This Nightmarish Ad Urges Governments to Stop Using Schools as Military Zones

Talk about a stressful learning environment

If you're from a city on terrorist watch, you're probably familiar with that unsteady, cold-shower feeling you get when you've suddenly turned a corner to discover a bunch of armed soldiers guarding the door you're about to walk into. They're there for protection, sure, but they also become a constant reminder of what could happen. 

Now imagine you're a kid, and those soldiers are in your school. 

With that scenario in mind, Human Rights Watch has released "#ProtectSchools," an effort to raise awareness about schools being used by soldiers in armed conflicts, and convince countries to sign the Safe Schools Declaration, a commitment to exclude educational institutions from military use.

The video has the claustrophobic, jumpy trappings of a nightmare. It follows a small, increasingly panicked girl through dark hallways as soldiers go about the frenzied business of war.

Her breathing gets louder and her pace quickens as she draws near the exit, ostensibly for relief, only to find she is surrounded by tanks and war vehicles in a stark landscape. 

"When an army moves into a school, it can immediately turn that school into a target of attack," Bede Sheppard, child rights deputy director of Human Rights Watch, tells AdFreak.

"I've visited too many schools that were damaged or destroyed when they came under attack because they were being used for military purposes. In the worst cases, students and teachers have been injured and killed. It also means students are less likely to go to school, and are thereby denied their right to education." 

At least 26 countries facing armed conflict since 2005 have been documented as using schools for military purposes. "To put that number into perspective, that's the majority of countries with armed conflict during the time," Sheppard says. "We've also found cases in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East. So we can say this is a global problem, in desperate need of a global solution."

To give that problem emotional context, the film, created by BETC Paris, seeks to "create a strong contrast between the innocence and fragility of a child, and the harshness of the military context, to show how both worlds really cannot and should not mix," Sheppard adds. "We wanted the images to be as neutral as possible—no identifiable country or existing conflict—so everybody can relate to them."

The Safe Schools Declaration was developed in 2015, following consultations in Geneva that were led by Norway and Argentina. It's an international political commitment by governments to better protect students in wartime. 

"Fifty-six countries have already endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and committed to refraining from using schools. This includes a number of countries most affected by this problem, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan," Sheppard says. "If these countries can find alternatives, we are confident that France can as well."

Ultimately, he adds, "we hope this ad will inspire the French public to send a clear message to their government—that when French soldiers deploy, they should never interfere in children's education."

CREDITS

Advertiser: Human Rights Watch
Brand Managers: Bénédicte Jeannerod, Maria Fiorio
Agency: BETC Paris
Agency Managers: Catherine Emprin, Giulia Locatelli, Marine Raelison
Creative Director: Christophe Clapier
Art Director: Antoine Montes
Copywriter: Alban Gallee, Charles Pivot
TV Producer: Isabelle Menard
Assistant TV Producer: Malika Hamladji
Production Company: LaPAC
Sound Production Company: Schmooze
Director: Reynald Gresset
Air Date: November 17th 2016