture of a Facebook user with an identical name shows a black flag referring to the organization Jabhat al-Nusra, which is sometimes referred to as al-Qaeda in Syria, but the name is common and Human Rights Watch has not been able to confirm whether the account belongs to the person who was injured.
Several local residents said that the Free Syrian Army was in general control of the area around al-Jinah, but that armed groups were not present in the village.
Reports vary as to how many people were killed in the attack. Syria Civil Defense said that its members had recovered 38 dead bodies at the site. The organization published the names of 28 of them, whom relatives had identified. Ten bodies were unidentified. The 38 included five children. The dead also included the imam of the mosque and his wife. The imam's wife was in the family's apartment on the second floor at the time of the attack, while the imam was in the winter prayer hall, according to first responders and the mosque employee Human Rights Watch interviewed. In interviews with local residents and medical personnel Human Rights Watch independently confirmed eight of the names on the list.
Other sources reported a higher death toll. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on March 17 that the death toll from the attack had risen to 49. A local resident told Human Rights Watch on March 18 that the attack had killed more than 50 people.
The attack also injured dozens of people. Syria Civil Defense published the names of 27 people who were injured.
People were killed both in the first wave of attacks, which partially destroyed the mosque, and in the second wave, which appeared to target people trying to flee according to witnesses. Mohammad Halak, the Syria Civil Defense in Atarib, the closest town, told Human Rights Watch that they saw between 20 and 30 people lying on the ground near the road to the west of the old mosque when they arrived. “They had been inside the mosque when the attack happened and had tried to flee so we found them lying close together. Some were wounded, some were already dead,” he said. Halak said that they managed to pull about ten people out from the rubble alive, but that they found about eight dead bodies under the rubble.
US military officials have said that manned and unmanned aircraft carried out the March 16 attack near al-Jinah. Photographs of weapon remnants found at the site, information from witnesses, and the destruction caused by the attack indicate that US forces used at least two types of munitions in the attack: air-dropped GPS-guided bombs and Hellfire missiles.
Photographs that a local resident took at the site and shared with Human Rights Watch show remnants from at least one Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM), a guidance kit that converts unguided bombs into all-weather, precision-guided munitions. Computerized tail fin kits with GPS are added onto warheads weighing 500, 1,000, and 2,000 pounds. One photograph depicts a fin actuator control unit produced by the Woodward HRT company of Santa Clarita, California, which lists the item as one of their products for the JDAM bomb program. Another photograph shows a type of control fin not previously seen publicly, but the remnant is suggestive of the type of control fin used for a version of a JDAM bomb with extended range.
The attack might have included the use of more than one JDAM bomb. While not conclusive, both the US aerial photograph and photographs of the site appear to show two large craters. Some witnesses said that the first wave of attacks had included two munitions. A US military spokesperson also said that the attack left two large craters.
An article in the Washington Post cited an unnamed military official as saying that the attack included a 500-pound guided bomb. The destruction of a significant part of a large building, is consistent with the use of 500-pound bombs.
Photographs and video footage of the impact sites, as well as the US aerial photograph, suggest that the guided bomb used delayed action fuzing. Delayed action fuzing allows the munition to penetrate the structure and detonate inside it. This technique collapses the targeted structure into itself and limits the amount of blast and fragmentation damage to neighboring objects. For example, the vehicles parked near the structure showed signs of thermal damage (damaged exterior paint) from the bomb blast but did not show fragmentation or blast damage (for example the windshields were intact).
Photographs of remnants found at the site also show remnants of the stabilization fins for a Hellfire missile, a US short-range, air-to-ground laser-guided missile that can be fired by either aircraft or unmanned drones. The Hellfire missile comes in different models, but it was not possible to identify from the remnants, as they appear in the photographs, which particular model was used in the attack.
While the JDAM bombs likely used to destroy the northern section of the building typically contain 89 kilograms of explosives, a Hellfire missile contains 8 kilograms. Witnesses said that the explosions in the second wave of attacks were smaller are therefore consistent with the use of Hellfire missiles.
Photographs also show remnants of a lithium thermal battery manufactured by the EaglePicher Technologies of Joplin, Missouri. This type of battery is used in both Hellfire missiles and JDAM bombs.
Photographs of people killed and injured in the attack depict wounds that are consistent with the fragmentation and blast effects caused by air-delivered explosive weapons. Several of the wounded show signs and wound patterns consistent with the over-pressure created by the detonation of a munition like a 500-pound bomb.
 The first signs of construction on this building in historical satellite imagery in Google Earth dates back to March 19, 2014. The previous satellite imagery, from June 10, 2011, show no signs of construction where the building now stands.
 Lisa Ferdinando, “Pentagon Spokesman: Dozens of Terrorists Believed Killed in U.S. Strike in Syria,” US Department of Defense news, March 17, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1122791/pentagon-spokesman-dozens-of-terrorists-believed-killed-in-us-strike-in-syria (accessed March 23, 2013); “US denies striking mosque in Syria mid high death toll,” Associated Press, March 17, 2017, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/1028fdad698f47bda5039ff40f0b9e32/friday-prayers-cancelled-across-north-syria-after-airstrike (accessed March 23, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Abu al-Ezz” (not his real name), March 21, 2017.
 Christiaan Triebert, “CONFIRMED: US Responsible for ‘Aleppo Mosque Bombing,’” Bellingcat, March 16, 2017, https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2017/03/16/us-missile-remains-reportedly-recovered-from-site-of-aleppo-mosque-bombing/ (accessed March 27, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohammad Halak, Syria Civil Defense Atarib director, March 20, 2017.
 Lisa Ferdinando, “Pentagon Spokesman: Dozens of Terrorists Believed Killed in U.S. Strike in Syria,” US Department of Defense news, March 17, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1122791/pentagon-spokesman-dozens-of-terrorists-believed-killed-in-us-strike-in-syria (accessed March 23, 2013).
 “US denies striking mosque in Syria mid high death toll,” Associated Press, March 17, 2017, http://bigstory.ap.org/article/ 1028fdad698f47bda5039ff40f0b9e32/friday-prayers-cancelled-across-north-syria-after-airstrike (accessed March 23, 2017).
 Prayer Times in Aleppo, https://www.islamicfinder.org/world/syria/170063/aleppo-prayer-times/ (accessed April 4, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Abu al-Ezz,” March 21, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with mosque employee, March 29, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Ahmed” (not his real name), March 18, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Mahmoud” (not his real name), March 20, 2017.
 “CONFIRMED: US Responsible for ‘Aleppo Mosque Bombing,’” Bellingcat, https://www.bellingcat.com/news/ mena/2017/03/16/us-missile-remains-reportedly-recovered-from-site-of-aleppo-mosque-bombing/.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Mahmoud,” March 20, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ammar Selmo, Aleppo director of Syria Civil Defense, March 19, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with local journalist, March 17, 2017.
 Lisa Ferdinando, “Pentagon Spokesman: Dozens of Terrorists Believed Killed in U.S. Strike in Syria,” US Department of Defense news, March 17, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1122791/pentagon-spokesman-dozens-of-terrorists-believed-killed-in-us-strike-in-syria (accessed March 23, 2017).
 Tweets from Step News Agency, March 16, 2017, https://twitter.com/Step_Agency/status/842464879273467908 and https://twitter.com/Step_Agency/status/842464978720423936 (accessed April 4, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Mahmoud,” March 20, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with ”Ahmed,” March 28, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with local resident, March 17, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Abu al-Ezz,” March 21, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ammar Selmo, director of Syria Civil Defense in Aleppo, March 19, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohammad Halak, March 20, 2017.
 “Syria Civil Defense,” Facebook post, March 19, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/SCDaleppo/posts/1288438101235845 (accessed March 27, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohammad Halak, Atarib director of Syria Civil Defense, March 23, 2017.
 “Pentagon denies striking mosque in Syria, says it killed al Qaeda militants,” Reuters, March 17, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-usa-idUSKBN16O26S (accessed April 4, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with “Ahmed,” March 18, 2017.
 “Syria Civil Defense,” Facebook post, March 19, 2017, https://www.facebook.com/SCDaleppo/posts/1288438101235845 (accessed March 27, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Mohammad Halak, Atarib director Syria Civil Defense, March 27, 2017.
 Lisa Ferdinando, “Pentagon Spokesman: Dozens of Terrorists Believed Killed in U.S. Strike in Syria,” US Department of Defense news, March 17, 2017, https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1122791/pentagon-spokesman-dozens-of-terrorists-believed-killed-in-us-strike-in-syria (accessed March 23, 2017).
 Michael R. Gordon and Hwaida Saad, “US military denies reports it bombed mosque in Syria,” New York Times, March 16, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/16/world/middleeast/us-military-denies-reports-it-bombed-mosque-in-syria.html?_r=0 (accessed March 27, 2017).
 Louisa Loveluck, Thomas Gibbons-Neff, Missy Ryan, “Mounting claims of civilian deaths after US targets al-Qaeda in Syria,” Washington Post, March 17, 2017, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/mounting-claims-of-civilian-deaths-after-us-targetsal-qaeda-in-syria/2017/03/17/350d5838-0ae9-11e7-8884-96e6a6713f4b_story.html (accessed March 27, 2017).
Excerpt from video by Forensic Architecture, which conducted a separate investigation of the attack. The findings are consistent with those of Human Rights Watch. © 2017 Forensic Architecture
Excerpt from video by Forensic Architecture, which conducted a separate investigation of the attack. The findings are consistent with those of Human Rights Watch. © 2017 Forensic Architecture
On April 12, Russia’s United Nations ambassador raised his hand to mark Moscow’s eighth veto against a resolution aimed at addressing appalling atrocities in Syria. The failed resolution would have condemned the reported use of chemical weapons in southern Idlib on April 4 and demanded that Syrian officials cooperate with an investigation.
European Union states on the Security Council rightly decried Russia’s obstructionism and repeated their calls for justice. But the veto notwithstanding, or maybe even more so because of it, countries on and off the Security Council should take immediate steps to support collection of evidence connected to the April 4 attack and other crimes for use in future criminal prosecutions.
The use of chemical agents and the targeting of hospitals, schools, and civilians in Syria cannot be allowed to become the “new normal.” These are war crimes that should never become accepted weapons of war – not in Syria, not anywhere.
The UN General Assembly took a historic step in December 2016 to establish a new accountability mechanism in the face of Security Council deadlock. The move was aimed at supporting the collection, preservation, and analysis of evidence of crimes committed by all parties to the Syria conflict to be used potentially in future criminal proceedings.
But justice costs money. The new accountability mechanism needs US$13 million to get off the ground, and is dependent on voluntary funding. There is still about a $5 million shortfall. That is inexcusable.
On April 3, EU foreign ministers adopted an “EU strategy on Syria,” pledging “support” to the UN Syria accountability mechanism, stressing “the importance of providing sufficient resources” for “its vital work.”
To keep this promise, and in response to yesterday’s Russian veto, the EU and its member states should immediately fill the $5 million funding gap so the mechanism can be implemented.
A young Syrian man who survived torture at the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s security apparatus and who is now pursuing justice for the crimes in Germany recently told me: “Justice is an antidote to continued crimes. It can motivate people not to join armed groups opposing Assad, and it can motivate people to defect Assad’s forces.”
I hope the EU and its 28 member states hear his call and dig into their pockets to get the UN accountability mechanism on its feet. They shouldn’t wait another day to do so.
Videos and photographs taken last weekend in the city of Saraqeb, in northwestern Syria, show the unmistakably bright trails produced by incendiary weapons. The ZAB incendiary submunitions used in the attacks are delivered by RBK-500 bombs and contain thermite, a flammable substance that ignites and burns intensely for up to 10 minutes. The attack occurred just a few kilometers from the scene of an apparent chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun on April 4.
Attacks using air-delivered incendiary weapons in civilian areas are prohibited under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons (CCW), which Syria has not ratified.
Russia is a party to the protocol and since 2015, its aircraft have participated in a joint operation with Syrian government aircraft that has included attacks using incendiary weapons. Last June, Russia Today broadcast footage taken at the Russian air base at Hmeymim that showed RBK-500 ZAB-2.5S/M incendiary bombs being mounted on a Russian SU-34 fighter-ground attack aircraft.
Last December, Russia acknowledged mounting concerns over civilian harm from incendiary weapons, but did not address its role in their use in Syria. Russia expressed skepticism over calls to discuss why the protocol is failing to deter new use and instead promoted its call for “rigorous and unconditional implementation.” As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has informed us, Russia sees “improper use” as the reason civilians are being harmed by these weapons.
Russia often praises the CCW for striking “the proper balance between legitimate defense interests of states [and] humanitarian considerations.” Yet, as Nobel Peace laureate Jody Williams told states at CCW last year, the worsening conflict in Syria shows how “perceived military necessity has obliterated humanitarian concerns.”
Lebanon became the 114th country to ratify CCW Protocol III on April 5. Its neighbor Syria ought to be next. The best course of action for other countries concerned about civilian harm in Syria is to condemn such use of incendiary weapons and embrace the relevant international law, including through pressing for the enforcement by Russia of the protocol in Syria.
We are still investigating what killed dozens and injured hundreds of people exposed to chemicals in Khan Sheikhoun, in northern Syria, on April 4. Did Syrian government forces use chemical weapons, as local residents are telling us? Or could a bomb have struck chemicals on the ground? Major General Igor Konashenkov, a spokesperson for the Russian Ministry of Defense, claimed the latter when he said a Syrian strike hit a warehouse used to store munitions containing toxic gas in a video on the ministry’s Facebook page on Tuesday, but he made some inaccurate claims in doing so.
First, he said that munitions from this warehouse were brought to Iraq and used there. Human Rights Watch has indeed documented the use of chemical weapons in Iraq. But in Iraq, it was the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) that used them. ISIS is not in control of Khan Sheikhoun. Furthermore, the chemical weapons whose use was documented by Human Rights Watch in Iraq caused painful burns that are consistent with a mustard agent, also known as a “vesicant,” or blister agent. Victims in Idlib showed no such symptoms. (ISIS may have also used other chemical weapons in Iraq.)
Second, he said that the same weapons had also been used in Aleppo in late 2016. At the time, Konashenkov said that experts from the Russian Defense Ministry confirmed that “the terrorists” had filled munitions with chlorine. But victims’ symptoms from Idlib included pinpoint pupils, a symptom associated with a nerve agent. A chlorine attack would not cause pinpoint pupils.
It is crucial to find out exactly what happened in Khan Sheikhoun. Russian officials releasing misleading information will not help with that. The Security Council, including Russia and China, should demand that Syria and other parties to the war fully cooperate with investigators and threaten concrete consequences if that cooperation is not forthcoming.
Dozens of people showed symptoms consistent with exposure to chemicals after aircraft attacked Khan Sheikhoun, a town in northern Syria, witnesses told us. While we are continuing to investigate, early reports suggest dozens were killed. Khan Sheikhoun is controlled by armed groups fighting against Syrian government forces.
International law prohibits chemical attacks. With 192 member states, the Chemical Weapons Convention is one of the strongest weapon bans in international law. Syria joined the convention and gave up its chemical weapons program in 2013 after a chemical weapons attack, likely carried out by government forces, killed hundreds in a suburb of Damascus.
But that hasn’t meant that Syrian government forces have stopped carrying out chemical attacks. Instead, chemical attacks have become a regular occurrence in Syria. Human Rights Watch has documented Syrian government helicopters dropping canisters filled with chlorine in dozens of cases. We issued reports on these attacks in May 2014, April 2015, June 2015, and September 2016. In our latest report, we documented that Syrian government forces conducted coordinated chemical attacks in November and December 2016 during the final stages of the battle for Aleppo.
While the United Nations Security Council has condemned chemical attacks in Syria on several occasions, Russia and China have used their vetoes to block sanctions on the Syrian government. Those responsible for past chemical attacks might have taken the lack of consequences as a green light to conduct more attacks.
The continued use of chemical attacks in Syria by government forces and armed groups threatens to undermine the very strong ban against chemical weapons in international law, which may encourage their use by others.
The Security Council, including Russia and China, should condemn this latest attack and support steps to hold those responsible to account.
(Erbil) – Procedural changes for authorizing airstrikes in Iraq raise concerns about the protection of civilians, especially following airstrikes in Mosul on March 17, 2017, that allegedly caused dozens of civilian deaths, Human Rights Watch said today. The United States-led coalition fighting the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) in Iraq should make public the detailed findings of its investigations into the attack. The coalition should ensure that serious violations of the laws of war are appropriately referred for criminal prosecution and that civilian victims or their families receive adequate redress. Previous coalition investigations have not released detailed information on their process, findings, or any disciplinary or compensatory measures taken.
On March 25, international media outlets reported that coalition airstrikes on the New Mosul neighborhood of west Mosul killed up to 200 people. The press desk of the US-led coalition, the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, confirmed that the coalition had “struck ISIS fighters and equipment,” in the area on March 17 and said that it had opened a formal investigation. However, on March 26 the Iraqi army denied that the coalition was responsible for the civilian casualties, claiming that they resulted from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) laid by ISIS. It did not release any footage or imagery from the site.
“The coalition should thoroughly and transparently investigate the dozens of civilian deaths, and in the case of wrongdoing, hold those responsible to account,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The high number of civilian deaths in recent fighting, as well as recent announcements about changed procedures for vetting airstrikes, raise concerns about the way the battle for west Mosul is being fought.”
In December 2016, the US-led coalition spokesperson, Air Force Col. John Dorrian, confirmed to the media that a US directive that month had reduced the number of steps required for some coalition troops to authorize and clear coalition airstrikes. He stated that the principal change removed the requirement for the coalition’s “strike cell” in Baghdad to clear individual strikes.
Human Rights Watch interviewed three civilians who had been in the vicinity of the March 17 attack at the time, two of whom were wounded in the attack. A person who was in the attacked homes until two days before the attack said by phone that on March 9, ISIS fighters told him and at least 45 families living in a four-block area in New Mosul to leave the area without providing a reason. His and his brother’s families moved to a very large, three-story home of a friend, about 200 meters away. By March 15, about 140 people had arrived at the house, he said, with many families staying in the basement’s two rooms, each about 4 by 5 meters.
Because the home was overcrowded, he moved his family that day, to another friend’s house in the neighborhood. Up until that point, he had not seen anything to suggest that ISIS had booby-trapped the large home, but he saw that ISIS fighters had broken holes between the walls of this and neighboring homes and were using them to move between buildings.
He said he heard heavy explosions from March 15 to 22 and did not go outside. He remembers hearing a particularly large explosion at about 8:30 a.m. on March 17, as well as aircraft overhead. On March 23, he went to the large home to check on his brother’s family, and found the home had been completely destroyed. Neighbors who said they witnessed the strike told him that a munition had destroyed it on the morning of March 17. Another house next door had been destroyed, and a third had been damaged.
For the next five days, he helped rescue workers pull bodies from the rubble of the large house, and on March 25, found his brother’s body. He said that he and rescue workers pulled at least 100 bodies from the rubble, and that relatives had come to the area looking for another 37 people whom they had not yet found. He said they had pulled out only one survivor, a local resident who was being treated in Erbil.
Human Rights Watch interviewed the survivor in Erbil on March 28. He said that on March 17, at approximately 8:15 a.m., he saw one ISIS fighter passing through the building, and that the building was then struck, he believed from the air. The owner of a smaller home damaged in the attack told Human Rights Watch that at about 9 p.m. on March 16, an ISIS fighter told him and the owner of the big home next door that everyone should evacuate the building and go deeper into ISIS territory before morning. The people inside the home were preparing to evacuate in the morning when, he said, there was a big explosion, wounding him and killing four family members.
Coalition investigators had not contacted any of these individuals at the time Human Rights Watch spoke to them.
A commander with the Iraq Counter Terrorism Service told Human Rights Watch on March 26 that he had inspected the site where “the massacre took place.” He said there were signs of TNT and other explosives at the site, and that the damage was not consistent with an airstrike, but instead an internal explosion.
Human Rights Watch attempted to visit New Mosul to investigate the allegations on March 26 but Counter Terrorism Service personnel denied access to the area, saying they were under orders from Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not to grant access to journalists or nongovernmental organizations. Several journalists gained access to the site earlier that day, but told Human Rights Watch that armed forces told them to leave within 30 minutes and prevented them from filming. One municipal councilwoman told Human Rights Watch on March 27 that she was also denied access to the area.
In the case of US strikes, US forces, including those under US Central Command, routinely investigate civilian casualties caused by US forces following a credibility assessment under US Army Regulation (AR) 15-6. Central Command oversees the US-led coalition.
The coalition should ensure that it makes public the findings of its investigations into attacks causing civilian casualties and, if it finds serious violations of the laws of war, should refer those responsible for appropriate criminal prosecution. The findings should include information on accountability measures taken, with explanations, and the redress provided to victims or their families. In the past, Central Command investigations under AR 15-6 into civilian casualties have not provided this information, nor has recent coalition reporting on investigations. The investigation should not rely solely on internal, assessments from air forces involved, which may underreport civilian casualties, but seek direct testimony from survivors, Human Rights Watch said.
ISIS has continued to carry out atrocities that amount to war crimes in Mosul. The laws of war apply to all sides in the fighting in Iraq, including ISIS, and require the parties to the conflict to take constant care during military operations to spare the civilian population and to “take all feasible precautions” to avoid or minimize the incidental loss of civilian life and damage to civilian objects. ISIS should cease putting civilians at risk by forcing them to accompany fighters, including into areas of active combat. Using civilians as human shields is a war crime.
In Iraq, clashes with ISIS intensified in 2016, operations to retake Mosul displaced more than 45,000 Iraqis, and credible allegations emerged of summary executions, beatings of men in custody, and enforced disappearances.
“Making it easier to call in airstrikes will almost necessarily afford civilians fewer protections from being injured or killed, increasing the danger to the very people these operations are supposedly meant to protect,” said Fakih.
Changes in the Authorization Process
According to the US military, the coalition “strike cell” located in Baghdad, provides information about the target areas to coalition aircraft, confirms enemy presence at targets, and provides targeting recommendations. The current directive allows some coalition members, potentially including Iraqi forces, to request the coalition to carry out airstrikes without an additional layer of authorization and review from the coalition “strike cell” in Baghdad.
The US Defense Department spokesperson, Capt. Jeff Davis, told the New York Times on March 24: “There’s been no loosening of the rules of engagement.” He did not address these other changes that could place civilians at greater risk, Human Rights Watch said.
Whether coalition members consider these to be changes in the rules of engagement or merely procedural changes, the net effect appears to be that coalition aircraft are now able to conduct strikes in densely populated areas with less information and time to ascertain the number of civilians who may be injured or killed, fewer measures to verify the target, and fewer recommendations about the appropriate ordnance to use. This increases the likelihood of civilian casualties in an attack.
It is also unclear how the coalition vets and verifies information received from various coalition partners that are requesting strikes before authorizing a strike, and how the new directives may have changed this procedure. Trained terminal attack controllers maintain the authority to clear strikes and release ordnance, but reliance on erroneous information may contribute to civilian deaths.
In addition, since the operation to retake west Mosul began, Human Rights Watch has documented Iraqi forces’ use of inherently indiscriminate improvised rocket-assisted munitions and heavy artillery in civilian-populated areas. The willingness to use such weapons in civilian-populated areas suggests that the Iraqi government is also taking fewer precautions to protect civilian life.
Beyond outright violations of the laws of war, an easing of the rules of engagement, or equipment malfunction, higher civilian casualties could also stem from the increased tempo of the battle against ISIS, and the high civilian population density of the areas where the battle is being fought, Human Rights Watch said. These concerns are particularly acute when fighting occurs in urban areas where the location of civilians is not easily known without exhaustive surveillance. Even then, civilians may not be seen. The risk of this is heightened given that ISIS is known to use civilians as human shields.
Steps to Reduce Civilian Casualties
Coalition and Iraqi commanders can immediately take several steps to reduce the risk of civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said. All armed forces are prohibited from conducting indiscriminate attacks and should not use explosive weapons with wide-area effects in populated areas. Commanders should, where possible, limit the use of indirect fires (mortars, artillery, and rockets) not using precision-guided munitions, and select weapons and specific ordnance to minimize civilian casualties to the maximum extent possible. Terminal attack controllers should be required to maintain the highest level of direct control over each strike, including both visually acquiring the target and attacking aircraft.
Commanders should closely review all requests for air and artillery strikes to ensure that all targets are legitimate military objectives and that the strikes would not cause disproportionate civilian harm compared with the expected military gain. Information regarding the target, the target area, and the presence of civilians or civilian objects should be verified using all available means, including by visual confirmation and the use of various intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance platforms.
Possible Rules Changes in Syria, Yemen
In recent weeks, there have also been reports about aerial attacks by US or other coalition forces in Syria resulting in possibly significant civilian casualties. On March 16, US forces struck a mosque near al-Jinah in Syria’s Aleppo governorate, killing dozens of people. While US authorities said that the attack targeted and killed members of Al-Qaeda, residents told Human Rights Watch that the attack killed civilians. On March 21, an airstrike hit a school near Raqqa killing dozens of civilians who had sought shelter in the school, according to local activists and monitoring groups. The US-led coalition has said that it conducted attacks against ISIS near Raqqa on March 21.
According to the New York Times, in January the Trump administration stated that it loosened the rules of engagement in at least three governorates in Yemen, declaring parts of them “areas of active hostilities” and rapidly scaled-up US operations against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in the ensuing weeks. The Trump administration is also considering scaling-up or lifting restrictions on US support to the Saudi-led coalition in its military campaign against the Houthi armed group in Yemen, according to the Washington Post.
I was just 10 when more than 400 schools were destroyed. Women were flogged. People were killed. And our beautiful dreams turned into nightmares. Education went from being a right to being a crime. Girls were stopped from going to school.
—Malala Yousafzai accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Oslo, December 10, 2014
On December 16, 2014, six days after Malala Yousafzai received the Nobel Peace Prize, armed militants attacked the Army Public School in Pakistan’s Peshawar city, killing 145 people, almost all of them children. Gunmen systematically went from classroom to classroom, shooting children and teachers at the military-run school. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the so-called Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack as revenge for a Pakistan Army offensive in the tribal areas of North Waziristan that began in June 2014. It remains among the deadliest attacks ever on a school in any country.
Pakistan already faces major challenges to education because of factors such as poor access, low enrollment rates, gender bias, lack of trained teachers, and poor physical infrastructure. Islamist militant violence has further exacerbated those challenges, however, and disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of children.
Human Rights Watch defines “attacks on education” as encompassing the full range of violations that place children at risk and deny them access to education. This includes attacks on school infrastructure and on students, teachers, and school administrators; the occupation of schools by the police and military; and harassment and threats against teachers, parents, and education professionals.
Militant groups have damaged and destroyed school buildings, attacked teachers and students, and terrorized parents into keeping their children out of school. They have also targeted colleges and other higher-education institutions. Such attacks and threats of attack on education not only harm the students and families directly affected, they have an incalculable long-term effect on Pakistani society.
In addition, in some areas, government security forces have used educational institutions, including schools and college hostels or dormitories, as temporary or permanent barracks or military bases. When an educational facility is used for military purposes, it disrupts the school’s functioning, places it at increased risk of attack, and often frightens parents into keeping their children—especially girls—at home. Criminal gangs, often operating with political patronage, have also occupied schools.
Pakistan’s militant Islamist groups use attacks on schools and universities to foster intolerance and exclusion, to target symbols of the government, and particularly to enforce gender discrimination, notably by preventing the education of girls. The challenge to educating girls in Pakistan drew international attention in 2012, when the Taliban shot a young student, Malala Yousafzai, for publicly defending her right to education. She survived the attack and continued her campaign, becoming the youngest individual—and the first and only child—to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
This report, based on interviews with 48 people—including students, teachers, parents, and school administrators in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP)—documents attacks on schools, students, and teachers between 2007 and late 2016. In a 2010 report, Human Rights Watch documented the killing of at least 22 teachers and education professionals by nationalist militants in Balochistan province between 2008 and 2010.
The Pakistani government does not collect specific data on the number of attacks on schools and universities, or the number of deaths and injuries from such attacks. However, according to the Global Terrorism Database maintained by researchers at the University of Maryland, there were 867 attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan from 2007 to 2015, resulting in 392 deaths and 724 injuries. According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, at least 838 schools in Pakistan were attacked between 2009 and 2012, killing at least 30 students and injuring 97 others. The data available indicate that attacks since 2012 have claimed hundreds of lives.
On January 20, 2016, alleged TPP militants attacked Bacha Khan University in Charsadda, KP, killing at least 21 people, most of them students. A 23-year-old student at the university told Human Rights Watch:
I was in my room in the hostel when I heard the sound of heavy firing. At this time, there were six other students with me in my room. We did not try to escape and tried to lock ourselves in the room. We continued to hear firing and footsteps. The militants knocked at our door, asking us to open it. I hid under the bed in my room. They eventually broke the door and came in. They killed five of my friends in front of me. Then they left the room. After a few minutes the militants came in again to check if anyone was alive. They did not look under the bed, but they lobbed a grenade in the room and left. I was very seriously injured by the shrapnel. I was in the hospital for 20 days and then I left for home. I have not been back at the university. I suffer from nightmares and panic attacks.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), and several other Islamist militant groups across the country attack schools, teachers, and students for various reasons. Some target schools for supposedly having “too secular” or Western curricula. Other schools have been threatened and targeted simply for educating girls. Militants also view schools as symbols of the Pakistani state. Some groups say they attack schools because they are used as bases by the security forces.
Militants often target unoccupied school buildings. The primary goal of these attacks is not to physically harm students or teachers, but to disrupt the educational process, particularly at girls schools.
While education remains under threat across Pakistan, teachers, professors, and school administrators are particularly at risk in KP, Balochistan, and FATA. For instance, in December 2015, the Ministry for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON) reported that 360 schools were destroyed in three of the seven regions of FATA in 2015—situated along the Afghan border and under the direct control of Pakistan’s federal government. No information was provided about the other four regions, but local activists say that scores of schools were targeted in their respective regions.
General insecurity and violence aimed at education compounds other barriers that keep children, especially girls, from going to school. Attacks on education disproportionately affect women and girls. When the TTP gained complete control over the Swat Valley in KP in 2009, they began a violent campaign against education for girls, forcing over 900 schools to close. As a result, over 120,000 students and 8,000 female teachers stopped attending school. The TTP also issued edicts banning girls education in Swat. In January 2009, Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesperson, told the Associated Press that the Taliban would not allow girls schools to operate in the Swat Valley because they “promote obscenity and vulgarity in society.”
Even after the military pushed back the Taliban, activists said that thousands of children remained out of school because of this disruption. Babar Khan (a pseudonym), who works with children affected by conflict in Swat, told Human Rights Watch: “There is no psychological counseling available, at least from the government. Children are afraid of the Taliban and the army; both are a constant reminder of the ongoing conflict and violence. They have seen both the Taliban and the army kill family members and destroy their houses.”
The conflict between the TTP and the Pakistani government has resulted in an estimated 5 million internally displaced persons from KP and FATA between 2004 and 2014. Some have relocated to Afghanistan. Others have settled inside or around camps in KP and FATA. Educational opportunities for displaced children are extremely limited, both within the camps and out. Educational services in the camps are mostly temporary schools set up in tents, often known as Temporary Learning Centers.
A large number of those displaced choose not to stay in the camps and are instead housed in school buildings in the host communities. According to an official report by the KP provincial government, 222 schools were partially occupied and 63 schools were entirely occupied by displaced families or security forces. This also prevents or limits schools’ ability to teach students.
Educational institutions in several conflict zones in Swat and FATA, and even in urban centers such as Karachi, have been taken over by the armed forces for use as barracks or bases.
In Swat, the Pakistan Army’s offensive forced out the Taliban, vacating the schools, but the army then occupied them instead. Although most schools have now been vacated, the military was still using about 20 schools in Swat as of December 2016. Qaiser Khan, a member of a private school association in Swat who asked us to use a pseudonym, said that the military had occupied his school since 2009. He told Human Rights Watch:
When the army came to Swat they claimed to have no place to live and so they stationed themselves in government schools and colleges. They also occupied a few private schools. The private school that I ran was also taken over. I left Swat as an internally displaced person when the military offensive started in May 2009, and when I returned in July, I found that a unit of the Baloch regiment of the Pakistan Army had taken over my school. They paid no compensation.
Bilal, a teacher at a school in Swat, described how security operations can traumatize children:
A few weeks ago, the army came and evicted a family and demolished the house of a Taliban commander adjacent to my school. All of this happened in full view of the students, and they remained afraid for many, many days. Even now, the rubble of the house has not been removed and it is a constant reminder of the violence. The children are more worried about security than education. Their questions are more about curfews and target killings and not about the curriculum.
The Pakistan Rangers, a federal paramilitary force, have occupied at least five historic educational sites in Karachi since they were called in to assist the civil authorities to curb violence in the city in the late 1980s. The Sindh education minister told the Sindh Assembly in 2009 that at least 27 schools, colleges, and hostels across the province were occupied by the army, Rangers, or police. No updated numbers are available.
The negative consequences of the Pakistani security forces using schools for military purposes are not limited to incidents within Pakistan. Human Rights Watch has found a local school in the Central African Republic being occupied and used as base by Pakistani peacekeepers.
The Pakistani government paid little attention to the protection of schools, students, and teachers until the attack on the Army Public School in 2014. Since then, the state has adopted new security measures, including training teachers in use of arms, mock security drills, and raising boundary walls. Reportedly, before the Peshawar attack, about 5,000 public schools in KP, 2,600 public schools in Punjab, 3,600 public schools in Balochistan, and 49,000 public schools in Sindh had no boundary walls.
However, securing the rights of children to safe access to education remains a low priority. After the attack on the Army Public School, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a 20-point National Action Plan to comprehensively deal with terrorism, but none of the 20 points pertained to students or education.
Securing schools has largely been left to the provincial governments, which have been sporadic and vary widely across provinces, paying little attention to the specific need to protect girls education. In January 2016, after the Bacha Khan University attack, police conducted a mock security drill in Lahore’s Punjab University, causing fear and panic as most students were not informed in advance of the drill, and many scrambled to escape, believing it to be a real attack. In February 2016, students panicked after hearing gunshots inside Islamia College in Peshawar, during a drill in which the security forces were giving firearm training to students and teachers.
School and university administrations are also responsible for security measures and paying for the cost of these measures. Some have adopted a policy of arming teachers or deploying students for guard duties. In June 2015, a teacher in Mingora, Swat, accidentally shot and killed a student while cleaning his gun. Shamim Ara, the principal at a government boys’ middle school in Lahore told Human Rights Watch:
Before the Army Public School attack our school had no security guard. After the attack, the government has provided us with one guard. It is a big school with more than 400 students and two gates. One security guard is not sufficient. When he goes for lunch or a prayer break, one of the older students, aged 15-16, takes over the responsibility of guarding the gate. Three of our students have been given a basic tutorial on handling a firearm by the security guard and they can stand as his substitute when he is temporarily away. I understand that this is not desirable or safe. However, I don’t see any other option for ensuring a minimum level of security.
Despite hundreds of attacks on teachers, students and educational institutions, the Pakistani government has not successfully prosecuted the perpetrators in most cases. This failure was highlighted in June 2015, when it was reported that eight out of the ten individuals arrested and charged for the attack on Malala Yousafzai were acquitted, even after they all confessed to their role in court.
Instead of conducting proper investigations and prosecuting those implicated, the Pakistani government constituted secret military courts after the Army Public School attack. Although there have been a number of convictions and even executions since, the families of victims do not know if the actual perpetrators were punished since the trials were conducted in secret.
In December 2015, four people found guilty by a military court of providing funds, transportation and other assistance to the Army Public School attackers were executed at a prison in Kohat, KP. In December 2016, the army chief ratified the death sentences of four individuals found guilty of planning the attack on Bacha Khan University by a military court. The military also ratified the death sentence of another individual found guilty by a military court of being involved in attacks on security officials and “the destruction of an education institution” in December 2016, but the government did not provide more details about the educational institution that was allegedly destroyed.
Pakistan’s national and provincial governments need to recognize that they have a responsibility to protect children and their right to an education. To be effective, the approach must be systematic and should include specific steps to prioritize the protection of girls and their schools and teachers.
As a first step, Pakistan should endorse the Safe Schools Declaration, a non-binding political agreement opened for state support at an international conference in Oslo, Norway in May 2015. Countries that endorse the Safe Schools Declaration pledge to restore access to education when schools are attacked, and make it less likely that students, teachers, and schools will be attacked in the first place. They agree to deter such attacks by promising to investigate and prosecute crimes involving schools, and to minimize the use of schools for military purposes so they do not become targets for attack.
Human Rights Watch conducted 48 interviews with teachers, students, parents, and school administrators in the Pakistani provinces of Punjab, Sindh, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) between February and November 2016. Due to ongoing insecurity in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), a number of locations that would have been part of this research were inaccessible. The report documents attacks on schools, students, and teachers between January 2007 and October 2016. The report also documents past and ongoing military use of educational institutions.
All interviews were conducted with full and informed consent, and without compensation. The interviews were conducted in Urdu and when necessary (for example, in KP) through an interpreter. In all cases, Human Rights Watch took steps to minimize re-traumatization of survivors of abuses, immediately stopping interviews if they appeared to cause distress. The names of several interviewees have been replaced with pseudonyms, or left anonymous, due to safety concerns.
FATA and the areas constituting the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are in a state of armed conflict between the Pakistani government and the Taliban, with large numbers of the population displaced and inaccessible. Human Rights Watch documented attacks in these areas through interviews with local activists, media reports, and government documents.
Human Rights Watch also monitored and analyzed media reports, and reviewed government documents and academic publications regarding attacks on schools and military use of schools.
ANP Awami National Party
BLA Baloch Liberation Army
BLUFBaloch Liberation United Front
BRP Baloch Republican Party
CEDAW Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women
CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child
FATA Federally Administered Tribal Areas
ICCPR International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
ICECSCR International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
IDP Internally Displaced Persons
ISSB Inter Service Selection Board
KP Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
MQM Muttahida Qaumi Movement
SAFRON Ministry for States and Frontier Regions
TTP Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan
VDC Village Defense Councils
In April 2010, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution of Pakistan elevated the right to education to the status of a “fundamental right.” As a result, the government became constitutionally responsible for providing free and compulsory education to all children between the ages of 5 and 16. Nonetheless, an estimated 25 million children in Pakistan are out of school, the highest number in South Asia and second highest in the world.
Pakistan faces significant educational challenges. Poor access, low enrollment rates, wide disparities between provinces, gaps in access to education between rural and urban areas, gender bias, lack of trained teachers, and poor physical infrastructure of schools are just a few of the factors behind the dismal state of education in the country.
Exacerbating the challenge, militant violence has disrupted the education of hundreds of thousands of children, particularly girls. Islamist militants have destroyed school buildings, targeted teachers and students, and terrorized parents into keeping their children out of school.
Under the 18th Amendment, provincial governments are responsible for education, including policy making and budgetary allocations. In some instances, the provincial governments have requested the assistance of the federal government in rebuilding educational institutions damaged due to armed conflict or natural disaster.
Provincial governments are also responsible for maintaining law and order in their respective provinces. After the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar in December 2014, the provincial governments were required to make security arrangements for schools in their provinces. For example, in January 2015, the KP government allocated PKR 7.5 billion (US$7.5 million) for the security of government schools.
While education continues to be under threat across Pakistan, it is particularly vulnerable to attacks in the country’s northwest regions, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The Taliban took over large parts of the Swat Valley in KP province in 2007. By 2009, the TTP had gained complete control over the Swat Valley, where they enforced their fundamentalist interpretation of Sharia (Islamic law).
The Taliban imposed their authority in Swat and adjoining areas through summary executions, including beheadings, of state officials and political opponents. They also engaged in public whippings and large-scale intimidation of the population. Women were not allowed to leave their homes unless escorted by male family members. The Taliban halted Polio immunization programs, and expelled nongovernmental organizations. Music and film were banned and stores trading in CDs and DVDs were destroyed. All men were required to grow beards.
The Taliban also began a violent campaign against education for girls, forcing over 900 girls schools to close. As a result, over 120,000 female students and 8,000 women teachers stopped attending school.
On April 13, 2009, President Asif Ali Zardari signed an ordinance imposing Sharia in the Swat Valley and adjoining areas as part of a deal with the Pakistani Taliban. This effectively empowered the Taliban to impose its authority in the areas, which it did through serious human rights abuses. Responding to domestic and international outrage, on May 7, 2009, the government reversed course and declared an end to the deal, vowing to “eliminate” the Taliban. The ensuing military operation triggered a massive displacement crisis as some 2 million civilians fled the fighting to adjoining districts.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has carried out deadly attacks in the country’s largest province, Punjab, killing hundreds of civilians and members of security forces. On March 27, 2016, a suicide attack which targeted Christian families celebrating Easter in a public park in Lahore killed at least 74 people and injured more than 300. On August 16, 2016, two suicide attackers killed Punjab’s home minister, Shuja Khanzada, and at least 2o other people at a public meeting in Attock district. At least 8 people were injured on December 10, 2007, when a Pakistan Airforce employee bus carrying at least 50 school children was attacked by a suicide bomber outside the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, Attock.
After the Army Public School attack on December 16, 2014, the Punjab government ordered all schools in the province to be closed, leading to the loss of several school days. The Punjab government announced winter holidays ordering all schools, colleges, and universities to remain closed from December 19, 2014, till January 12, 2015.
In January 2016, the Punjab government ordered the closure of all public and private schools from January 26 until January 31. Although the government cited cold weather as the reason, officials from the education department and education professionals told media that the decision was motivated by security considerations.
In August 2016, the Punjab government extended the summer holidays of educational institutions by two weeks, directing them to remain closed. The government did not publicly give reasons for the decision, but a public school teacher told the Express Tribune, “Security was cited as the reason for the extension. Apparently, the government is not satisfied with security arrangements. The School Education Department had advertised vacancies for guards but apparently not all posts were filled.”
Karachi, the capital of Sindh province and the largest city in Pakistan, has witnessed constant violence and turbulence for the past three decades. Political parties, ethnic groups, and sectarian and Islamist militant organizations have engaged in violence, resulting in thousands of deaths. The Pakistan Rangers and Sindh police, the two primary law enforcement agencies, are deployed in the city to maintain order. However, they have been accused of numerous serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and torture.
Multiple actors threaten educational institutions in the city. Islamist extremist groups and factions of political parties have attacked schools for not paying extortion money. Sectarian militant organizations such as the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi (LeJ) have also killed teachers who were Shia.
Balochistan, Pakistan’s western-most province, borders eastern Iran and southern Afghanistan. It is the largest of the country’s four provinces in terms of area (44 percent of the country’s land area), but the smallest in terms of population at 8 million people (5 percent of the country’s total). According to the last national census in 1998, over two-thirds of the Baloch population lives in rural areas.
Teachers, professors, and school administrators have found their lives increasingly under threat in Balochistan. Human Rights Watch has previously documented the killings of at least 22 teachers and other educational personnel in the province who were targeted by suspected militant groups between 2008 and late 2010. Militants have also threatened, bombed, or otherwise attacked schools, resulting in injuries, deaths, property damage, and curtailed access to education for Balochistan’s children and youth.
Education falls in the crosshairs of three distinct violent conflicts in Balochistan. The first is a nationalist conflict, in which militant Baloch groups seeking separation or autonomy for Balochistan, such as the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) and the Baloch Liberation United Front (BLUF), have targeted Punjabis and other minorities, particularly in the districts of Mastung, Kalat, Nushki, Gwadar, Khuzdar, and Quetta. While individuals from all professions have been the victims of such “targeted killings,” teachers and students constitute a significant proportion of victims because militant groups view schools and educational personnel, particularly ethnic Punjabis, as representatives of the Pakistani state and symbols of perceived Punjabi military oppression of the province.
Bramdagh Bugti, chief of the Baloch Republican Party (BRP) and guerrilla commander, justified the targeted killings of Punjabi teachers as a reaction to Pakistan Army abuses:
As far as the target killing of teachers is concerned, I do not understand why the Pakistani authorities and the media shout only when one Punjabi teacher or barber is killed… I said before that target killings are the reaction to an action. If one Punjabi teacher is killed, one hundred more Balochs are also killed in response by the security forces. The government functionaries destroy all the livelihood of the poor Baloch tribesmen by bombarding their homes, goats, and sheep with helicopters and jet airplanes. What are the other ways left for us? Why should we not react?
The second distinct conflict is a sectarian one, in which militant Sunni Muslim groups have attacked members of the Shia community, especially members of the Persian-speaking Hazara community. Such sectarian attacks appeared to increase in 2009, and occur mainly in Quetta and its neighboring districts.
The third conflict involves armed Islamist groups attacking those who are deemed to act contrary to their interpretation of Islam. Islamist militants have increasingly committed violence in opposition to the content and manner of local education, particularly that of girls and young women. There have also been several reported instances of demands that schools stop teaching girls and boys together, and that students and teachers adopt more local and conservative dress.
Islamist militants attack schools, teachers, and students for a variety of reasons. Some target schools because the curriculum is perceived to be too “secular” or Western. Other schools were threatened and targeted simply for educating girls. Militants also view schools as symbols of the Pakistani state. They have also claimed to attack schools because they are used as bases by the security forces.
Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is an alliance of Sunni militant networks formed in 2007 to unify opposition against the Pakistani state. The TTP is inspired by the Taliban, a Sunni militant group in Afghanistan that was formed in the early 1990s and ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until October 2001.
However, the Afghan Taliban and the TTP have different targets and objectives. The Afghan Taliban have declared war against the Afghan government and attack the Afghan government, civilians, security personnel and international security forces.
The TTP’s stated objectives are to overthrow the Pakistani government, dismantle the state, establish a caliphate, and enforce a strict implementation of a particular interpretation of Islam. TTP attacks on civilians and security forces in Pakistan have resulted in thousands of deaths. Hakeemullah Mehsud, in an October 2013 interview with the BBC, explained the objectives and motivations of the TTP:
[F]riendship with America is only one of the two reasons we have to conduct jihad against Pakistan. The other reason is that Pakistan's system is un-Islamic, and we want that it should be replaced with the Islamic system. This demand and this desire will continue even after the American withdrawal.
On December 16, 2014, after attacking the Army Public School in Peshawar, the TTP justified the attack against the military-run school as revenge for an ongoing army offensive in the tribal areas of North Waziristan that began in June 2014. Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani said the attack was intended to make the army “feel the pain” for allegedly “targeting our families and females.”
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) is a militant extremist Sunni Deobandi group formed in 1996 as a breakaway faction of the sectarian militant Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP). The LeJ views Shia Muslims as heretics and their deaths as religiously justified. The Pakistani government imposed a ban on LeJ and designated it as a terrorist organization in 2001. Following the ban, some LeJ members fled to Afghanistan, seeking protection from the Afghan Taliban, and used that as a base to plan attacks in Pakistan. In addition to attacks on the Shia community, the LeJ has also been involved in attacks on Pakistan security forces, civilians, and foreign visitors in Pakistan. The LeJ has attacked teachers, school administrators, and other education personnel on the basis of their sectarian affiliations.
The extremist armed group Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has claimed responsibility for attacks on Pakistani civilians, including attacks on teachers and education personnel. ISIS controls large if decreasing swaths of Iraq and Syria and has offshoots in countries including Libya, Nigeria, Yemen, and Afghanistan. There is very little information on the scale of ISIS operations in Pakistan. In December 2015, ISIS claimed responsibility for killing Zahid Askani, an educator in Gwadar, Balochistan, for “promoting an education system which contradicts Islam and Sharia law.”
The Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) is a Baloch nationalist armed separatist group based in the province of Balochistan. It has been in armed conflict with the Pakistani government since 2006. BLA has attacked teachers and other educational professionals on the basis of ethnicity.
Following a June 2014 attack by militants at Jinnah International Airport in Karachi that killed more than 18 people, the military launched an offensive against the TTP. This offensive took place in North Waziristan, FATA, and involved more than 30,000 troops.
The fighting between the TTP and the Pakistan Army has resulted in an estimated 5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) from KP and FATA from 2004-2014. By August 2014, there were 1 million registered IDPs from FATA and possibly more that remained unregistered. According to estimates, over half of those displaced were children.
Many of those fleeing the conflict either relocated to Afghanistan or settled inside or around the Bakakel camp in Bannu district, KP. The other three main camps in KP and FATA are the Jalozai camp, Togh Sarai camp in Hangu district, KP, and New Durrani camp in Kurram agency, FATA. Educational opportunities for internally displaced children are extremely limited, both within the camps and out. In 2013, the Jalozai camp had 17 schools for over 55,000 people. Education services in the camps are usually temporary schools set up in tents, often known as Temporary Learning Centers (TLCs).
A large number of the displaced persons choose not to stay in the camps and are housed in school buildings in host communities. According to a report by the KP Elementary and Secondary Education Department’s Independent Monitoring Unit, 222 schools were partially occupied and 63 schools were entirely occupied by displaced families or security forces as of December 2014, disrupting the schools’ normal functions.
In December 2015, the minister for States and Frontier Regions (SAFRON), in a report submitted to the National Assembly, stated that 360 schools were destroyed in three of the seven agencies of FATA in 2015. According to the government, at least 166 schools were destroyed in North Waziristan Agency, 139 in Khyber Agency, and 55 in South Waziristan Agency. The statistics for the other four agencies were not available. The minister told the National Assembly, “The areas of the [FATA] agencies which are not accessible are being assessed/surveyed.”
Muhammad Rasool, a journalist who worked closely with displaced persons, described the humanitarian and educational crisis:
Most children are not getting any access to education, and the ones that do have access are learning nothing. Youngsters attend a college that has no teachers and study on their own. The only time they see an educator is when time comes for them to be given their exams, after that they either pass or fail.
In June 2016, Iqbal Jhagra, governor of K-P, announced an “education emergency” in FATA.
After the attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, the Pakistani government responded with a national action plan to fight terrorism, including tactics that violated basic rights. The government established the use of military courts instead of civilian courts in terrorism cases and also ended an unofficial moratorium on capital punishment.
The Pakistan Rangers, a federal paramilitary force, have been deployed in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, since the 198os, but the deployment has been scaled up in recent years. The Pakistan Rangers have been given special policing powers and have occupied several educational institutions. The Sindh government has objected to the deployment of the Pakistan Rangers. The federal government maintains that while the provincial government has the power to call the paramilitary force for assistance, the authority of how and where the troops are deployed lies with the federal government and the Pakistan Rangers.
The impact of attacks has been devastating on education in Pakistan. Many teachers and students have been killed, injured, or traumatized. Attacks often lead to dramatic decreases in school attendance rates.
Human Rights Watch observed that the streets of Swat district in KP have a high number of unattended children, some as young as five years old. Many are the children of those killed by the Taliban, those killed by the Pakistan Army as suspected militants, and of mountain dwellers displaced by the military offensive.
Children of suspected Taliban members killed in battle are in the worst condition since it is practically prohibited for local residents to help them. Any local educational institution, shelter, orphanage, or nongovernmental organization that attempts to help them is put under investigation for being Taliban “sympathizers.” Babar Khan, who works with children affected by conflict in Swat, told Human Rights Watch:
If we try and help orphan children whose fathers were killed as suspected militants, the army begins questioning and threatening us, calling us “facilitators” and “sympathizers” of the Taliban. There is so much fear of the army’s reaction that the families of the missing militants are shunned from schools and shelters and they are reduced to begging and child labor. There is a major crisis brewing in Swat. It has too many children on the streets and out of school. At this rate, the government will never be able to stop Taliban recruitment.
Many children require psychological counselling because of being exposed to and affected by violence, but according to Babar Khan:
There is no psychological counseling available, at least from the government. Children are afraid of the Taliban and the army; both are a constant reminder of the ongoing conflict and violence. They have seen both the Taliban and the army kill their family members and destroy their houses.
As a response to the Peshawar school attack, the government and the administration required security barricades for many schools in Lahore, and carried out drills simulating attacks, furthering trauma for students. Sadia Mukhtar, a doctor in Lahore and mother of an 8-year-old, described her daughter’s elite private school in Lahore after the Peshawar attack: “It was surreal. The school was fortified with barbed wires, and there were snipers on the roof.”
Imran Ali, a lawyer, described the security drill at his son’s private school in Lahore:
My son came home from school absolutely shaken one day. The school had carried out a drill. The trainers taught the children how to play dead when the attackers were shooting. The told my son that the attackers might check to see if he is really dead or merely pretending by poking him with the rifle’s muzzle, that the muzzle might be hot from all the shooting, and that he should not make a sound or movement if that happens. My son did not want to go to school for weeks and frankly, we did not want to send him either.
Some schools are now deploying children on guard duty. Shamim Ara, the principal at a government boys’ middle school in Lahore, said:
Before the Army Public School attack our school had no security guard. After the attack, the government has provided us with one guard. It is a big school with more than 400 students and two gates. One security guard is not sufficient. So when he goes for lunch or a prayer break one of the older students, aged 15-16, takes over the responsibility of guarding the gate. Three of our students have been given a basic tutorial on handling a firearm by the security guard and can stand as his substitute when he is temporarily away. I understand that this is not desirable or safe. However, I don’t see any other option of ensuring a minimum level of security.
Pakistan has a huge gender disparity problem. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2016, Pakistan ranks 143 out of 144 countries in the gender inequality index. Government figures showed that in 2014 only 47 percent of the women in Pakistan were literate, compared to 70 percent of men. At least 53 percent of girls are out of school as compared to 43 percent of boys.
Discriminatory policies and conservative cultural and social practices contribute to impeding equal access to education for women and girls. Parents often have a lower threshold for pulling their daughters out of school than boys, given greater social restrictions on girls’ movements and concerns about sexual harassment and violence. This exacerbates an already dire situation where only 35 percent of schools accept girls.
In addition, women and girls in Pakistan bear the brunt of the attacks on education, exacerbating other barriers that keep girls from going to school. In January 2009, the TTP announced a deadline of January 15, after which no female student was allowed to go to school. The Taliban also destroyed 400 of the approximately 1,600 schools—around 70
percent of them girls schools—in areas under their control. Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesperson, justified prohibiting and attacking girls’ education:
If our women are not educated in the Deen [religion] but rather in Western education, they will impart false information to their children, or they may raise their children to hate jihad, to pursue an education for the sake of an education, to get a high paying job and not have any interest with spreading the Deen of Allah.
Human Rights Watch defines “attacks on education” as encompassing the full range of violations that place children at risk and deny them access to education. This includes attacks on school infrastructure and on students, teachers, and school administrators, the occupation of schools by the police and military, as well as harassment and threats against teachers, parents, and education professionals.
Pakistan is one of the most badly affected countries in the world in terms of attacks on schools. Reliable and transparent official government data on the number of attacks on schools and universities, or the number of injuries and casualties from such attacks, are non-existent. However, according to the Global Terrorism Database, there were 867 attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan from 2007 to 2015, resulting in 392 fatalities and 724 injured.
According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack:
There were at least 838 attacks on schools in Pakistan between 2009 and 2012, leaving hundreds of schools damaged. At least 30 students were killed and more than 97 injured in the same period. Furthermore, at least 138 school students and staff were reported to have been kidnapped.
Attacks on educational institutions between 1990 and 2013 appear to have occurred on a much greater scale in Pakistan than anywhere else in the world. The vast majority of the school attacks, around 94 percent, typically involved the use of explosives, arson, or incendiary devices on buildings that were unoccupied at the time of the attack. The primary goal of these attacks was not to physically harm students or teachers, but to disrupt the educational process, particularly at girls schools. The TTP was allegedly responsible for three-fourths of the attacks.
However, even when students are not harmed, these attacks adversely impact the right to education because they can lead to a drop in attendance among students, teachers, and staff; demotivation, distraction, and traumatization of students and teachers; a drop in staff recruitment; and declining enrollment of students.
In February 2016, militants targeted a newly constructed girls school in South Waziristan, FATA in a bomb attack. Sajna group, a faction of the TTP, claimed responsibility, saying, “We have blown up the school because it was a government installation.”
In October 2014, a government-run girls primary school in Khyber agency, FATA, was targeted in a bomb attack. Because the attack took place on a Sunday evening, there were no deaths or injuries. However, it completely demolished the school, including all rooms and the boundary wall. Explosives planted in various parts of the school were detonated with a remote device.
In September 2014, militants bombed a newly reconstructed school in Bajaur agency, FATA, on International Literacy Day. The school had been previously attacked and completely destroyed in 2009 and rebuilt in 2014.
In September 2014, armed assailants entered, ransacked, and set fire to a private school in Turbat, Balochistan, destroying textbooks, furniture, and computers, as well as the entire principal’s office. The attack occurred at night and there were no fatalities or injuries. The school was co-educational and offered classes in English to over 400 students. Al Jihad, a lesser known religious extremist group, claimed responsibility for the attack. The attackers also left pamphlets in the school demanding that other private schools “stop imparting Western education.”
In June 2014, militants bombed a government girls school at night in South Waziristan, FATA, destroying the school entrance and three adjacent classrooms. Reportedly, the militants threatened the school watchman and asked him to leave before the attack.
In July 2013, militants detonated heavy explosives alongside the wall of a government-run primary girls school in Bannu district, KP. While no one was injured, the blast destroyed a portion of the school boundary wall, the gate, and some classrooms.
Schools in Pakistan are often designated as polling stations in general and local elections and in some instances have been attacked to enforce election boycotts. In May 2013, bomb attacks targeted two schools in the Naseerabad district of Balochistan which had been designated as polling stations for the general election. Human Rights Watch also documented attacks on schools in Balochistan designated as polling stations before the February 2008 general election.
In March 2012, a bomb targeted the government primary school for boys in Koteri village of Kohat district. According to bomb disposal officials, 20 kilograms of explosives were used in the attack. Syed Kamal, the caretaker of the school, told Human Rights Watch:
Suddenly there was an explosion in the very early hours of the morning. It demolished the western wall of the school and damaged the doors and windows of the rooms. It was the Taliban. They attack schools because they do not want our children to be educated. There was a lot of fear in teachers, parents and students for a few days. Later, however, it was normal again. People know that there is nothing that can be done about this. Children have to go to school. And Taliban attacks are just a part of our lives.
In June 2012, a government-run girls primary school was targeted in a bomb attack. The school watchman reportedly confessed to blowing it up on the orders of the Taliban. An official investigator told media, “It is a unique case. In all other cases of terrorism, the government servants haven’t cooperated with militants to such extent to blow up the building that is guarded by them.”
Teacher Ahmad Ali said they had feared such an attack because girls attended the school:
I was asleep at home, which is close to the school. I woke up hearing an explosion around midnight, but was too frightened to come out. In the morning, I came to the school and saw that some unknown terrorists had bombed the school and completely destroyed two rooms. Another room in the middle was also badly damaged. The Taliban have attacked schools for girls all over KP and the police had, in the past, warned that our school might be a target. However, no police security was provided to the school.
The school had been rebuilt and was functioning when Human Rights Watch visited.
In November 2012, militants targeted a government-run girls primary school in Kama Khel area of Kohat district. No one was killed in the nighttime attack, although the building was damaged. Muhammad Razzaq, the head teacher, told Human Rights Watch:
I was at home late at night when another teacher phoned to tell me that some unknown persons had caused explosions in the school. I arrived at the school at 7:30 a.m. the next morning. The police and the bomb disposal squad were already there. After a detailed inspection, they found that three rooms had been completely demolished, while two rooms had become unfit for use. There was no watchman or other persons present in the school at the time of explosion. For the next few days, we conducted classes in the grounds. The militants oppose education for girls and an incident like this makes it difficult for us to convince parents to send their girls to school.
In many of the damaged schools that Human Rights Watch visited, classes are held on the grounds outside while the school, or parts of it, is rebuilt. Many interviewees expressed concern about the quality of reconstruction, which they felt authorities compromise in a rush to rebuild.
The Federal Government Public School in Kohat is close to the Inter Service Selection Board (ISSB) building, which is the main recruitment center for the Pakistan Army. The area has been repeatedly targeted because of this proximity. The first attack on the school occurred in 2006; it was attacked again in 2009.
Atif Haider, school caretaker since 2005, said that although the school was now fully functional, parents were concerned about safety after the 2009 bombing:
I was on duty in the schoolyard when in the evening there was a large explosion next to the southern boundary wall of the school. The explosion caused massive damage to the boundary wall and the gate. Fortunately, since it was in the evening, no one was hurt. If an explosion like this had happened during the day, it could have resulted in significant causalities. I remember that for days after that the school remained closed, and even after it opened, parents were reluctant to send their children to school.
There is an acute shortage of schools and colleges in Swat. According to education department officials, Swat has 848 primary schools for boys and exactly half that number, 424, for girls. Many girls end up without access to education. The few schools that do exist for girls are also under threat.
Schools were first destroyed in Swat when the Taliban took over in December 2008. According to Raza Shah, a member of a teachers’ association in Swat, the Taliban destroyed 265 schools from January to May 2009. Of these, only 68, or 25 percent, were boy’s schools and the rest were for girls.
By the time military operations pushed the Taliban back, they had destroyed at least 393 schools in Swat. Raza Shah said that many of those schools have been completely or partially rebuilt by aid from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the United Arab Emirates. In August 2016, the spokesperson for the KP government’s Provincial Reconstruction Rehabilitation and Settlement Authority said in a statement that more than 100 schools had been constructed in collaboration with USAID and 47 schools had been constructed with the assistance of United Arab Emirates. Only 23 of the schools damaged or destroyed by militants have not been rebuilt.
However, one major consequence of the violence in Swat has been a disturbingly high dropout rate for children who were enrolled before the conflict started. At least 40 percent of male students and 80 percent of female students did not return to school even 11 months after the Pakistan Army had displaced the Taliban control of the area.
In June 2016, the Taliban allegedly burned a school in Toha, Charbagh. Although the local Taliban leadership claimed responsibility for the attack, the government maintains that the school caught fire due to a wire short circuit, in an effort to deny responsibility for security failures.
Karachi has witnessed violent attacks for decades in a stand-off between the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a dominant political party claiming to represent Muslims who moved to Pakistan after the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, criminal gangs that operate under political patronage, and state security forces. Education is a hidden casualty.
In March 2016, assailants threw a grenade into a school in North Nazimabad and left a threatening letter. Although children were inside at the time, no one was injured.
In 2015, the Government Primary School for Girls at Gul Muhammad Kalamthi Goth was targeted with an improvised explosive device placed near the boundary wall of the school. It was a weekly holiday and no one was injured, although the wall was damaged.
The District West area in Karachi has been particularly affected by attacks on schools. Nine schools in the District West area were attacked from March 2013 to August 2013, mostly by unidentified gunmen firing on the school gate or building. The schools that were attacked are:
In addition to attacks on school buildings, the TTP and other groups have also attacked students and staff, often specifically targeting girls.
In September 2011, militants attacked a school van in Peshawar, KP. Four students and the van driver were killed in the attack. A TTP spokesperson claimed responsibility, telling the Associated Press: “This was to teach them a lesson and we will continue to carry out attacks wherever and whenever possible, no matter if it is a school or a school bus.”
In October 2012, militants intercepted a school van carrying students from the Parachinar area of Kurram agency, FATA, to the Kohat University of Science and Technology for an exam, and threw acid on the faces of the female students. At least two girls sustained severe burns to their faces. The local TTP commander told CNN:
We will never allow the girls of this area to go and get a Western education. If and when we find any girl from Parachinar going to university for an education we will target her [in] the same way, so that she might not be able to unveil her face before others.
After the attack, many parents no longer wanted to send their daughters to university. Zahid Hussain, a school teacher, explained that he was going to keep his daughter and niece at home: “There is no other option. Being poor, we cannot afford for such incidents to happen to our daughters too.”
On March 30, 2013, armed gunmen attacked the Nation Secondary School in Ittehad Town, Karachi, a school with both female and male students. A large number of students were present in the school at the time. The attackers entered the school building, hurled grenades into classrooms, and opened fire. The school principal, Abdul Rasheed, and a grade four student, Tahira Noor, were killed. Six girls and two visitors were injured. According to a friend of the principal, Rashid had received a threatening call from a TTP representative in Karachi demanding that he quit his affiliation with the Awami National Party (ANP), a Pashtun nationalist political party. Malala Yousafzai had visited the school in March 2012.
One of those injured, Attaur Rahman, the principal of the nearby Iqbal academy, was visiting the school at the time of the attack. Rahman said that the attack seemed to specifically target the female students: “The attacker was standing on the boys’ side and was firing towards the girls. Luckily, we managed to send them inside the classrooms when they opened fire, otherwise around a hundred female students would have died.”
On December 16, 2014, the TTP attacked the Army Public School, a school for girls and boys in Peshawar, KP, killing 145 people, almost all of them children. Witnesses said that nine gunmen disguised in the uniforms of the Frontier Corps, a paramilitary force, entered the school by scaling the walls. According to the Pakistan military, the gunmen wanted to kill as many students and teachers as they could. There were more than 1,000 students and staff present at the time of the attack. The students ranged from age 5 to 17.
Zeeshan, a student, described the attack. “Our instructor asked us to duck and lie down. Then I saw militants walking past rows of students, shooting them in the head.”
The Army Public School attack was the deadliest ever on a school in Pakistan. The TTP said the attack was revenge for the army’s ongoing offensive in the tribal areas of North Waziristan that began in June 2014. Taliban spokesman Muhammad Umar Khorasani said the attack was intended to make the army “feel the pain” for allegedly “targeting our families and females.” All seven attackers were killed during the government rescue operation. In December 2015, four men convicted by a closed military court for being involved in the planning of the attack were executed.
On January 20, 2016, gunmen opened fire at Bacha Khan University in Charsadda district of KP. The Pakistan Army reported that four assailants had scaled the university walls and opened fire indiscriminately. The gunmen killed 21 students and wounded dozens of others. They were wearing suicide vests, but soldiers shot and killed all four of them before they could detonate. Asim, a 23-year-old geology student, said:
I was in my room in the hostel with some other students when I heard the sound of heavy gunfire. We locked ourselves in the room. We could hear firing and footsteps. The militants knocked at our door, asking us to open. I hid under the bed in my room. They eventually broke the door and came in. They killed five of my friends in front of me. Then they left the room. After a few minutes the militants came in again to check if anyone was alive. They did not look under the bed. But they lobbed a grenade in the room and left. I was very seriously injured by the grenade shrapnel. I was in the hospital for 20 days. I suffer from nightmares and panic attacks. I have not been able to focus on studying for the past many months. In our university, there are five students in each hostel dorm room — all four of my roommates are dead, and they were killed in front of my eyes. How can I ever forget that? I cannot live in a hostel or dorm room again.
Adnan, a 22-year-old student, told Human Rights Watch:
When the firing started, I ran to a friend’s room. We locked the room and tried hiding in the cupboard. The militants came to our door and knocked saying, ‘We are the police and we are here to rescue you.’ My friend and I were very scared and we almost opened the door. However, they spoke in Urdu and we thought that the Charsadda police would have talked to us in Pashto. When we did not open the door, they fired gunshots through the door and tried kicking it. But before they could break down the door, soldiers entered the hostel.
Seven of my closest friends were killed that evening. When I got out, I saw dead bodies of my friends lying in the corridors and in rooms with open doors. I also saw the bodies of two of the militants. I can never forget those scenes. The university closed for some time after the attack. Once it opened, I did not want to go back. My parents insisted that I go back. I remained up all night for weeks after the attack, checking repeatedly to see if the door of my room was locked. For weeks, almost everyone in the hostel remained up all night. I could hear people crying in their rooms and in the corridors.
According to Fazal-e-Haq, a 23-year-old student, even six months after the attack, the attendance at the university remained significantly lower:
Those were the worst three hours of my life. I saw the body of one of my close friends. I saw the bodies of the militants. I was trembling with fear and shock. I did not leave the house for many days. I am still very afraid. I have never returned to the hostel. Now, I come daily from Peshawar. It is a long distance for daily commute however I have no choice. More than half of the students have left the hostel and now travel daily from distant places. Many students have left the university altogether. The attendance in classes now is not more than one-third compared to before the attack.
The main spokesman for TTP later denied and condemned the assault. However, Khalifa Umar Mansoor, a TTP commander claiming responsibility for the attack on Bacha Khan University, Charsadda, KP, said in a video message:
We will continue to attack schools, colleges, and universities across Pakistan as these are the foundations that produce apostates. This is the place where lawyers are made, this is the place that produces military officers, this is the place that produces members of parliament, all of whom challenge Allah's sovereignty.
Aitzaz Hasan, a 15-year-old student, was killed on January 7, 2014, while preventing a suicide bomber from entering a school in KP’s Hangu district. The school is the only one in Ibrahimzai, a Shia-dominated area in Hangu. There were nearly 2,000 students in the school at the time the attack occurred. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) later claimed responsibility for the attack. Raza Ali, a 16-year-old student, witnessed the entire incident. He said:
Aitzaz and I along with another friend were late for school and were walking near the school gate. We saw another person walking towards the school. He looked around 20 years old. We did not recognize him, so we asked him who he was. He said that he was going to the school to get admission. We found that odd since it was not the time of year for school admissions. He did not want to talk to us and kept walking towards the school gate. It was then, that we spotted that he was wearing a “jacket” [a suicide vest with a detonator] and I began to run towards the school gate. Aitzaz tried to stop him. I kept running until I heard a loud blast.
Mujtaba Hasan said that he heard from witnesses that his younger brother Aitzaz grabbed the attacker to stop him from entering the school.
Aitzaz, instead of running away from him, ran towards him and wrestled him to the ground. The suicide vest detonated while Aitzaz attempted to restrain him. There were more than 2,000 children in the school at that moment.
Ali Hussain, an elder of Ibrahimzai village in District Hangu, KP, told Human Rights Watch about his reluctance to send his son to school after the attempted suicide bombing by LeJ:
We already feel threatened because we are Shia. However, nobody thought that the LeJ would attack a school. School is supposed to be a place of safety of our children. For many days after the attack, my son couldn’t go to school. I also didn’t want him to. There is police security at the school now, but on most days it is just one police constable. We have tried to put together a team of local volunteers to guard the school. But what can we do when faced with a suicide attacker? There is only one school in the village and all our children go to this school. An attack on this school is devastating for us. Many people in the village have made their children discontinue school after the martyrdom of Aitzaz Hasan.
Teachers, professors, and school administrators have found their lives increasingly threatened in KP, Balochistan, and FATA. Human Rights Watch has previously documented the killings of at least 22 teachers and education professionals by Baloch nationalist militants.
In March 2013, Shahnaz Ishtiaq, 41, headmistress of Community Girls School at Jamrud, FATA was killed while on her way to the school with her son.
In January 2014, five female teachers were shot dead in Swabi district, KP as they were exiting the school building. Militants allegedly targeted them because they were deployed by the government as part of a polio eradication program. A female health worker and a male health technician were also killed.
There have been multiple attacks on teachers in the Hangu district of KP, because it borders FATA, which has been an arena of conflict between the Pakistani government and the TTP since 2002. In February 2014, militants shot and killed Faqir Hussain, Syed Khalil, and Muhammad Khan, all teachers at Government Primary School Kacha Banda, on their way home from classes. The district police officer said that the militants were attempting to damage education in the area by targeting teachers.
Just three days after the Kacha Banda shooting, Munawwar Hussain, a teacher at Hangu’s Government Primary School for Boys, sustained injuries when militants shot at him. According to local police, Hussain had been receiving threats pressuring him to quit his job and leave the area.
In May 2014, two high school teachers were shot dead in the Khan Bari area of Hangu district. In August 2014, three women teachers and two students were killed by a remote-controlled explosive device targeting a school van in Tangi, Salarzai tehsil, of Bajaur agency. In October 2014, a grenade attack on the Askari Public School and College in Peshawar killed a teacher and injured two students.
According to Raza Shah, teachers and education professionals have been under constant attack in Swat since 2008, but the situation has significantly worsened since the Taliban took charge.
In December 2008, the Taliban told all schools that no girls should go to school and anybody who defies this order will be attacked. In January 2009, the Taliban allowed girls to attend school up to class 4. Teachers and school administrations who attempted to keep schools, particularly girls schools, running in that period were identified, routinely threatened, and often attacked.
Qaiser Khan, a member of the private schools association in Swat, told Human Rights Watch that the attacks have continued even after the military forced the Taliban to retreat:
The Taliban are now targeting teachers and activists who opposed them in 2009-10. The government and the army are aware of the threats but they are not providing any protection. We have been abandoned to take care of ourselves. Many teachers have been included in the government constituted Village Defense Councils [VDCs] to counter radicalization and Talibanization. But VDC members are being killed. They are soft targets.
Some education professionals feel that the government is deliberately not protecting them, particularly those who speak out against the government and security policies in Swat. Aslam Khan, a local village councilor, said that his brother—a teacher and member of the local VDC—was murdered:
My brother Asad was a government teacher and a member of the VDC. On May 8, 2015, he was killed by unknown militants in the Charbagh Bazaar, Swat. Fazalullah [Pakistani Taliban Chief] has termed all teachers in Pakistan as heretics. There is also a feeling among the teachers that the government is deliberately not protecting them. Some teachers go so far as saying that activists who speak against the security policy are often ‘mysteriously’ targeted by ‘unknown militants.’ So far 200 people have been targeted in attacks perpetrated by ‘unknown militants.’
As described above, a number of schools were targeted in attacks on infrastructure. In some cases, education authorities were deliberately killed or injured.
In August 2014, an unknown assailant killed Malik Ishaq, a school principal in Saeedabad, Karachi, inside his office.
On May 14, 2013, unknown militants killed Abdul Waheed, a social activist running the Naunehal Public School in Orangi Town, Karachi; his brother and daughter were seriously injured in the attack. Police suggested that the motive for the killing might be Waheed’s refusal to pay extortion money. After Waheed’s murder the private school shut down for a few months and reopened in August. Four days later, unknown attackers lobbed a grenade inside the school during the evening. Rashid, a colleague of Abdul Waheed, said the attack occurred because militants do not like schools, and particularly oppose anyone, like Waheed, who supports polio vaccination programs:
The school was targeted because we were providing education. An additional reason for being targeted could have been the school and Waheed’s involvement with government’s polio eradication campaign and polio workers were being attacked all over the city. Parents were afraid to send the children to school.
Rashid said that since Waheed’s assassination, enrollment has fallen from 800-900 students to just 80-100. He said:
The school has not even been able to pay salaries to the teachers. The government did try and cooperate and provide us with police and Rangers security. However, the government itself is helpless in the area and hence we cannot rely on their protection.
Militants seek to justify attacks on educational infrastructure, staff, and students to prevent the education of girls, to oppose military action, or simply because they disagree with “Western” curricula. Some schools received warnings before attacks, or threats of attacks that did not materialize but nonetheless had a negative impact on students and teachers. School authorities usually choose to ignore these threats, but sometimes request additional state protection.
For instance, in December 2015, many schools in the coastal Makran region of Balochistan received pamphlets warning parents not to send their daughters to school. Earlier, in August, an education department official in Panjgur district said a lesser known religious group called Tanzeemul Islam al Furqan sent threatening letters to more than 25 schools because it “wants English medium and coeducational schools to close down.”
In the case of the Naunehal Public School discussed above, Abdul Waheed received a letter from the Taliban stating, “You people are involved in immoral activities not permitted by Islam. Stop them or else be ready to face the consequences.”
In October 2013, the Federal Government Girls High School, in R.A. Bazaar, Rawalpindi, received a letter from the Taliban demanding that the school close. According to Dawn, the letter said, “It is a message from Ameer Sahib Abdul Wali of TTP Mohmand Agency that the girls school should be closed. Thank God, we have been successful in every bomb attack and will be successful in future too [sic]. And we can carry out bomb attacks anytime.”
In September 2014, the Askari Public School and College in Peshawar received a threatening letter demanding that the school administration ask students to wear the traditional shalwar kameez dress instead of pants and shirts as uniform. In October 2014, a grenade attack on the school killed a teacher and injured two students. In January 2015, a threatening letter was pinned outside a school in Rajgarh area, Lahore. Many parents who were dropping off their children read the letter and refused to let them attend school that day.
In February 2015, the Benazir Bhutto High School in Badami Bagh, Lahore, received a threatening letter demanding that the school administration ensure that girl students wear headscarves. The same month, the Government Ghousia Girls and Boys Elementary School in Paposh Nagar, Karachi, received a threatening letter allegedly from the TTP asking the school administration to close the school. The school administration did so for a day and local police provided security. Meanwhile, the Government Girls Primary School in Multan received a threatening letter from an unknown source demanding that the school should be shut down because “Islam does not allow education of girls.”
In 2015, the Taliban sent letters to schools in Swat warning the school administration to close schools or face attack. The Charbagh Government Girls school was specifically told to shut down or else it would be attacked.
Pakistan has permanent, large-scale military deployments across the country. Cantonments are military quarters with significant number of troops stationed alongside the civilian population and infrastructure. There are presently 42 cantonment areas in Pakistan spread across all four provinces.
Due to the presence of an elaborate network of military stations in the country, the Pakistan Army does not frequently need to set up ad hoc barracks or camps. However, in conflict areas, particularly in KP and FATA, the army has at times partially or completely occupied educational institutions. Many schools taken over by the army in Swat and FATA were previously occupied by Taliban forces.
Another dimension of the influence of military’s presence in civilian areas is the unsupervised power to inspect and search schools on security grounds. Babar Khan, an education activist in Swat, told Human Rights Watch:
The army interferes in the functioning of schools and often enter unannounced for the purposes of conducting a search or reviewing security measures. This is a cause of constant stress for the students. This is also additionally problematic in a conservative society such as Swat, particularly barging into girls schools with guns, sometimes harassing female teachers. They [army] acts like they have conquered Swat. Some parents are reluctant to send girls to schools since they fear that the military officers can come and harass their daughters. There have been at least eight cases of girls who have either run away with, or were abducted by, army officers.
When educational facilities are used for military purposes it can increase the risk of the recruitment and use of children by armed forces, or may leave children and youth vulnerable to sexual abuse or exploitation. It also increases the likelihood that education institutions are attacked, since the presence of military forces may make them legitimate military targets. Deploying military forces in and near schools exposes important education infrastructure to damage and destruction.
Additionally, school occupations can be extremely disruptive to education. When security forces arrive, a quick exodus of many students often follows, as children transfer elsewhere even at the cost of additional travel time or transportation expenses, or simply drop out. Some leave because they are afraid of insurgent attacks, while others, particularly girls, leave because they or their parents fear harassment. Those students who remain in occupied schools often feel the quality of their education deteriorates.
In her 2013 autobiography, I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai describes discovering that a school in Swat run by her father had been occupied and used by Pakistani government forces while she and her family were displaced by fighting in and around her hometown:
There were cigarette stubs and empty food wrappers all over the floor. Chairs had been upended and the space was a mess… Anti-Taliban slogans were scrawled all over the walls. Someone had written ARMY ZINDABAD (long live the army) on a whiteboard in permanent marker… Bullet castings littered the floor. The soldiers had made a hole in the wall through which you could see the city below. Maybe they had even shot at people through that hole. I felt sorry that our precious school had become a battlefield.
There has been a significant military presence in Swat since 2009. The Taliban occupied and used educational institutions as barracks when they controlled Swat. When the Pakistan Army forced the Taliban out of the Swat Valley, they often occupied the very schools that Taliban fighters had previously used.
Although the military has vacated most schools in Swat, some remain in military use. According to Raza Shah, a member of a teachers’ association, about 20 schools were still under military use in Swat in 2016. The schools under occupation are mostly in rural areas or in the higher mountains, where there are Taliban hideouts and the army has fewer permanent bases, although there are examples of military use in the main valley too.
The Swat education department reported that as of September 2016, the army fully occupied at least two schools. The army has occupied Government Primary School Achar No. 2 for boys since May 2014, and its students and staff have been sent to another school. The army occupied the Government Primary School Ozbaka for boys in September 2016, and according to the government, classes are now “shelterless” – meaning they are held outside, in an area where temperatures can drop below zero Celsius during term time.
At least five school buildings for boys were under partial occupation by the army and the paramilitary Frontier Corps during 2016. These include Government High School Sherpalam, Government Middle School Marghazar, Government Primary School Bar Sher Palam No. 1, and Government Primary School Kandaw Kass. Raza Shah said that the military completely took over his private school in mid-2009 and used it as a military barracks for seven months.
Raza Khan, a teacher in Swat, told Human Rights Watch that army occupied the Government Primary School Singrkandu, where he teaches, in June 2009:
The school has three rooms, one room was given to the students and two were under the use of army officers. The students were reluctant to come to school and were often under stress. The army left the school in May-June 2016.
An undergraduate college for women in Khwazakhela, KP, has been under army occupation since 2009. This college is one of the four undergraduate degree colleges in Swat. The space is being used as offices for senior military officials and the college building is heavily fortified. An alternate space has been allotted for the college and classes are continuing. However, according to Jawad Khan, a teacher, a very high number of girls have dropped out because the new space is not as accessible.
Qaiser Khan, a school administrator, said that his private school has been under military use since 2009, when the army took over government and some private schools, and colleges. He told Human Rights Watch:
I left Swat as an internally displaced person when the military offensive started in May 2009, and when I returned in July, I found that a unit of the Baloch regiment of the Pakistan Army had taken over my school. They paid no compensation. When I went to the school and asked when my school would be vacated, I was told to wait. I protested and finally wrote to the general headquarters [GHQ] of the Pakistan Army, registering my protest. Afterwards, the colonel in charge of our area asked me to stop complaining. The district administration has also expressed its inability to help me. I was left with no choice but to accept the army’s decision. Now they pay us rent for the school building, but the rent is not based on any market value assessment; they [the army] pay whatever they feel like. I have now set up another private school.
The Pakistan Austrian Institute for Hotel Management is a joint venture between Pakistan and the Austrian government. The institute was shut down due to security concerns after the Taliban took over and burned down the nearby Malam Jabba ski resort, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the area, in June 2008. The army has occupied it since 2009. The government has apparently been planning on opening the institute again, but the military still occupies large parts of the building.
Bilal, a teacher at a school in Charbagh, Swat, said military operations can traumatize students:
A few weeks ago, the army came and evicted a family and demolished the house of a Taliban commander adjacent to my school. All of this happened in full view of the students, and they remained afraid for many, many days. Even now the rubble of the house has not been removed and it is a constant reminder of the violence. The children are more worried about security than education. Their questions are more about curfews and target killings and not about the curriculum.
Pakistani Forces Also Use Schools Abroad
The negative consequences of the Pakistan Army using schools for military purposes are not limited to incidents within Pakistan. As of February 2017, more than 7,000 forces were deployed in United Nations peacekeeping missions abroad, including 1105 soldiers as part of the UN mission in the Central African Republic, which is known by its French abbreviation, MINUSCA.
On January 22, 2017, Human Rights Watch researchers in the town of Mouruba, Ouaka province, found that the local school was occupied and being used as a base by Pakistani peacekeepers. Residents told Human Rights Watch that they want the peacekeepers to stay, but they also want to send their children back to school. The town’s residents had fled in December 2016, when a militia group took control of the town and killed at least three people: a father and his two sons, 16 and 10 years old, respectively. One parent said:
A 16-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch, “I hope that peace returns so the Pakistanis leave the school and we can re-open it. I would like to be an intellectual. Without school I will have no future, so it is important to me.”
The use of the school by the Pakistani peacekeepers is contrary to both a directive from the head of MINUSCA and the regulations of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping’s Infantry Battalion Manual.
The Pakistan Rangers are deployed in Karachi under the Anti-Terrorism Act of 1997. The Rangers are a border federal security force under the Ministry of Interior, but operate under the command of the Pakistan Army.
In April 2008, the Sindh Cabinet decided that Rangers personnel should be withdrawn from educational institutions. At the time, more than 1,200 Rangers troops were stationed in and around the city’s educational institutions, including 700 troops in Karachi University. However, their presence in educational institutions continued, and the Sindh minister for Education admitted in the Sindh Assembly in 2009 that the army, Rangers, or police occupied at least 27 buildings of schools, colleges, and hostels across Sindh.
In September 2013, the Rangers were given additional policing powers to act against criminal suspects implicated in targeted and sectarian killings, kidnappings for ransom, and extortion. Abdul Hayi, a senior member of the nongovernmental Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, told Human Rights Watch that the Rangers have since partially occupied many educational institutions across Sindh, but keeping a tally is difficult since the occupation is sometimes temporary and many schools do not report when they are taken over by the military.
The Pakistan Rangers have occupied at least five historic educational sites in Karachi since being deployed in the late 1980s:
The Jinnah Courts, a heritage building, was once used as a residential dorm by students. The Rangers moved into Jinnah Courts in 1999 after they were asked to vacate another educational institution, the Shaikh Zayed Islamic Centre, which they had been using as their headquarters. The hostel now serves as the official Rangers headquarters and is off limits for civilians. Barbed wires surround the premises; three layers of sandboxes block the pavement; and red barricades separate an entire lane of the road.
The Mitha Ram Hostel is another heritage site that was built in 1901 to accommodate students of the then DJ Science College. The Rangers took it over in 1992. The college remains functional, but this residential facility is no longer available to the students. In 2015, the Rangers asked the Sindh government to turn the hostel into a small jail, justifying their demand by saying that individuals arrested in the Rangers’ law and order operations needed to be kept in an exclusive facility to ensure they had no communication with other inmates. In April 2016, the Sindh government officially approved the Rangers using the building as a “sub-jail.” Iron barriers have been installed at the entrance and a security checkpoint and sandbags block the sidewalk to the hostel. “Instead of restoring such an important part of history, they have converted it into a jail,” Hamid Akhud, chairperson of the Endowment Fund Trust for the hostel, told the Express Tribune. “In which civilized society is an educational institution used as a sub-jail?”
Rangers currently occupy the hostel building for the Government College of Technology. A local resident said:
I grew up in the area. In the mid-90s we saw the hostel gradually being captured by the paramilitary. It began with a single police car which stood at the gate, then a room inside the hostel was used, and gradually the whole building became their property.
The building of the Karachi University Boys Hostel was designed to accommodate at least 1,000 students. However, since 1989, it has served as the regional wing of the Rangers, who were first deployed in the university for security and to prevent violent clashes between student factions. According to a local journalist:
Karachi University’s Boys Hostel was taken over by the Rangers after coming to Karachi in 1989, when student politics had taken a bloody toll and Operation Cleanup had just begun against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). However, instead of purging the criminals [MQM activists] from these hostel buildings and handing over the buildings to the Sindh government for reuse, the Rangers took them over illegally.
In March 2008, Rangers assaulted Riyaz Ahmad, an associate professor, after an altercation on the campus. He had visible bruises on his back and his right hand was in a sling when he told journalists that he had previously admonished the Rangers official for an “indecent” act at the Department of Applied Chemistry.
The Havildar [Rangers official] recognized me at the gate, refused to allow me to go outside the university and used abusive language against me. He attacked me with sticks along with four others.
Following the incident, the Karachi University Teachers’ Association held protests demanding an inquiry into the matter. The Rangers withdrew from campus.
Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai Library housed a wide array of books on history, politics, and literature. During protests in 2006, the library was burned to rubble. In 2011, the government ordered the library to be rebuilt, and the Rangers occupied it in 2012.
Ghulam Rasool Raikani, a local leader of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), described how the Rangers initially assumed control of the building:
It was around when the renovation work was under way that they [Rangers] would park their vehicle right outside saying that it was a designated spot for ensuring security. As time passed, they started sitting inside as the gates would be ajar while the work was going on. Then one day their DSR [Deputy Superintendent] held a meeting with us seeking the premises for their use. We explained to them that the place was reserved for a library. But around three months back, they just barged in and even broke all the padlocks inside to take over the rooms as well. They are men in uniform, what they say now is that their presence is needed in the area.
Lyari is a low-income residential settlement in Karachi, Sindh. It is one of the city’s most densely populated areas. Since 2004, there has been incessant, violent fighting in Lyari between criminal gangs, many of which enjoy the protection and patronage of various political parties. The violence has disrupted everyday life and significantly damaged municipal infrastructure, schools, and hospitals.
Schools have also been used as offices of political parties and gang hideouts. Crossfire between law enforcement officials and gang members in 2010 has left bullet marks on the walls of many schools in Lyari, including Ghairiabad Girls Secondary School and M. Alvi Government Girls Primary School.
MQM is the most powerful party in the city and remained a principal ally to the government of President Pervez Musharraf from 2002-2008.
A member of the Sindh provincial assembly, Javaid Nagori, told Human Rights Watch that several schools, including the Government Boys Secondary School, Hakim Fateh Muhammad Saleem Government Boys Primary School, and Hakim Fateh Muhammad Lower Secondary School, were occupied by MQM members. He said:
Almost all schools in Lyari were adversely affected by the gang wars post-2003. Even before that, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) started occupying schools in 2002 during General Musharraf’s tenure. In 2002 and 2003, MQM started making party offices in schools. Government schools in Agra Taj and the Karachi Municipal Corporation schools and Kehkshan School were turned into MQM party offices. Once this trend was started by the MQM, the Lyari criminal gangs also began to occupy schools as well. MQM started to vacate these schools after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. The government announced compensation for schools damaged or destroyed as a result of the violence. The MQM party people pocketed that money and none of it was spent on reconstruction of schools.
Zahoor Uddin, headmaster of K.I. Kharadar Government Boys Primary Schools in Lyari, said the situation was very difficult before the MQM was finally evicted from the school in 2010:
There are 650 students in this school. MQM forcibly occupied this school in 2002. Classes continued in the school. The MQM people would come in at 4 p.m. and stay till the morning. They used the class rooms as torture chambers. Sometimes they would come and use spare rooms during the day, roaming around the school with automatic assault rifles.
Shahnawaz, an elected member of Lyari’s local government, said:
In 2012, almost all schools in Lyari, Karachi, were damaged by the fighting between criminal gangs. The worst affected were schools in the areas which were at the boundaries of different gang territories. Almost 80 percent schools were either damaged or directly occupied by the gangsters.
According to Shahnawaz, attendance in schools in Lyari fell to less than 50 percent. Schools on the “border” area of gang turfs—that is, in the area which demarcated gang territories—closed completely.
Sher Muhammad, a teacher at Montessori Karachi Municipal Corporation School No. 19 in Lyari, told Human Rights Watch:
This school was in the border area between the territories of two fighting gangs. From 2003-2008, there was heavy firing from both sides and nobody showed up to school—not the teachers nor the students. The school is full now with almost 50-55 students per class. But there is still some fear. No outside people want to come and teach in Lyari due to the fear of violence.
Bashir, a teacher at Wali Muhammad Haji Yaqoob Girls Section, said:
This school was occupied by a notorious Lyari gangster known as Mama Jango. He used it as his base and a den of criminal activity. He along with his armed men, occupied the school from 2009 to 2014. He was killed in 2015. There were 850 students enrolled in the school in 2015. However, at that time, the school remained largely closed. The building of the school is still damaged due to crossfire between him and opponents. This history has led to a severe shortage of teachers in the area.
The school was completely functional and back at full strength when Human Rights Watch visited. However, the school administration and teachers were concerned about the damaged school building and were trying to convince the government to renovate it.
Mehmood Raza, a teacher at Government Boys School in Karim Bhai, Lyari, said the MQM occupied the building for four years. Its violent political slogans are still on classroom walls.
In 2003, one evening, the MQM workers forcibly entered the school and stayed overnight. Then they began to do that regularly, up to a point where they had permanently occupied the school. Classrooms were used as party offices… They would come in every evening and leave in the morning, sometimes after the classes had begun.
Aftab Ahmad, a teacher at Government Boys School, Karim Bhai, Lyari, said:
Armed MQM workers would break into the school whenever they pleased. They took away furniture, fans, and other electrical appliances. Occasionally they would intimidate and beat up the school caretaker for attempting to restrain them. The school administration wrote to the MQM government and party, which was in power from 2002-2008, but they refused to take any action.
The Pakistani government had paid little attention to the protection of schools, students, and teachers until the attack on the Army Public School in December 2014. Soon after, however, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif announced a 20-point National Action Plan to comprehensively deal with the threat from terrorism.
Despite the nature of the attack, none of the 20 points pertained to protection of educational institutions. Instead, in most cases, the responsibility for enhancing and maintaining security has been passed to school authorities. This has led to increased hardship and chaos. Some schools are organizing traumatic security drills, while others are arming teachers and students.
Before the Peshawar school attack, about 5,000 public schools in KP, 2,600 public schools in Punjab, 3,600 public schools in Balochistan, and 49,000 public schools in Sindh were without boundary walls. Such walls are important, particularly in high-risk areas, as they act as a deterrent to potential assailants, protect teachers and children from attack from the outside, and act as shock absorbers in the case of bomb attacks. In many places, those walls are now being constructed. As of October 2016, walls for 81 educational institutions in Karachi declared to be sensitive had yet to be constructed.
In February 2015, Theirworld, a UK charity, launched a 15-point plan for a Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative in collaboration with the Global Business Coalition for Education, and with the backing of Prime Minister Sharif and UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown. Salient features of the plan include:
As of December 2015, the initiative included measures such as setting up plans for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration in 137 schools in five districts of KP; training 120 teachers in emergency preparedness; and school safety in the Jalozai camps for internally displaced persons.
However, other efforts have been sporadic and vary across provinces. In January 2016, after the Bacha Khan University attack, police conducted a mock security drill in Lahore’s Punjab University, causing fear and panic among students. Most students were not informed in advance of the drill, and believing it to be a real attack scrambled to escape.
In February 2016, students panicked after hearing gunshots inside the Islamia College, Peshawar, during a drill in which the security forces were giving firearm training to students and teachers.
In June 2015, a teacher in Mingora, Swat, accidentally shot and killed a student while cleaning his gun. KP Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani, however, still justified the policy of arming teachers by arguing that firearms allow teachers to “engage any possible attackers for the initial 5 to 10 minutes before law-enforcement personnel reached the spot.”
In Pakistan, education is under the authority of provincial governments. Various provinces have decreed new security measures, including boundary walls of varying heights.
In Punjab, for instance, the day after the Peshawar attack, the government of Punjab issued a notice to ensure security for all public and private educational institutions in the province, including:
In January 2016, the Sindh government ordered a “security audit survey” of educational institutions in the province to devise a contingency security plan. The government also directed police to set up quick response forces in their jurisdictions. In March 2016, the Pakistan Red Crescent, supported by the Norwegian Red Cross and Sindh government, launched a school safety program in Sindh province to enhance the physical security of schools and train students and teachers to deal with natural or man-made disasters.
In January 2016, the Balochistan government decided to establish a special force to be deployed at university campuses across the province. According to Akbar Durrani, the Balochistan home secretary, 60 security personnel were to be deployed at each university.
In November 2016, many educational institutions in Quetta were shut down based on a high security alert issued by the Balochistan home department due to threats of suicide attacks on educational institutions, particularly those for women.
The KP government has demanded that schools implement strict security measures. Shah Babar, an education activist working in Saidu Sharif, told Human Rights Watch the KP government has placed schools in three categories, ranging from “Most Sensitive,” “Sensitive,” and “Less Sensitive.” The Taliban in the past has attacked the less sensitive schools, since they are the most vulnerable. But the government is doing little to protect schools, and instead threatens to discipline or even prosecute teachers and principals for not taking security measures.
Criminal cases have been filed against teachers and principals for not taking security measures. The government has empowered the district administrative officials to raid schools whenever they want on the pretext of security checks. However, in terms of real security measures, almost nothing is done by the government and the cost of taking these measures is borne out by the schools themselves. In 2015, the Taliban sent schools a letter telling the administration to close schools or face attack. The Charbagh Government Girls schools were specifically threatened. But even after specific threats, the government did not provide security, and asked schools to take measures themselves.
Raza Shah, a teacher in Swat, told Human Rights Watch:
Post the Army Public School attack, the government ordered that all schools should have 9-feet-high boundary walls, CCTV cameras, bunkers, at least two to three armed security guards, and even that teachers should be armed. Although the notification demanding teachers to be armed was withdrawn officially, unofficially all teachers in government schools were given weapons. The responsibility for these measures and the expenses were incurred by the schools. Any school which did not comply was raided and the principal and teachers arrested. In 2015, many principals and teachers were arrested and produced before the magistrate in handcuffs for not complying with the government regulations.
Haider Ali, a private school principal in Mingora, Swat, described hardships created by the three private security guards that the school has been forced to fund:
It is very difficult for me to pay for these guards without increasing the tuition fee. The government has enacted a policy which stipulates that if a school is attacked, the principal of the school will be held responsible. This is terrible. The government should focus on arresting the militants and not teachers and principals.
Pakistani law and international humanitarian and human rights law protect schools, students, and teachers from attack and provide for the right to education.
The Constitution of Pakistan, when adopted in 1973, contained a provision under the non-enforceable “principles of state policy” that, “The State shall… remove illiteracy and provide free and compulsory secondary education within [the] minimum possible period.”
In 2010, however, the 18th Amendment introduced article 25-A in the section containing judicially enforceable “fundamental rights,” which states that “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”
Article 25-A has been enforced in the different federal units of Pakistan via the Right to Free and 2012 Compulsory Education Act (for Islamabad), the 2013 Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, the 2014 Punjab Free and Compulsory Education Act, and the 2014 Balochistan Compulsory Education Act. However, requisite legislation for KP, Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Gilgit-Baltistan, and Azad Kashmir has yet to be drafted.
Pakistani law tries those responsible for attacks on schools even during armed conflict under ordinary criminal and anti-terrorism laws. The Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act of 1938 prohibits the use of any land attached to an educational institution for the purposes of military training and maneuvers.
International humanitarian law, also known as the law of armed conflict, regulates the conduct of state armed forces and non-state armed groups in international and non-international armed conflicts. Fighting between certain armed groups and Pakistani military forces has risen to the level of an armed conflict in much of Pakistan.
The law of armed conflict prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian objects. Schools are normally civilian objects and, as such, may not be the object of attack unless they become legitimate military objectives. Anyone who willfully attacks a school that is a civilian object is committing a war crime. In case of doubt whether a school is being used to make an effective contribution to military action, and thus a lawful military target, it shall be presumed to be a civilian object.
The laws of war require that the parties to a conflict take precautions against the effects of attack. Parties to an armed conflict shall, to the maximum extent feasible, a) avoid locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas where schools are likely to be located; b) endeavor to remove civilians, including students and teachers, under their control from the vicinity of military objectives; and c) take the other necessary precautions to protect those schools under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations.
Turning a school into a military objective (for example, by using it as a military barracks or to store ammunition) subjects it to possible attack. Placing military objectives, such as armored vehicles, in a school courtyard also increases the risk that the school will suffer incidental damage from an attack against those military targets.
Schools also benefit from special protection as cultural property under customary law, and each party to a conflict must respect and protect buildings dedicated to education that are included in the scope of cultural property. This implies a duty of special care to avoid damage to buildings dedicated to education (unless they are military objectives), as well as the prohibition of all seizure of, or destruction or willful damage done to, institutions dedicated to education.
National armed forces and non-state armed groups also need to take into account other relevant rules and principles of the law of armed conflict. Among these are special protections to children. If educational institutions are fully or partially used for military purposes, the life and physical safety of children might be at risk and access to education is restricted or even impeded, either because children may not go to school for fear of being killed or injured in an attack by the opposing forces, or because they have been deprived of their usual educational building.
International human rights law is applicable at all times, subject to lawful derogations. A number of international human rights law provisions are relevant to the issue of the military use of schools.
International human rights law guarantees students, teachers, academics, and all educational staff the right to life, personal liberty, and security. States shall also ensure, to the maximum extent possible, the survival and the development of children.
As children, students under the age of 18 receive special protections under international human rights law. According to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the “best interests of the child” shall be a primary consideration.
Everyone has the right to education. With a view to achieving the full realization of this right, states shall make primary education compulsory and available free to all; secondary education generally available and accessible to all; and higher education equally accessible to all on the basis of capacity. The material conditions of teaching staff shall be continuously improved. States shall also take measures to encourage regular attendance by children at schools and the reduction of child dropout rates. With respect to children, states shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international cooperation.
Pakistan also has obligations under international law to ensure girls and women’s rights to equality and non-discrimination, including in access to education. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) calls for “the equal right of men and women to the enjoyment of all civil and political rights.” The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) includes similar provisions. The Convention on the Rights of the Child recognizes the right of children to be free from discrimination, including based on gender.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has explained that “inherent to the principle of equality between men and women, or gender equality, is the concept that all human beings, regardless of sex, are free to develop their personal abilities, pursue their professional careers and make choices without the limitations set by stereotypes, rigid gender roles, and prejudices.” Attacks on education and military use of schools disproportionately affect girls and young women, and negatively impacts the realization of many of girls and women’s other human rights. The impact of these violations is felt by women throughout their lives, extending to their families and societies.
In June 2015, the United Nations Security Council expressed “deep concern that the military use of schools in contravention of applicable international law may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering the safety of children and in this regard encourages Member States to take concrete measures to deter such use of schools by armed forces and armed groups.”
Earlier, in 2011, the Security Council voted unanimously to urge all parties to armed conflict to refrain from actions that impede children’s access to education and requested that the UN secretary-general monitor and report to the council on the issue of military use of schools.
A number of government armed forces and some non-state armed groups have developed military orders or doctrines that clearly spell out protections for schools from military use, including explicit prohibitions on the use of schools for military purposes.
In May 2015, at an international conference held in Oslo, Norway, the Safe Schools Declaration was opened for state endorsement. A non-binding political commitment, 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 those consequences with the positive and protective role that education can have during armed conflict.
Countries that endorse the declaration commit to a number of measures aimed at strengthening the prevention of, and response to, attacks on students, teachers, and schools, including: collecting reliable data on attacks and military use of schools and universities; providing assistance to victims of attacks; investigating allegations of violations of national and international law and prosecuting perpetrators where appropriate; developing and promoting “conflict sensitive” approaches to education; and seeking to continue education during armed conflict.
Through joining the Safe Schools Declaration, countries also endorse the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict and commit to “bring them into domestic policy and operational frameworks as far as possible and appropriate.”
These guidelines were the product of consultation among expert representatives from the ministries of foreign affairs, defense, education, and the armed forces from countries around the world, along with representatives of human rights and humanitarian organizations.
The guidelines are not legally binding, but draw upon existing obligations under both international humanitarian law and international human rights law. By also drawing upon examples of good practice already applied by some parties to armed conflict, the guidelines reflect what is practically achievable and acknowledge that parties to armed conflict are invariably faced with difficult dilemmas requiring pragmatic solutions.
The guidelines begin with the overarching admonition that, “Parties to armed conflict are urged not to use schools and universities for any purpose in support of the military effort. While it is acknowledged that certain uses would not be contrary to the law of armed conflict, all parties should endeavor to avoid impinging on students’ safety and education.” The guidelines then provide six guidelines for responsible practice.
As of December 2016, 56 countries had joined the declaration and thereby endorsed the guidelines. Pakistan is not among the signatories.
This report was researched and written by researchers at Human Rights Watch and was edited by the South Asia director. James Ross, legal and policy director, and Joseph Saunders, deputy program director, provided Legal and Program review. Bede Sheppard, deputy director, Child Rights Division and Heather Barr, senior researcher, Women’s Rights Division, provided additional reviews. Production assistance was provided by Daniel Lee, associate with the Asia division; Olivia Hunter, associate with the Publications division; Jose Martinez, senior coordinator; and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.
Human Rights Watch gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan and its staff, Zia-ur-Rehman, Sidrah Roghay and Mariam Faisal. Thanks also go to many other individuals who offered assistance, analysis, or information that made this report possible, many of whom are not named in the report for fear of reprisals.
Human Rights Watch is deeply grateful to the Dutch Postcode Lottery for its generous support of our work to document attacks on education worldwide. Thank you for making the publication of this report possible.
 UNICEF Pakistan, “Progress Report 2013-2015: Educate All Children,” July 2015, http://www.unicef.org/pakistan/
Education_All_Children_LR.pdf (accessed June 15, 2016).
 Muhammad Ashfaq, “KP demands Rs 15 bn from center for rebuilding quake-hit schools,” Dawn, March 31, 2016, http://www.dawn.com/news/1249028/kp-demands-rs15bn-from-centre-for-rebuilding-quake-hit-schools (accessed November 30, 2016).
 Asad Zia, “Rs 7.5 bn allocated for govt schools’ security,” Express Tribune, January 23, 2015, http://tribune.com.pk/story/826056/rs-7-5b-allocated-for-govt-schools-security/, (accessed November 30, 2016).
 The Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) is a region located along the Indus River and the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. FATA consists of seven semi-autonomous agencies—Khyber, Mohmand, Bajaur, Kurram, Orakzai, North Waziristan and South Waziristan. FATA is governed by the Frontier Crimes Regulation, a colonial-era law that does not extend all protection of fundamental rights and guarantees to the region.
 Azizuddin Ahmad, “A requiem for Swat agreement,” The The Nation, April 23, 2009, http://nation.com.pk/columns/23-Apr-2009/A-requiem-for-Swat-agreement, (accessed October 29, 2016).
 Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, “State of Human Rights in 2010,” April 2011, http://hrcp-web.org/hrcpweb/wp-content/pdf/ar/ar10e.pdf (accessed June 29, 2016).
 Hamid Hussain, “Restoring Swat’s lights”, The Friday Times, July 29, 2016, http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/restoring-swats-lights/, (accessed October 29, 2016).
 “IDPs return start today,” The News, July 13, 2009, https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/665556-idps-return-starts-today (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Salman Masood, “Blast at a Crowded Park in Lahore, Pakistan, Kills Dozens,” New York Times, March 27, 2016, http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/28/world/asia/explosion-lahore-pakistan-park.html?_r=0 (accessed November 16, 2016).
 “Nine hurt as a bomber hits school bus in Kamra,” The News, December 11, 2007, https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/654034-nine-hurt-as-bomber-hits-school-bus-in-kamra (accessed November 16, 2016).
 “Schools in Punjab to remain shut until Jan 12,” Express Tribune, December 27, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/813051/ vacations-extended-until-jan-12-in-institutions-of-punjab/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Shamsul Islam, “Owing to cold weather, schools across Punjab to remain closed till Jan 31,” Express Tribune, January 26, 2016, http://tribune.com.pk/story/1034632/owing-to-cold-weather-schools-across-punjab-to-remain-closed-till-jan-31/ (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Ammar Sheikh, “Summer holidays extended in Punjab?” Express Tribune, August 11, 2016,http://tribune.com.pk/story/1159760/rumour-summer-holidays-extended/ (accessed November 16, 2016).
 “Pakistan: Independently Investigate Aftab Ahmad’s Death,” Human Rights Watch News Release, May 6, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/05/06/pakistan-independently-investigate-aftab-ahmads-death.
 “School in Karachi targeted on result day, principal killed,” Express Tribune, March 30, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/ 528660/explosion-heard-in-baldia-town-karachi-express-news/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Faraz Khan, “Targeted attack: KU loses second professor in seven months,” Express Tribune, April 29, 2015, http://tribune.com.pk/story/878132/targeted-attack-ku-loses-second-professor-in-seven-months/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch, Pakistan – Their Future is at Stake: Attacks on Teachers and Schools in Pakistan’s Balochistan Province, December 2010, https://www.hrw.org/report/2010/12/13/their-future-stake/attacks-teachers-and-schoolspakistans-balochistan-province.
 Human Rights Watch, Pakistan – We are the Walking dead: Killings of Shia Hazara in Balochistan, Pakistan, June 2014, https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/06/29/we-are-walking-dead/killings-shia-hazara-balochistan-pakistan.
 Human Rights Watch, Their Future is at Stake.
 Hassan Abbass. "A Profile of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan." CTC Sentinel 1, January 2008) http://belfercenter.ksg.harvard.edu/publication/17868/profile_of_tehrikitaliban_pakistan.html (accessed on June 12, 2016).
 D. Suba Chandran, “A tale of two Taliban,” The Hindu, February 5, 2014, http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/a-tale-of-two-taliban/article5653550.ece, (accessed January 18, 2017).
 Declan Walsh, “Taliban Besiege Pakistan School, Leaving 145 dead,” New York Times, December 16, 2014 http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/world/asia/taliban-attack-pakistani-school.html?_r=0 (accessed June 21, 2016).
 “Uniting Against the Pakistan School Massacre,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, December 16, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/12/16/dispatches-uniting-against-pakistan-school-massacre (accessed June 22, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch, We Are The Walking Dead.
 “List of banned organizations in Pakistan,” Express Tribune, October 24, 2012, http://tribune.com.pk/story/456294/list-of-banned-organisations-in-pakistan/ (accessed November 6, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch, We Are The Walking Dead.
 Marium Kamal, “ISIS in Pakistan,” The Nation, June 14, 2015, http://nation.com.pk/columns/14-Jun-2015/isis-in-pakistan, (accessed November 6, 2016).
 Hanif Dilmurad, “Fear grows in Balochistan,” The Friday Times, January 2, 2015, http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/fears-grow-in-balochistan/, (accessed November 6, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch, Pakistan-We are the Walking dead: Killings of Shia Hazara in Balochistan, Pakistan, June 2014.
 “Zarb-e-Azb: Victory for Peace,” The Nation, June 14, 2015, http://nation.com.pk/editors-picks/14-Jun-2015/zarb-e-azb-victory-for-peace (accessed June 18, 2016).
 “Massive new displacement and falling returns require rights based response,” IDMC, September 12, 2013, http://www.internal-displacement.org/assets/library/Asia/Pakistan/pdf/201306-ap-pakistan-overview-en.pdf, (accessed November 6, 2016).
 Madeeha Ansari, “Prioritizing Education Response for Internally Displaced Children in Pakistan,” Jinnah Institute, September 3, 2014, http://jinnah-institute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Madeehas_PB.pdf, (accessed November 6, 2016).
 Asad Zia, “Right to education: Nearly 300 govt schools illegally occupied in the province,” Express Tribune, December 20, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/809843/right-to-education-nearly-300-govt-schools-illegally-occupied-in-the-province/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 Azam Khan, “360 schools were destroyed in FATA in 2015,” Express Tribune, December 17, 2015, http://tribune.com.pk/story/1011433/law-and-order-360-fata-schools-were-destroyed-in-2015/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 “The ‘other side’ of the existential war,” Pakistan Today, June 13, 2015, http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/ 2015/06/13/features/the-other-side-of-the-existential-war/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 “KP Governor declares ‘education emergency in FATA,” Business Recorder, June 5, 2016, http://www.brecorder.com/
general-news/172:pakistan/53542:kp-governor-declares-education-emergency-in-fata?date=2016-06-05, (accessed January 14, 2016).
 “Pakistan’s Misguided Approach to Extremism,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, February 4, 2015, https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/04/dispatches-pakistans-misguided-approach-extremism (accessed June 23, 2016).
 Naeem Sahoutara, “Sindh government opposes Rangers stations in Karachi,” Express Tribune, March 9, 2016, http://tribune.com.pk/story/1062057/sindh-government-opposes-rangers-stations-in-karachi/, (accessed November 30, 2016).
 Mazhar Abbas, “Why the operation became controversial?” The News, August 4, 2016, https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/140025-Why-the-operation-became-controversial, (accessed November 30, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Qaiser Khan (pseudonym), Swat, July 22, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Babar Khan (pseudonym), Swat, July 21, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Saadia Mukhtar, Lahore, November 16, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Imran Ali, Lahore, November 16, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Shamim Ara, Lahore, November 16, 2016.
 Government of Pakistan, Pakistan Economic Survey 2014-15, June 4, 2015, http://www.finance.gov.pk/
survey/chapters_15/10_Education.pdf, (accessed January 30, 2017).
 Ailf Ailaan, “Distribution of out of school children (5 to 16 years of age) by gender at national level,” undated, https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alifailaan/pages/545/attachments/original/1448612337/fep-6.jpg?1448612337, (accessed January 30, 2017).
 Alif Ailaan, “Female education in Pakistan,” undated, https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/alifailaan/pages/545/
attachments/original/1448612367/fep-18.jpg?1448612367, (accessed January 30, 2017).
 Omar Waraich, “Taliban restrict women’s education in Pakistan,” The Independent, January 18, 2009, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/taliban-restrict-womens-education-in-pakistan-1419199.html, (accessed January 30, 2017).
 International Crisis Group, Education Reform in Pakistan, June 23, 2014 https://d2071andvip0wj.cloudfront.net/
education-reform-in-pakistan.pdf, (accessed January 30, 2017).
 Not many can access the Taliban to seek their views. Please see Shakil Ahmad, “The Taliban and girls’ education in Pakistan and Afghanistan-with a case study of the situation in Swat district,” 2012 (Masters diss. University of Lund, 2012).
 Global Terrorism Database, search results for attacks on educational institutions in Pakistan between 2007 and 2015, https://www.start.umd.edu/gtd/search/Results.aspx?start_yearonly=2007&end_yearonly=2015&start_year=&start_month=&start_day=&end_year=&end_month=&end_day=&asmSelect0=&country=153&asmSelect1=&target=8&dtp2=all&success=yes&casualties_type=b&casualties_max=, (accessed on October 28, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch, Letter to the Committee on the Rights of Child, March 1, 2016, p.2, http://tbinternet.ohchr.org/Treaties/CRC/Shared%20Documents/PAK/INT_CRC_NGO_PAK_23419_E.pdf (accessed on October 28 2016).
 The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Terrorist Attacks on Educational Institutions, December 2014, https://www.start.umd.edu/pubs/Peshawar%20School%20Background%20Report%20Decemberna%202014.pdf (accessed November 7, 2016).
 “New government school blown up in South Waziristan,” Express Tribune, February 20, 2016, http://tribune.com.pk/story/1050956/new-government-school-blown-up-in-waziristan/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 Shamim Shahid, “Militants blow up girls primary school in Khyber agency,” Express Tribune, October 27, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/781756/militants-blow-up-primary-school-in-khyber-agency/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 “Anti-Literacy: Reconstructed girls school blown up,” Express Tribune, September 9, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/759744/anti-literacy-reconstructed-girls-school-blown-up/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 Shezad Baloch, “Education emergency: In a first, private school comes under attack in Turbat,” Express Tribune, September 3, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/757181/education-emergency-in-a-first-private-school-comes-under-attack-in-turbat/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 “Government School Blown up in Wana,” FATA Research Center, June 11, 2014, http://frc.org.pk/news/government-school-blown-up-in-wana/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 “Attacked: Girls school blown up in Bannu,” Express Tribune, July 7, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/573367/attacked-girls-school-blown-up-in-bannu/, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 Syed Ali Shah, “Polling stations attacked in Balochistan, The National party Chief attacked,” Dawn, May 6, 2013, http://www.dawn.com/news/1026522/polling-stations-attacked-in-balochistan-national-party-chief-attacked, (accessed November 7, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch, Their Future is at Stake.
 “Investigations begin in Pishtakhara suicide blast,” Express Tribune, March 17, 2012, http://tribune.com.pk/story/351204/investigation-begins-in-pishtakhara-suicide-blast/, (accessed November 25, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Syed Kamal (pseudonym), Kohat, February 7, 2016.
 Abdul Sami Paracha, “Watchman confesses to blowing up school in Kohat,” Dawn, June 25, 2012, http://www.dawn.com/news/729501/watchman-confesses-to-blowing-up-school-in-kohat, (accessed November 26, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ahmad Ali (pseudonym), Kohat, February 7, 2016.
 “Bomb blast damages school in Kohat,” The News, November 24, 2012, https://www.thenews.com.pk/ archive/print/626751-bomb-blast-damages-school-in-kohat, (accessed November 26, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Muhammad Razzaq (pseudonym), Kohat, February 6, 2016.
 “Sabotage bid foiled in Kohat, weapons recovered,” PakTribune, April 18, 2006, http://paktribune.com/news/Sabotage-bid-foiled-in-Kohat;-weapons-recovered-141019.html, (accessed November 25, 2016).
 “Kohat: Bomb goes off near rail tracks, rockets fired in Kohat,” Dawn, November 28, 2008, http://www.dawn.com/news/332037/kohat-bomb-goes-off-near-rail-track-rockets-fired-in-kohat (accessed November 25, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Atif Haider (pseudonym), Kohat, February 6, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashir Ali (pseudonym), Swat, July 20, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Shah (pseudonym), Swat, July 19, 2016.
 Brendao O’ Malley, “The longer-term impact of attacks on education systems, development and fragility and the implications for policy response,” Paper Commissioned for Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2011: The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, 2010,
 Shehzad Khan, “Sigh of relief: Students ecstatic as girls school reconstructed in Matta,” Express Tribune, August 29, 2016, http://tribune.com.pk/story/1171597/sigh-relief-students-ecstatic-girls-schools-reconstructed-matta/, (accessed January 13, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Shah, Swat, July 19, 2016. Education in Swat suffered also suffered setbacks in recent years from natural causes. A large number of schools were destroyed in the 2010 floods and an earthquake in 2015.
 Brendao O’ Malley, “The longer-term impact of attacks on education systems, development and fragility and the implications for policy response,” Paper Commissioned for Education For All Global Monitoring Report 2011: The hidden crisis: Armed conflict and education, 2010, http://www.protectingeducation.org/sites/default/files/documents/ efa_unesco_-_the_longer_term_impact_of_attacks.pdf (accessed November 8, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Qaiser Khan, Swat, July 19, 2016.
 The Nation Secondary School attack was not by unidentified gunmen, but by militants who had lobbed a tennis ball packed with explosives into the schoolgrounds.
 Manzoor Ali, “Mattani attack: Taliban target Children,” Express Tribune, September 13, 2011, http://tribune.com.pk/story/251406/school-bus-attack-in-peshawar-kills-four-children-police/ (accessed November 8, 2016).
 Shaan Khan, “Pakistani Taliban target female students with acid attacks,” CNN, November 3, 2012, http://edition.cnn.com/2012/11/03/world/asia/pakistan-acid-attack/ (accessed November 8, 2016).
 Sher Alam Shinwari, “Female education in tribal agencies faces new threats,” Dawn, November 18, 2012, http://www.dawn.com/news/765002/female-education-in-tribal-agencies-faces-new-threat, (accessed November 8, 2016).
 Sohail Khattak, “Ittehad Town school reopens Monday, a week after attack,” Express Tribune, April 7, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/532153/ittehad-town-school-reopens-monday-a-week-after-attack/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Declan Walsh, “Taliban Besiege Pakistan School, Leaving 145 dead,” New York Times, December 16, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/world/asia/taliban-attack-pakistani-school.html?_r=0 (accessed June 21, 2016).
 Ismail Khan, “Taliban Massacre 131 school children, principal among 141 dead in attack on Army Public School, Peshawar,” Dawn, December 17, 2014, http://www.dawn.com/news/1151361 (accessed November 8, 2016).
 Declan Walsh, “Taliban Besiege Pakistan School, Leaving 145 dead,” New York Times, December 16, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/world/asia/taliban-attack-pakistani-school.html?_r=0 (accessed November 8, 2016).
 “Uniting Against the Pakistan School Massacre,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, December 16, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/12/16/dispatches-uniting-against-pakistan-school-massacre (accessed June 22, 2016).
 “Four APS terrorists executed in Kohat Jail,” Ary News, December 2, 2015, http://arynews.tv/en/four-aps-attac-in-kohat-jail/ (accessed January 10, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Asim (pseudonym), Charsadda, June 3, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Adnan (pseudonym), Charsadda, June 3, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Fazal-e-Haq (pseudonym), Charsadda, June 3, 2016.
 “Saving lives: a teenager’s sacrifice for hundreds of mothers,” Express Tribune, January 9, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/656766/saving-lives-a-teenagers-sacrifice-for-hundreds-of-mothers/, (accessed November 4, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Ali (pseudonym), Hangu, February 9, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Mujtaba Hasan, Hangu, February 9, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Ali Hussain (pseudonym), Hangu, February 9, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch, Their Future is at Stake.
 Umer Farooq, “Making history: FATA tribunal takes notice of teacher’s killing,” Express Tribune, March 30, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/528504/making-history-fata-tribunal-takes-notice-of-teachers-killing/ (accessed November 9, 2016).
 “Seven teachers shot dead in Swabi,” Express Tribune, January 1, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/487434/seven-teachers-shot-dead-in-swabi/ (accessed November 9, 2016).
 “Drive-by shooting: Three teachers gunned down in Hangu,” Express Tribune, February 11, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/670032/drive-by-shooting-three-teachers-gunned-down-in-hangu/, (accessed November 9, 2016).
 “Repeated attacks: Another teacher shot, injured in Hangu,” Express Tribune, February 15, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/671755/repeated-attacks-another-teacher-shot-injured-in-hangu/, (accessed November 9, 2016).
 “Firing in Hangu leaves 2 teachers dead,” Express Tribune, May 13, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/707796/firing-in-hangu-leaves-2-teachers-dead/, (accessed November 9, 2016).
 Mureeb Mohmand, “Three teachers, two children killed in Bajaur agency blast,” Express Tribune, August 19, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/750703/three-female-teachers-two-children-killed-in-bajaur-agency-blast/, (accessed November 9, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Shah, Swat, July 19, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Qaiser Khan (pseudonym), Swat, July 19, 2016
 Human Rights Watch interview with Aslam Khan (pseudonym), Swat, July 20, 2016
 “Targeted: School Principal shot dead inside his office in Saeedabad,”Express Tribune, August 5, 2014, http://tribune.com.pk/story/744343/targeted-school-principal-shot-dead-in-his-office-in-saeedabad/ (accessed November 16, 2016).
 “Another progressive voice silence in Orangi,” The News, May 14, 2013, https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/430027-another-progressive-voice-silenced-in-orangi (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Sohail Khattak, “Walking a tightrope: For those trying to break the shackles, death is only a bullet away,” Express Tribune, September 14, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/603885/walking-a-tightrope-for-those-trying-to-break-the-shackles-death-is-only-a-bullet-away/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Rashid (pseudonym), January 14, 2016.
 Hanif Dilmurad, “Fear grows in Balochistan,” The Friday Times, January 2, 2015, http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/fears-grow-in-balochistan/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 Sohail Khattak, Walking a tightrope: For those trying to break the shackles, death is only a bullet away,” Express Tribune, September 14, 2013, http://tribune.com.pk/story/603885/walking-a-tightrope-for-those-trying-to-break-the-shackles-death-is-only-a-bullet-away/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 “Threatening letter found outside Lahore school,” The News, January 15, 2015, https://www.thenews.com.pk/latest/467-threatening-letter-found-outside-lahore-school, (accessed November 30, 2016).
 “School receives threatening letter,” The Express Tribune, February 2, 2016, http://tribune.com.pk/story/1038423/security-risk-school-receives-threatening-letter/, (accessed November 16, 2016).
 “School in Multan receives threatening letter,” Business Recorder, February 24, 2015, http://www.brecorder.com/general-news/172:pakistan/1154912:corruption-misuse-of-powers-cm-inspection-team-initiates-inquiry-against-smiu-vc/, (accessed November 30, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Shah Babar (pseudonym), education activist, Swat, July 21, 2016.
 Irfan Ghauri, “The Battle begins: After 17 years, 42 cantonments holding local government elections,” Express Tribune, April 25, 2015, http://tribune.com.pk/story/875465/the-battle-begins-after-17-years-42-cantonments-holding-local-government-elections/, (accessed November 30, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Babar Khan, Swat, July 21, 2016.
 “Nobel Peace Prize a Victory for Education,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 10, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/10/nobel-peace-prize-victory-education.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Shah, Swat, July 19, 2016.
 Swat Education Department, “Wholly Illegally Occupied Schools,” September 2016, http://sed.edu.pk/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Wholly-Occupied-Sept-2016.pdf, (accessed November 11, 2016).
 Swat Education Department, “Partially Illegally Occupied Schools,” April 2016, http://sed.edu.pk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Partially-Occupied-April-2016.pdf, (accessed November 11, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Shah, Swat, July 19, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Shah (pseudonym), Swat, July 19, 2016
 Human Rights Watch interview with Jawad Khan (pseudonym), Swat, July 21, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Qaiser Khan, Swat, July 19, 2016.
 Susanne Koelbi, “Bowing down to the Taliban,” SPEIGEL ONLINE, February 21, 2009. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/islamists-triumph-in-swat-valley-bowing-down-to-the-taliban-a-609575.html, (accessed November 11, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Qaiser Khan, Swat, July 19, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Bilal (pseudonym), Swat, July 21, 2016.
 See “Central African Republic: Executions by Rebel Group,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 16, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/02/16/central-african-republic-executions-rebel-group.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Mourouba, January 22, 2017.
 Human Rights Watch interview with resident of Mourouba, January 22, 2017.
 “MINUSCA directive on the protection of schools and universities against military use,” Inter-Office Memorandum, December 24, 2015, states that MINUSCA forces are requested “not to use schools for any purpose” and that abandoned schools which are occupied should be “liberated without delay in order to allow educational authorities to reopen them as soon as possible.” Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support, The United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, 2012, sec. 2.13, states “The military has a special role to play in promoting the protection of children in their areas of operation and in preventing violations, exploitation and abuse... Therefore, special attention must be paid to the protection needs of girls and boys who are extremely vulnerable in conflict. Important issues that require compliance by infantry battalions are … schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”
 “Rangers at educational institutions to be replaced by an alternative force,” The News, April 14, 2008, https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/105789-rangers-at-educational-institutions-to-be-replaced-by-alternative-force, (accessed November 12, 2016).
 PPI, “Karachi: 27 educational buildings occupied by LEAs, assembly told,” Dawn, June 25, 2009, http://www.dawn.com/news/977001/karachi-27-education-buildings-occupied-by-leas-assembly-told, (accessed October 28 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Abdul Hayi, Karachi, September 22, 2016.
 Bhagwandas, “Karachi: KBCA asks rangers to stop illegal construction: Jinnah Courts,” Dawn, 7 July 2003, http://www.dawn.com/news/110009/karachi-kbca-asks-rangers-to-stop-illegal-construction-jinnah-courts, (accessed October 28 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sana Riaz (pseudonym), Karachi, September 22, 2016.
 Hasan Mansoor, “Meetha Ram Hostel to house ‘dangerous’ prisoners”, Dawn, April 16, 2015, http://www.dawn.com/news/1176153/meetha-ram-hostel-to-house-dangerous-prisoners, (accessed November 11, 2016).
 Shahzeb Ahmed, “They came, they saw, they never left: Mitha Ram’s gift to the students will now house the country’s worst,” Express Tribune, April 18, 2015, http://tribune.com.pk/story/871705/they-came-they-saw-they-never-left-mitha-rams-gift-to-students-will-now-house-the-countrys-worst/, (accessed November 11, 2015).
 “Karachi: Hostel culture turning into history”, Dawn, January 15, 2007, http://www.dawn.com/news/227951/karachi-hostel-culture-turning-into-history, (accessed 28 October 2016). Also see Aamir Majeed, “Rangers take over Clifton sports ground, people wonder why,” Pakistan Today, April 27, 2016, http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2016/04/27/rangers-take-over-clifton-sports-ground-people-wonder-why/ (accessed January 12, 2017).
 Human Rights Watch interview with a local resident, Karachi, September 22, 2016.
 Aamir Majeed, “Rangers take over Clifton sports ground, people wonder why,” Pakistan Today, 27 April 2016, http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2016/04/27/national/rangers-take-over-clifton-sports-ground-people-wonder-why/, (accessed October 28, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sana Riaz, September 22, 2016.
 “Karachi: Rangers keep low profile in KU,” Dawn, April 6, 2008, http://www.dawn.com/news/296880/karachi-rangers-keep-low-profile-in-ku, (accessed October 28, 2016).
 “Withdrawal of Rangers from KU, other varsities demanded,” The News, April 2, 2008, https://www.thenews.com.pk/archive/print/103521-withdrawal-of-rangers-from-ku-other-varsities-demanded, (accessed October 28, 2016).
 Shazia Hasan, “Old Golimar library taken over by Rangers,” Dawn, December 25, 2012, http://www.dawn.com/news/773974/old-golimar-library-taken-over-by-rangers, (accessed October 28 2016).
 Matthieu Akins, “Gangs of Karachi, Harpers’ Magazine, September 2015, http://harpers.org/archive/2015/09/gangs-of-karachi/, (accessed on November 5, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Javaid Nagori, Karachi, September 23, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Zahoor Uddin (pseudonym), Karachi, September 23, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Shahnawaz (pseudonym), Karachi, September 23, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Sher Muhammad (pseudonym), Karachi, September 23, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Bashir (pseudonym), Karachi, September 23, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Mehmood Raza (pseudonym), September 23, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Aftab Ahmad (pseudonym), September 23, 2016.
 Khalid Khattack, “Safe Schools, The News on Sunday, January 11, 2015, http://tns.thenews.com.pk/safe-schools-in-pakistan/#.WBDuKuV97IU, (accessed October 28, 2016).
 “Boundary walls of 81 sensitive schools to be constructed,” Daily Times, October 22, 2016, http://dailytimes.com.pk/sindh/22-Oct-16/boundary-walls-of-81-sensitive-schools-to-be-constructed, (accessed January 14, 2017).
 A World At School, “Prime Minister Sharif backs Pakistan Safe Schools Initiative and pledges to make it a success”, February 17, 2015, http://www.aworldatschool.org/news/entry/pakistan-prime-minister-sharif-backs-safe-schools-initiative-1589 (accessed October 28, 2016).
 Jo Griffin, “A year after Peshawar attack, are Pakistan’s schools safer?,” A World At School, December 16, 2015, http://www.aworldatschool.org/news/entry/A-year-after-Peshawar-attack-are-Pakistans-schools-safer-2455, (accessed October 29, 2016).
 Asad Zia, “Security drill at Islamia College Peshawar spreads panic,” Express Tribune, February 2, 2016, http://tribune.com.pk/story/1038862/security-drill-at-islamia-college-peshawar-spreads-panic/, (accessed November 17, 2016).
 Government of the Punjab, Home Department NO.SO (IS-II) 3-3/09/2014, Lahore, December 16, 2014, reproduced as Appendix I in “A World at School, Safe Schools Initiative: Protecting the Right to Learn in Pakistan” (A World at School and The Global Business Coalition for Education, 2015), p.9-10, http://b.3cdn.net/awas/17f0a8f0c750d6704c_mlbrgn5qs.pdf, (accessed October 28, 2016).
 Human Rights Watch interview with Shah Babar, Swat, July 21, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Raza Shah, Swat, July 19, 2016.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Haider Ali (pseudonym), Swat, July 20, 2016.
 Constitution of Islamic Republic of Pakistan, 1973, http://na.gov.pk/uploads/documents/1431341153_169.pdf (accessed October 28, 2016), art. 37(b).
 Ibid, art. 25-A.
 Military Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act of 1938, http://pakistancode.gov.pk/english/UY2FqaJw2-apaUY2Fqa-b5%2Ba-sg-jjjjjjjjjjjjj-con-1540, (accessed January 17, 2017), section 3(2).
 See Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Additional Protocol I), adopted June 8, 1977, 1125 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force December 7, 1978, art. 52(1). This rule is also part of customary law for international and non-international armed conflicts. See International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Customary International Humanitarian Law, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), rules 9 and 10.
 See Additional Protocol I, art. 52(3). The principle of presumption of civilian character in case of doubt is also contained in Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.
 See Additional Protocol I, art. 58(a), (b), and (c). These rules are also part of customary law. See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rules 22-24. See also ICTY, Kupreškić et al. case, Judgment, Trial Chamber, January 14, 2000, secs. 524-525.
 ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rules 38-40. There are a number of national laws and military manuals that include educational institutions as objects enjoying a special protection alongside other cultural objects.
 Ibid. See also the Regulations Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land annexed to the Fourth Hague Convention of 18 October 1907 (the 1907 Hague Regulations), art. 56.
 On the special protection afforded to children in armed conflicts, see Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (Fourth Geneva Convention), adopted August 12, 1949, 75 U.N.T.S. 287, entered into force October 21, 1950, arts. 14, 17, 23, 24, 38, 50, 82, 89, 94, 132; Additional Protocol I, arts. 70, 77, 78; Additional Protocol II, arts. 4 and 6.
 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 10, 1948, G.A. Res 217A (III), U.N. Doc. A.810 at 71 (1948), arts. 6, 9 & 10. Pakistan ratified the ICCPR in June 2010.
 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted November 20, 1989, G.A. Res. 44/25, annex, 44 U.N. GAOR Supp.(No. 49) at 5, U.N. Doc A/54/49 (Vol. 1) (2000), entered into force December 22, 2000, art. 6. Pakistan ratified the CRC in November 1990.
 CRC, art. 3(1).
 International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 49, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 993 U.N.T.S. 3, entered into force January 3, 1976, art. 13;
and CRC, art. 28. Pakistan ratified the ICESCR in April 2008.
 ICESCR, art. 13(2)(a)-(d); and CRC, art. 28(a)-(d).
 ICESCR, art. 13(e).
 CRC, art. 28(e).
 CRC, art. 4.
 ICCPR, arts. 3, 6, 9, 19, 23, and 24.
 ICESCR, art. 3.
 CRC, art. 2.
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation No. 28: the core obligations of states parties under article 2 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, 47th Sess., U.N. Doc. CEDAW/C/ GC/28, 2010, http://www.iwraw-ap.org/convention/details28.htm (accessed September 21, 2014), paras. 9 and 22.
 United Nations, Security Council Resolution 2143 (2015), S/Res/2143 (2015), para. 18.
 United Nations, Security Council Resolution 1998 (2011), S/Res/1998 (2011), para. 4.
 See e.g. Colombia: General Commander of the Military Forces, order of July 6, 2010, official document Number 2010124005981 / CGFM-CGING-25.11 (“Considering International Humanitarian Law norms, it is considered a clear violation of the Principle of Distinction and the Principle of Precaution in attacks and, therefore a serious fault, the fact that a commander occupies or allows the occupation by his troops, of ... public institutions such as education establishments.”); Democratic Republic of Congo: Ministerial Directive on the implementation of the Action Plan, Ministry of Defense, Disarmament and Veterans, N°VPM/MDNAC/CAB/0909/2013, May 3, 2013 (“all those found guilty of one of the following shortcomings will face severe criminal and disciplinary sanctions: ... Attacks against schools ... requisition of schools ... for
military purposes, destruction of school facilities”); Philippines: Armed Forces of the Philippines Letter Directive No. 34, GHQ AFP, November 24, 2009 (“All [Armed Forces of the Philippines] personnel shall strictly abide and respect the following: ... Basic infrastructure such as schools, hospitals and health units shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots.”); Poland: Armed Forces of Poland Accommodation Act, No. 86, item 433, June 22, 1995, as amended, chapter 7, art. 64(1) (“The following types of real property are not subject to temporary quartering: … real property of institutions of higher education.”).
(Beirut) – An apparent Saudi-led coalition attack on a boat carrying Somali civilians off the coast of Yemen highlights the need for accountability on the second anniversary of the Yemeni armed conflict, Human Rights Watch said today. Several witnesses reported that on March 16, 2017, a helicopter fired on the boat, killing at least 32 of the 145 Somali migrants and refugees on board and one Yemeni civilian. Another 29, including six children, were wounded, and 10 more remain missing. Photos of the boat taken the next day show damage consistent with gunfire from an aerial attack.
All the parties to the conflict denied responsibility for the attack. Only the Saudi-led coalition has military aircraft. The Houthi-Saleh forces do not. Somalia, which supports the coalition, called on the coalition to investigate. But the coalition has repeatedly shown itself unable or unwilling to credibly investigate its own abuses.
“The coalition’s apparent firing on a boat filled with fleeing refugees is only the latest likely war crime in Yemen’s two-year-long war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Reckless disregard for the lives of civilians has reached a new level of depravity.”
One of the boat’s four Yemeni crew members told Human Rights Watch that the boat was about 50 kilometers off the coast of the Yemeni port city of Hodeida, traveling away from Yemen, when it was attacked. That evening the captain had told the passengers to be quiet as they were transiting through “a very dangerous place,” two people onboard told Human Rights Watch. Earlier in the journey a vessel had approached and told the crew to stop the boat, but the boat continued.
Four people aboard the boat said that at about 9 p.m. they saw a helicopter repeatedly shoot at the boat. A Somali woman refugee, 25, who was wounded in the attack, said, “All of a sudden, I saw a helicopter above us. ... They attacked abruptly. … When they kept firing at us, those of us who spoke Arabic kept saying, ‘We are Somalis!’” Another woman said that she was hit by a fragment from an explosive weapon. A crew member and others said a large naval ship also fired on the boat.
After the attack, the boat docked at Hodeida port at about 4:30 a.m. The head of the fishing port, Daoud Fadel, said, “We couldn’t find a place to put the bodies, so we had to put them in the place where we store the fish.” Another witness said that, in addition to those who had been taken to nearby hospitals for treatment, about 15 men were wounded from bullets or fragments during the attack.
Both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi-Saleh forces denied carrying out the attack. The official state news agency of the United Arab Emirates reported that a UAE military source denied that its forces had been involved and welcomed an international investigation into the incident. Coalition members have naval vessels patrolling access to the Hodeida coast, while Houthi-Saleh forces maintain control over the port. The US, which has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen against Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), also denied carrying out the attack.
Under the laws of war, attacks against civilians that are deliberate or reckless are war crimes.
Since March 26, 2015, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition has carried out military operations, supported by the United States, against Houthi forces and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The coalition has conducted numerous airstrikes that have unlawfully struck homes, markets, hospitals, and schools.