Children light oil lamps beside a picture of Malala Yousufzai who was shot by the Taliban militants for promoting the social rights of girls (Photo: Reuters)
In a statement published on its website Friday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on militant groups – including Afghanistan's Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and their affiliates – to cease attacks on civilian sites, noting in particular the recent case of 15-year-old Pakistani rights activist Malala Yousafzai.
Yousafzai, a Pakistani student and prominent advocate for children's right to education, was shot in the head and neck last week on her way home from school. She survived the attack, responsibility for which was claimed by the Taliban, and is currently in stable condition.
The incident captured the attention of the international community, with many domestic and foreign rights organisations condemning the incident.
HRW, for its part, urged the Pakistani government to take immediate steps to protect students, teachers, schools and rights advocates who are "at risk of attack."
The international rights body also called on the Pakistani military to refrain from using schools as military bases, pointing out that a 2009 documentary about Yousafzai had indicated that her school had been used as a military base.
HRW went on to praise the speedy international response to the incident. It also called on the government to cooperate with provincial authorities to create a 'rapid-response system' to deal with attacks on schools and provide affected students with psychological support.
During a tribute to Yousafzai organised by UNESCO's executive board, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova praised the young woman's bravery. Bokova reiterated UNESCO's determination to continue the fight to ensure the right of all children to education, describing the shooting as "unacceptable."
Bokova had issued a statement the day after the attack denouncing the act and expressing her support for the Pakistani girl who has since become a national symbol for civil rights.
Yousafzai first attracted public attention in 2009 when she launched a blog describing her life in Pakistan's Swat Valley, an area that remains under Taliban control. She then became an activist, campaigning for the rights of children and girls.
Following the attack, an air ambulance provided by the United Arab Emirates transported Yousafzai from Islamabad to the UK's Queen Elizabeth Hospital for medical treatment, where doctors now say her condition has stabilised.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has described the shooting of Yousafzai by the Taliban as an attack on "all girls in the country and on civilisation itself."
"The work that she led was higher before God than what terrorists do in the name of religion," he said. "We will continue her shining cause."
Pakistanis have held several protests and candlelight vigils for Yousafzai. But the government has so far refrained from publicly criticising the Taliban for the attack, prompting critics to accuse it of a lack of resolve against extremism.
Despite repeated promises by government ministers that Yousafzai's attackers would be brought to justice, security officials told AFP that a joint police-military investigation still had no substantive leads.
Pakistani authorities, meanwhile, have offered a reward of more than $100,000 for the capture of Yousafzai's attackers.
Police and security officials have named one person suspected of involvement in the attack, whose house in Swat was raided by authorities last week.
On Monday, a police official said that an accountant and two watchmen who had worked in Yousafzai's school – who had been in custody for more than a week – had both been released for a lack of evidence.