The Ambiguous Protection of Schools under the Law of War - Time for Parity with Hospitals and Religious Buildings

By Bart, Gregory Raymond | Georgetown Journal of International Law, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

The Ambiguous Protection of Schools under the Law of War - Time for Parity with Hospitals and Religious Buildings


Bart, Gregory Raymond, Georgetown Journal of International Law


INTRODUCTION

A disturbing trend during recent armed conflicts is that states tend to treat school buildings less respectfully than they treat hospitals and religious buildings. One important cause of this trend is the different privileged status afforded to each building type under the law of war. The law of war equally forbids targeting hospitals, religious buildings, schools, and other civilian buildings unless they become justifiable military objectives. But ironically, it fails to equally protect these buildings from being used for such objectives in the first place. Under the law of war's privileges for civilian hospitals and most religious buildings, armed forces cannot use these buildings for military purposes--without exception. In contrast, the law of war's privilege for school buildings ambiguously allows military use based on necessity. This is surprising because military use converts a school from a privileged site into a justifiable target for an opposing army. Even more troubling, such use increases the likelihood that an opposing army will confuse converted and unconverted schools and wrongfully attack one that shelters children and other civilians.

State practice paradoxically both opposes and accepts military use of schools during war. The ongoing conflict in Iraq provides many examples. In 2003, the United States condemned Iraqi military commanders for employing school buildings and grounds as sites for artillery, materiel storage, and headquarters. (1) Human Rights Watch noted that the Iraqi practice directly contributed to the number of civilian casualties because those buildings became lawful targets for the coalition forces. (2) The United States also denounced hostile insurgent forces for using school buildings as weapons caches and bases to launch attacks. (3) Meanwhile, in northern Iraq, U.S. military commanders employed school buildings for military headquarters and command posts. (4) Of note, American forces utilized school buildings that they characterized as abandoned or as former schools while Iraqi and insurgent forces exploited ones that were still occupied by students. (5) But these incidents beg the question of why armed forces respect hospitals and religious buildings more than schools?

This article considers whether the law of war provides school buildings with a less privileged status than it gives to hospitals and religious buildings. It proposes that three critical issues necessarily affect any legal regime that seeks to establish privileged status for a specific type of building during war: 1) defining which buildings qualify; 2) ensuring maintenance of privileged status by prohibiting their military use; and 3) ensuring their recognition by armed forces.

The article's first section reviews how the law of war and humanitarian law evolved to address these issues for hospitals and religious buildings. It traces how the law of war originally gave these buildings only a derivative privileged status that was based entirely on the presence of civilians and noncombatants. Through a series of treaties, the law of war gradually gave direct, independent protection to hospital buildings based on their inherent humanitarian nature and to most religious buildings based on their cultural and spiritual value to a people. The law shifted from focusing exclusively on the obligations of military attackers in targeting to creating equally shared obligations for attackers and defenders not to use these buildings for military purposes.

The second section shows that the law of war's privilege for schools has not evolved to the same extent because it fails to clearly answer the above three questions for school buildings. Current international law does not provide most with a direct, clear, and independent privileged status based on their inherent humanitarian nature or value to a people. Rather, it protects schools against military use based solely on the presence of civilians and noncombatants.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

The Ambiguous Protection of Schools under the Law of War - Time for Parity with Hospitals and Religious Buildings
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?