Türkiye: Education International demands an immediate halt to the attacks on Northern and Eastern Syria and Iraq

published 17 October 2023 updated 19 October 2023

Education International (EI) called upon the Turkish authorities to immediately cease cross border airstrikes in Kurdish-controlled locations.

In his protest letter dated 13 October addressed to the President of the Republic of Türkiye Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, EI General Secretary David Edwards condemned the recent military actions by Turkey. The Kurdistan Teachers Union and the Union of Teachers in North and East Syria are EI member organisations in the region.

According to the Union of Teachers in North and East Syria, to date, 26 civilians in North and East Syria have been directly affected, leading to the loss of 11 lives, including two children. Tragically, in the city of Ain Issa, young schoolgirls Nadia and Ali Ayyash, both elementary school students, were killed in a bomb attack.

In the self-governing region of Northern and Eastern Syria, over 224 attacks have struck multiple cities, with profound impact on civilian infrastructure. Vital services such as water supplies, schools, and hospitals have been targeted. Forty-eight schools have been rendered inoperative, leaving 8,458 students unable to receive education. In the mountainous areas in the Iraqi Kurdistan, the military strikes have led to the displacement many civilians.

“This is a grave injustice and a direct violation of international law,” Edwards highlighted, adding that “humanitarian and human rights laws provide protections for civilian infrastructure related to education and health during times of armed conflict or violence. These protections apply to attacks carried out by both state authorities and non-state actors. The Fourth Geneva Convention focuses on the protection of civilians, including those in educational facilities. The International Criminal Court includes provisions for prosecuting individuals for war crimes for intentional attack on civilian objects, which can be educational facilities.”

EI is also concerned about the potential resurgence of the Islamic State (IS) due to the deteriorating security situation, as these attacks may provide IS with an opportunity to recruit new members and intensify terrorist activities in the region. For Edwards, “the absence of education and prevailing despair are fostering conditions conducive to extremism, posing a significant threat to global peace and security.”

Edwards added in the letter to the Turkish leader that “we believe in your country's commitment to human rights, peace and education, and therefore ask you to act swiftly and decisively to put an end to the suffering and destruction. We appreciate your attention to this urgent issue and remain hopeful that your efforts will contribute to a safer and more democratic future for the region.”

EI and its affiliates will continue to monitor and document violations and will report to the Special Procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, including the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education.