Afghan security forces and the Taliban are increasingly using schools as bases during military operations in Taliban-held areas, putting children at risk and depriving thousands of education, according to the Human Rights Watch.
The militants responsible for launching the attack on the American University of Afghanistan on Wednesday evening based themselves in a nearby school for visually impaired children beforehand, according to locals in the Darulaman area.
Thirteen people were killed in the terrorist attack late on Wednesday. The casualties included seven students, three policemen, two security guards and a doorman. More than 26 students were injured in the attack. Around 750 students were on campus at the time, the police spokesman said.
Two professors, an American and an Australian, were abducted from the same university earlier this month. No group has claimed responsibility for the incident so far, an official said, adding that the style of the attack was similar to those carried out by the Taliban's Haqqani network.
Noor Gul Shafaq, a local journalist, said that there is still an atmosphere of panic. Those who were trying to get in touch with loved ones at the university were unable to establish contact as their numbers were off or busy and victims were admitted to different hospitals.
Shafaq also confirmed that the attackers based their mission from a local school, in clear violation of international law.
Using schools as bases in Afghanistan has become a common practice of both government forces and militants.
A report titled "Education on the Frontlines" by Human Rights Watch released on August 17 stated that government forces and militants are misusing schools for their operations.
The practice is in violation of the global Safe Schools Declaration, which Afghanistan endorsed in 2015. The declaration urges parties in armed conflicts "not to use schools and universities for any purpose in support of the military effort." Afghanistan is a signatory of the declaration, the report said.
One of the largest media outlets in Kabul, Tolo TV, also organised an in-depth discussion on this issue at length last week. The participants of the programme also raised concerns about the misuse of educational institutions by warring parties.
In its recently released annual report, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) documented 19 incidents where the Taliban and other insurgents "directly or indirectly limited girls' access to education in Afghanistan, through complete bans on education for girls, restrictions of girls' attendance beyond 4th or 6th grade or explicit prohibitions of girls attending school without a female teacher."
UNAMA's 2015 report on the protection of civilians noted that incidents of military use of schools by Afghan Government forces in 2015 occurred in Badakhshan, Baghlan, Nangarhar, Kunduz, and Kunar provinces.
International law experts said children and educational institutions are protected under the international laws of war.
In 2011 the late Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, issued a decree instructing Taliban factions not to attack schools or schoolchildren.
Sharing details of unofficial talks with Afghan Government and civil society delegates in Qatar in 2015, an official said Taliban representatives pledged to support girls' and women's access to school and university.
The HRW's report urged parties to armed conflict not to use schools and universities for any military purposes.
It recommends the government "establish and implement preventive measures, through training of the Afghan security forces, including the Afghan military, police, and pro-government militias, to avoid the military use of educational facilities, and to vacate schools expeditiously where armed forces are using them."
Author: Azam Khan