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In wake of Pakistan attack, UN experts urge greater protection for school children

Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
UN Photo
Margaret Sekaggya, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

In wake of Pakistan attack, UN experts urge greater protection for school children

Following the “shocking” attack by an extremist group on Pakistani school girls earlier this week, several United Nations independent human rights experts have urged the Government to do everything it can to protect school children, particularly girls.

Fourteen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who was well known for advocating the education of girls and highlighting Taliban atrocities, and two other girls were shot and wounded in the attack, which took place in the city of Mingora in Pakistan’s volatile Swat Valley.

The group known as Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack and then threatened to kill any others, including women and children, who hold views the group does not agree with.

“Attempting to assassinate a 14-year-old girl who has the courage to speak out and claim the legitimate right of a generation of girls to receive an education is a shocking attack on human rights defenders in Pakistan,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya.

“The Government has to make every effort possible to protect Ms. Yousafzai and others who work towards increasing respect for women’s and girls’ rights,” she added in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

Independent experts, or special rapporteurs, are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back, in an unpaid capacity, on specific human rights themes.

The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, underscored the need to ensure a prompt and thorough investigation into the attack, as well as provide Ms. Yousafzai, and others threatened by extremists, with swift and effective protection.

“We believe it is crucial that the Government of Pakistan take measures to ensure that its citizens, throughout the country, are able to express their views without fear of intimidation,” added the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, Frank La Rue.

The Special Rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh, called on the Government to clearly denounce those who committed these acts, and to openly support the right of all children, and particularly girls, to attend school in all parts of Pakistan without fear of attack.

“The right to education includes ensuring that children are able to travel to and attend school without facing the fear of violence,” he said.

“Education is also a crucial means of empowering women and girls to participate in the economic, social and political life of their societies,” added Mr. Singh. “It unlocks women’s potential and leads to an improvement in the health, nutrition, economic situation and overall well-being of both women and their families.”

UN officials have roundly condemned the shooting and called for the perpetrators to be swiftly brought to justice.

“The attack on her was abhorrent and cowardly. The terrorists showed what frightens them most: a girl with a book,” said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, at an event on Thursday afternoon in New York to mark the first International Day of the Girl Child.

He added: “Nowhere in the world should it be an act of bravery for a young girl to go to school.”