Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon have advocated for the peaceful access to education for all children in the past and at times we have faced opposition, including the questioning of the legal basis to this assertion. During this time, we have re-affirmed the fact that the right to access to education in all situations is protected within the framework of international law. While we very much welcome discourse and active engagement on such an important issue, we feel it is necessary to articulate some of the legal basis for our assertion. While this articulation is not meant to be exhaustive, we hope that the breath of sources of law and breath of situations in which they apply provide clarity as to the legal basis of our assertion.
International humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) provide protection for children’s right to access to education during peace and conflict situations. While IHL is the special body of laws that applies during recognised armed conflict, IHRL applies in peace times and in situations of emergency. IHRL can also be applicable during armed conflict when not at variance with IHL.
Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, which apples to non-international armed conflicts, clearly creates obligations on the part of belligerents to a non-international armed conflict, or to put it plainly, on the part of all armed groups including state and non-state actors. If you directly participate in hostilities or you have effective control over those who do, Additional Protocol II applies to you and the entity in which you belong. Article 4(3)(a) of AP II requires, inter alia, the provision of education for children. It is clear that if there is an obligation to provide education then the targeting of educational facilitates and efforts to dissuade children from effectively enjoying their right to education would be a constructive breach of Article 4(3)(a). In addition, Article 13 AP II clearly prohibits the targeting of civilian populations and individual civilians. School children and their teachers constitute civilians and hence protected under this prohibition. In the case of an international armed conflict, Article 24 of Geneva Convention IV unequivocally obliges belligerents to facilitate the education of children in all circumstances. The clear use of the phrase “all circumstances” clearly limits any leeway for deviating from this obligation.
On its part, International human rights law (IHRL) applies in peace times as well as in situations of declared emergencies. Further, except in cases of discrepancy with IHL, IHRL is equally relevant during recognised armed conflicts. This is important as the common objective of these two body of laws remains the protection of persons. It is important to note that even when derogations to some civil and political rights are applied in times of declared national emergencies, it is seldom the case with the right to education1. Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recognizes the right to education for everyone, while Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognizes the right to education for children. The CRC’s Article 38 goes a step further to bridge the gap between IHL and IHRL by invoking the obligation to respect and ensure the respect for rules of IHL relevant to children and the protection and care of children affected by armed conflict. The preamble of the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Children on Children in Armed Conflict recognises the right of children in armed conflicts to special protection, including the right to education in peace and security. Additionally, Article 17 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights protects the right to education for all persons, while Article 11 of the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child protects the right to education for all children. When reflecting on the above referenced law, we are confident that the legal basis for our assertion is clear and rather definitive.
International governmental and non-governmental bodies play an important role in ensuring the respect of children’s right to education. This includes monitoring and reporting mechanisms of violations against children in conflict including their right to education. Of specific importance is the work of the UNSC on children and armed conflict. UNSC Resolutions 1998 (2011) and 1243 (2914) inter alia, urges all parties to armed conflict to refrain from actions that impede children’s access to education and encourages Member States to consider concrete measures to deter the use of schools by armed forces and non-state armed groups in contravention of applicable international law.
This statement on the issue of children’s access to education should not be seen as Contra Nocendi International and/or Contra Nocendi Cameroon making a determination as to whether the situation in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon constitute an armed conflict nor should it be seen as an effort to characterise any perceived or actual conflict. The use of international humanitarian law is meant to be illustrative insofar as it shows the expectations of combatants in an armed conflict. We also wish to make it clear we stand firmly against any arbitrary extrajudicial killings and strongly encourage the peaceful expression of concerns and disagreements.
Contra Nocendi International and Contra Nocendi Cameroon support the Safe School opened for endorsement in Oslo in 2015. The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-
governmental political commitment developed through consultations led by Norway and Argentina. It provides the opportunity to provide political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict and has been endorsed by 80 countries as of July 2018.2 We urge other states including Cameroon to endorse this declaration.
Gilbert Ajebe Akame
UNESCO: Background paper prepared for the Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2011, http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0019/001912/191225e.pdf