NUG Rejects Save the Children’s Statement on use of Schools as Military Bases

By The Irrawaddy 16 September 2022

Myanmar’s civilian National Unity Government (NUG) has rejected Save the Children’s recent statement calling on both resistance groups defending civilians from junta atrocities and regime troops to refrain from using schools for military purposes.

Three NUG ministries – Education, Women, Youths and Children Affairs and Human Rights –said that the global charity’s statement could lead to international misunderstanding over the battle to end military dictatorship in Myanmar.

On September 9, Save the Children issued a statement regarding the report “The Impacts of Attacks on Education and Military Use in Myanmar” by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA).

In the statement, Save the Children stated that the number of attacks on schools in Myanmar in 2021 increased to over 190. It said that the Myanmar military and resistance groups used education facilities primarily as bases, but also as detention sites, to store weapons and as fighting positions.

Save the Children said such use of schools increased the risk of violence and urged “all parties” to protect students, educators, schools and universities during armed conflict and to avoid using schools and universities for military purposes.

Damage to an NUG-run village school after it was targeted by junta helicopters during a raid in Myinmu Township, Sagaing Region in August 2022.

The NUG said the GCPEA’s report describes the scale, magnitude and methods of the military regime’s violations of the right to education and the destruction done to schools, and found that those widespread crimes had been committed intentionally and systematically.

“It is extremely dangerous to put two starkly different degrees of violation in the same tone as though both parties committed the crime equally, and that could result in the international misinterpretation of the Myanmar people’s rejection of the junta and demand for federal democracy,” the NUG’s ministries stated.

Since the coup, regime troops have occupied several schools and universities as base camps.

The junta has also killed over 140 children, as well as carrying out raids, attacks and airstrikes on schools, detaining children and holding the children of wanted activists as hostages.

However, the regime has repeatedly spread propaganda saying that attacks on school were carried out by resistance fighters who have taken up arms to defend civilians against the junta.

People’s Defense Forces (PDFs) in several cities said that they target regime forces only and will not launch attacks that could harm innocent civilians.

The NUG’s military code of conduct, its interim education programs, as well as other NUG announcements, make clear that the NUG has clearly called on PDFs to avoid targeting schools or using education facilities at all costs, the ministries said.

NUG processes and mechanisms also provide a means by which any violation of NUG rules on education facilities can be reported and action taken against violators, the NUG ministries said in their statement.

Last month, the civilian government asked 12 international organizations including Save the Children to issue a full apology to the people of Myanmar for signing an open letter that appeared to legitimize the junta.

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) letter, which was also apparently signed by Save the Children, Amnesty International and other organizations, addressed junta chief Min Aung Hlaing as the “Honorable Prime Minister of the Government of Myanmar” and mentioned the right to education in Myanmar.

In addition, the letter referred to the junta’s foreign minister Wanna Maung Lwin as “HE Minister of Foreign Affairs” and regime official Kyaw Zeya as “Ambassador Extraordinary to France and permanent delegate to UNESCO”.

After the letter went viral on social media and sparked outrage in Myanmar, HRW tweeted its deep regret for the mistake. Save the Children and Amnesty International both said that they had no knowledge of the letter.