LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Armed groups have been attacking schools in the Central African Republic and using them as bases amid persistent violence in the landlocked nation, a charity network said on Thursday.
In one incident when an armed group attacked peacekeeping troops near a Bangui high school, many students were “allegedly used as human shields” and 80 children were later given medical treatment, according to Watchlist, a New York-based network of charities trying to end violations against children in conflict.
Thousands of Central Africans have died and more than 800,000 remain displaced following two years of violence that erupted after mainly Muslim Seleka rebels seized power in the majority Christian country in 2013.
Both ex-Seleka rebels and their opponents, anti-Balaka militias, are responsible for attacks on schools, and both are using schools as bases, looting supplies and threatening students and teachers, Watchlist said in its report.
“Armed groups and international peacekeeping forces should do more to protect children’s right to education,” said Janine Morna, a Watchlist research officer.
Troops from the African Union and France and even United Nations missions have set up temporary military bases in schools, according to cases documented by Watchlist.
It said 73 percent of schools in Kémo district in the centre of the country had been attacked, as had 51 percent of schools in the capital Bangui.
The government should adopt policies prohibiting, or at least minimising, the use of schools as bases by military units, said Morna, who added that a “safe schools declaration” signed by the government was not being fully implemented.
“One commander promised to kill me in the presence of my students. He quickly removed his knife and showed it to me ... The children were scared,” said one teacher, one of the witnesses and victims interviewed for the report.
“We work in an atmosphere of worry all the time. This is why students don’t return [to school]. We are not totally secure here, anything can happen,” a teacher at one school said.
Voters are due to go to the polls on Oct. 18 to choose a new government to replace the current caretaker body, whose mandate runs out at the end of the year, and restore democratic rule.
However, preparations for the elections have been delayed, and the head of the interim parliament has said it is likely the polls will be delayed. They have already been postponed several times.
The international community can help the country by “improving school security, monitoring violations, and raising awareness of attacks and military use of schools,” said Morna.
Reporting By Joseph D'Urso, editing by Tim Pearce