UN designates schools as safe havens

Schools and hospitals were designated by the U.N. Security Council Tuesday as safe havens for children threatened by war.
Led by visiting German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, the council voted unanimously Tuesday to have the U.N. chief "name and shame" national security forces and other armed groups that target schools and hospitals in conflicts, often killing, maiming or sexually violating children. The resolution spearheaded by Germany also called on all countries to take action to help stop the growing practice.
"Because children are very often the first victims of violence and conflict, we must do what we can to protect them," Westerwelle said.
Jo Becker, advocacy director for children's rights at Human Rights Watch, said that a U.N. blacklist of groups responsible for school and hospital attacks could have "a real impact."
"What this does is puts them on notice," Becker said. "It stigmatizes them."
She said a similar blacklisting of national security forces and other armed groups that recruit child soldiers has had some success.
The move comes as schools around the world are increasingly singled out by armed combatants, both as targets for violent attacks and as a recruiting ground for underaged fighters.
Cases have been documented in at least 31 countries in Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the Middle East. They include the storming of a high school by Maoist rebels in India, more than 700 attacks on schools over the past year by the Taliban in Pakistan, and a shootout outside a school in northern Mexico that prompted a kindergarten teacher to have her students lie on the floor to avoid being hit while she calmed them with a song.
"Millions of children bear the brunt of war: killed, maimed, orphaned," Anthony Lake, executive director of the United Nations' children's agency UNICEF told the council. Boys and girls in many countries, he said, are "forced to flee their homes, sexually assaulted, pressed into the service of armed groups, and exposed to unspeakable violence.
"These horrific acts are not only a violation of international and humanitarian law. They are a violation of our common humanity," Lake said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after Tuesday's meeting that he was pleased that the protection of schools and hospitals would now be treated as an international peace and security issue.