School children face heightened dangers as Syrian conflict escalates

Lys Anzia – WNN Features

Makeshift school in Aleppo, Syria
School children in the Syrian city of Aleppo sit at desks in a makeshift school classroom that has been devastated by escalating violence in the city. The marks from shrapnel during the conflict can be seen on the wall behind the children. Image: Muzaffar Salman

(WNN) Geneva, Switzerland, UNITED NATIONS: Chronicling an increasing amount of evidence in actions of crime against humanity and using a weapon of mass destruction during the ongoing and escalating crisis in Syria, a United Nations Human Rights Council commission in Geneva has publicly released a definitive statement this week. The assessment has come after careful and detailed study of hundreds of interviewees, people caught in the violence in Syria. Through the interviews witness statements also point to the use of chemical weapons during the Syrian conflict.

Included in the destruction is the clear decimation of schools, many that have been used either as a shelter for the conflict’s displaced or as a meeting ground building fighting forces.

From January 15 to May 15 this year (2013) a sponsored study by the government of France gathered and reviewed 430 interviews with individuals who have first-hand knowledge of events in Syria that point to deadly human rights abuse in the region.

Crimes in the region are being perpetrated on an ever increasing scale, said the Chairperson for the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Paulo Pinheiro.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used,” said Pinheiro. “It has not been possible on the evidence available to determine the exact chemical agents used, their delivery system or the perpetrators. Other incidents also remain under investigation,” Pinheiro continued.

Outlining that government forces, and affiliate militia, have committed murder, torture, rape, widespread forced displacement, enforced disappearances and other inhumane acts, brought the findings of the recent study to a haunting conclusion. Crimes against humanity have occurred.

In the process, the Commission did not point its finger at only Syria’s government, it also cited atrocities that were committed by rebel troops as well who are trying to overthrow the Syrian government.

“Many of these crimes were perpetrated as part of widespread systematic attacks against civilian populations and constitute crimes against humanity,” added Pinheiro. “It is an illusion that more weapons will keep the balance between the two parties. No one is winning. And no one will not win this war. More weapons will only lead to more civilians dead and wounded. The States must bear in mind that transfer of arms, of ammunition, to both sides should not occur when their is a clear risk that these arms will be used to commit serious violations of international law.”

In northwestern Syria, in the city of Aleppo, the intense fighting has been trapped in what U.S. based The Nation magazine has recently said is a “gruesome stalemate” where rebel forces and the Syrian government sponsored army have placed civilian lives dangerously in the line of fire. Almost 2.4 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance in the city where 52 neighborhoods out of Aleppo’s 125 neighborhoods, according to ReliefWeb, is currently under severe crisis and in need on intervention.

Where children and families have been traumatized under the constant stress of conflict and war, families have tried to keep their children in schools that have tried to remain open despite deteriorating and at times dangerous situations. Despite conditions, schools inside Damascus, Aleppo, Daraa, Daell, Homs, Khirbat Ghazala, and other towns in the northern region of Syria have tried to stay open as numerous families have worked to keep their children in school.

Young Syrian boys with guns
Two young boys hold up guns in the Rebel led city of al-Raqqa in northern Syria in April 2013. Fears that some children are being brought strongly into the political climate inside the country has been mentioned recently by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Syria. This includes grave concern that some children are being used as child soldiers in the region. Image: Bashr Online/Flickrcc

This had been done in order to maintain a system of normalcy for the children, but the ongoing sight, sounds as well as the psychological impact of bombing and gunfire continues to take its toll. During acts of war those who are the most innocent are often those who are the most damaged by conflict, outlined Commission Chairman Pinheiro.

“Both government forces and opposition armed groups have used schools as military bases, barracks, detention centers, and sniper posts, turning places of learning into military targets and putting students at risk,” says HRW – Human Rights Watch, one of the world’s leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights, in a new June 2013 key report release outlining conditions for schoolchildren inside the region.

“Syrian government air force fighter jets and helicopters dropped bombs—including what appeared to be improvised “barrel bombs” and incendiary weapons—on school buildings, causing extensive damage,” outlines the new report by Human Rights Watch.

Stressing that dialogue is the only way to find a solution to mounting problems in the region, Pinheiro reminded those at the United Nations gathering that the message of ‘dialogue’ is now the continuing and most important “mantra” coming from the UN on Syria.

Some of the young students who have been unable to continue school and have been displaced have now become child soldiers or laborers for the Syrian opposition, outlines the recent report by Human Rights Watch.

“…Opposition armed forces used schools in the Daraa and Homs governorates for military purposes… …Military forces—whether national armed forces or non-state armed groups—that deploy in schools or otherwise use them for military purposes, make those schools legitimate targets under the laws of armed conflict. When the schools are still being used, such deployments put students and school personnel at risk of attack, violating the international humanitarian law requirement to take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and civilian objects against the effects of attacks,” continues the HRW report.

As violence and the scale of destruction in the region escalates, experts warn that political solutions and negotiations cover a difficult and unpredictable terrain. They do agree that peace in Syria cannot happen without bringing opposing forces to the table. Tracking the violence is not easy. Journalists have had ongoing difficulty in regions that are the most affects as internet connectivity in the regions under the most intense part of the conflict has also been largely unaccessible.

“To be successful the negotiations must be inclusive or for all interests and influential parties,” reminded Pinheiro. “Evidence that we collected suggests that some groups are really training children, other groups are not allowing it…,” Pinheiro continued. “We don’t have the full picture. It’s a very complex and mixed situation… … one of the options is the ICC [International Criminal Court], but we don’t have the authority. Who has the authority? It is the [UN] Security Council,” added Pinheiro.

According to ReliefWeb, in the city of Aleppo alone, over 23,000 people have been injured within the last few months in violence that has swallowed up the northern region of Syria.


The Syrian government has interrogated students and carried out violent assaults on their protests as well as military attacks on schools, Human Rights Watch said in a recent report released on June 6, 2013. Both government forces and opposition armed groups have used schools as military bases, barracks, detention centers, and sniper posts, turning places of learning into military targets and putting students and the process of education for children in Syria at risk. This video shows the rising personal impact children who are now facing the escalating violence inside the region. Released on June 6, 2012 this video is a production of HRW – Human Rights Watch.


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Additional sources for this story include the United Nations Human Rights Council, HRW – Human Rights Watch, Youtube, The Nation, The SecDev Foundation, United Nations Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, Flickr creative commons, UN News Centre and ReliefWeb.


Human rights journalist and reporter Lys Anzia is also the founder and editorial media advisor for WNN – Women News Network. Anzia has spoken on panel at the United Nations numerous times covering the use of new media for activism and human rights. Her written and editorial work has been published in UNESCO, WHO – World Health Organization, Vital Voices, Huffington Post World, INTERNEWS, The Nobel Women’s Initiative and The Guardian News, among others. Anzia believes strongly in the power of news transparency and the power of women to transform the world.


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