GLOBAL: Education under increasing attack*

Around the world, schools and universities have faced brutal military and political attacks in an increasing number of countries over the past three years, according to a new report published by Unesco. Since 2007 there have been thousands of reported cases of students, teachers, academics and other education staff being kidnapped, imprisoned, beaten, tortured, burned alive, shot or blown up by rebels, armies and repressive regimes.

The report, Education under Attack 2010 was written by University World News correspondent Brendan O'Malley and he says the sheer volume of incidents demonstrates that attacks on education are "by no means limited to supporters of the Taliban fighting in the hills of Afghanistan". Education and those involved have been subject to attacks in at least 31 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.

"In a worryingly large number of places there are times when students, teachers and academics have good reason to fear that if they turn up to work or lectures they risk being bombed by rebels or picked off by assassins or even abducted by their own government's security forces," O'Malley says.

In Iraq, 71 academics, two education officials and 37 students were killed in assassinations and targeted bombings between January 2007 and July 2009, the reporting period of the study. Universities were bombed or shelled in Colombia, Gaza, Georgia and Iraq.

Academics or students were reported killed, 'disappeared', shot at, issued with death threats, arbitrarily detained, or tortured in Guatemala, Honduras, Iran, Iraq, Palestinian Autonomous Territories, Philippines, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Venezuela.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo 47 academics sought rescue grants to escape threats and persecution in 2002-07.

One Colombia university received 312 death threats from paramilitaries, including a letter from Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles) in November 2008 declaring 32 students to be military targets. Seventeen Colombian students were killed and one disappeared in the reporting period.

O'Malley says the motives vary from country to country but attacks on academics are thought three times as likely to be carried out by government or government-backed forces than by rebels. Common reported motives include the desire to silence opposition, prevent the publication of sensitive research, or prevent the voicing of concerns by minorities.

"In higher education, students and academics may be attacked to silence criticism of government policies but also to limit academic freedom and prevent political pluralism," he says.

"The effect is to undermine the quality of higher education provision and restrict its contribution to economic, political and human development by inhibiting the growth of ideas, destroying intellectual capital and deterring bright minds from pursuing an academic career."

The report recommends the international community do more to ensure punishment of the perpetrators of attacks on education. It proposes strengthening protection of higher education in international law and establishing a global system for monitoring attacks at all levels of education.

* See O'Malley's commentary in the Features section

* Education under Attack 2010 by Brendan O'Malley , Unesco 2010, can be downloaded at