Enough! The Attacks on Schools Must End

04/02/2015 05:34 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015
CARL DE SOUZA via Getty Images

After Pakistan, Nigeria and South Sudan, a fourth country has now become the most recent victim of heinous terrorist attacks on students and educational establishments.

Today, when gunmen burst into Garissa University College in Kenya, they copied a tactic used by Islamic State and Al-Qaeda-linked groups in Africa and Asia.

By taking hostages at the church service and then shooting innocent students -- as one witness claimed the gunmen did -- they have wreaked havoc in a town only 90 miles from the Somali border.

This shootout and the kidnapping are part of a new disturbing pattern whereby terrorists crave the publicity that comes from violating innocent young people even in the precincts of their own schools. This attack comes nearly a year after Boko Haram kidnapped over 200 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria, a similar incursion in Pakistan, where several months ago some 130 students were killed and in South Sudan, where children are being abducted from schools to serve as child soldiers.

This latest attack has been carried out by the militant extremist group al-Shabab, the same group responsible for the attack on the Westgate shopping center in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi in 2013 that claimed the lives of 67 people.

As I write this, ​147 on the Kenyan college campus of 815 have been reported dead. Dozens are wounded.

This sinister growth in attacks on schools must end. It is important that we send a message now that attacks on schools, colleges and universities are crimes against humanity and that educational establishments are viewed as safe havens, deserving protection in exactly the same way the Geneva Conventions protect Red Cross hospitals. And this new emphasis on protection is at the heart of the recent Declaration on Safe Schools, which every country must now support ahead of the conference scheduled in Oslo for June 1.

I have been working closely with Ms. Leila Zerrougui, the UN's special representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict, to ensure all attacks on schools and education are documented and reported to the Security Council. The aim is that abductions of children from schools can become a "trigger violation" for listing terrorist organizations in the secretary general's annual report to the Security Council.

There have been nearly 10,000 attacks on schools ​and educational establishments in recent years as armed groups adopt these murderous "shock and awe tactics" against innocent children. We must now support the Security Council ​in using all means at its disposal to put an end to these attacks on ​education, including diplomatic action, mediation, sanctions and rehabilitation of boys and girls.

As we approach the tragic one year anniversary of the kidnapping of the girls of Chibok, attacks on schools -- despite the world's revulsion of using girls and boys as instruments of war -- are increasing.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and hostages of today's attack in Kenya. We call for their safe release and for the safe release of the more than 200 schoolgirls abducted in Nigeria, the 89 schoolboys abducted in South Sudan in February and the many other innocent children and youth who simply want to exercise their right to an education. The attacks must end -- and children must be able to learn free of fear and violence in schools that are safe.

Al-Shabab Attack