Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict

A girl student leaves al-Furadh School at the end of the day.
© 2012 Priyanka Motaparthy - Human Rights Watch (Yemen)

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express support for protecting students, teachers, schools, and universities from attack during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during armed conflict; and the implementation of concrete measures to deter the military use of schools.

By joining the Safe Schools Declaration, states commit to undertake several common-sense steps to make it less likely that students, teachers, schools, and universities will be attacked, and to mitigate the negative consequences when such attacks occur.

These measures include:

  • collecting reliable data on attacks and military use of schools and universities;
  • providing assistance to victims of attacks;
  • investigating allegations of violations of national and international law and prosecuting perpetrators where appropriate;
  • developing and promoting "conflict sensitive" approaches to education; 
  • seeking to continue education during armed conflict;
  • supporting the UN's work on the children and armed conflict agenda; and 
  • using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, and bringing them into domestic policy and operational frameworks as far as possible and appropriate.

The Declaration is also a framework for collaboration and exchange, and endorsing states agree to meet on a regular basis to review implementation of the Declaration and use of the Guidelines.

States can announce their endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration at any time by making a public statement and/or sending an endorsement letter (sample letter available here) to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via its embassies or permanent missions or directly at Seksjon.for.humanitaere.sporsmal@mfa.no and kjnn@mfa.no.   

The Guidelines were drawn up with the aim of better protecting schools and universities from use by armed groups for military purposes, and to minimize the negative impact that armed conflict has on students’ safety and education. They provide concrete guidance to states and non-state armed groups for the planning and execution of military operations. They may also serve as a tool for organizations engaged in monitoring, programming, and advocacy related to the conduct of armed conflicts.

States and intergovernmental bodies are urged to encourage all parties to armed conflicts to act in accordance with these Guidelines, and to help enable them to do so.

To learn more about the Declaration and the Second International Conference on Safe Schools, which took place in Buenos Aires on 28-29 March 2017, read the Questions and Answers document on the Declaration, also available in Arabic, ChineseFrench and Spanish, or visit the official website of the conference.

Read the Chair's Summary of the Second International Conference on Safe Schools here

Check the current status of endorsement here, or click on the map below to see all countries that have endorsed the Declaration. 

MORE ON MILITARY USE OF SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES

Around the world, in places experiencing armed conflict, schools and universities are becoming part of the battlefield. The use of schools and universities as bases, barracks, firing positions, and armories may transform places of learning into legitimate military objectives under international law, thus endangering students and teachers, and rendering their educational infrastructure and materials vulnerable to attack.

The presence of fighting forces in schools and universities also often leads to students dropping out, reduced enrollment, lower rates of transition to higher levels of education, and overall poorer educational attainment. Girls are often disproportionately affected.

To view a map of countries where schools or universities were used for military purposes during conflict and insecurity between 2007 and 2017, click here

Read Lessons in War 2015: Military Use of Schools and Universities during Armed Conflict, a GCPEA study that identifies cases of military use in 26 countries spread across four continents between 2005 and 2015. Full report available also in ArabicFrenchand SpanishExecutive summary available in French and Spanish. 

Download our brochure or learn about our initiative on protecting schools and universities from military use. 

Read the thematic essay, "Military use of schools and universities: changing behaviour", from Education under Attack 2014.

 

BACKGROUND OF THE SAFE SCHOOLS DECLARATION AND DEVELOPMENT OF THE GUIDELINES

The Safe Schools Declaration has been developed through state consultations in Geneva. This Declaration is the instrument through which states can express broad political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict, and endorse and commit to implement the Guidelines. A first group of 37 states endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration at an international conference convened by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 29, 2015 in Oslo and that number has since been growing

The Guidelines were developed through an extensive consultation process:

  • In May 2012, in Geneva, GCPEA convened a roundtable with experts from governments, militaries, UN agencies, and international and human rights organizations.
  • Based on recommendations from that meeting, GCPEA commissioned a former British military officer to prepare the first draft of the Guidelines.
  • In November 2012, GCPEA convened a larger expert consultation in Lucens, Switzerland, with representatives from 12 states, as well as the human rights and humanitarian law community.
  • A drafting committee, including state representatives and other experts, was then formed to further refine the Guidelines.
  • In June 2013, the Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict were released.
  • In June 2014, Norway announced that it would lead the process of finalizing the Guidelines and developing a means by which states could commit to implementing the GuidelinesRead additional public statements issued by states, which reference the importance of the Guidelines.
  • The Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict were finalized through a state-led process headed by Norway and Argentina in December, 2014 and unveiled at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland.