Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use

A billboard on a school in Toribio, Cauca, warns armed persons to stay away from the school property
© 2009 Stephen Ferry
The use of schools and universities by armed forces and armed groups for military purposes during situations of armed conflict can disrupt or completely deny education in both the immediate and long terms.

Government security forces and non-state armed groups are often attracted by the location, solid structure, and ready facilities found in schools, universities, and other education institutions. They have used these sites in a variety of ways, including as military bases, shelters, weapons caches, and outposts, with their use lasting weeks, months, and even years. Such military use not only seriously disrupts students’ learning, it also provokes attacks from opposing forces.

In the majority of countries with armed conflicts, armed forces or armed groups use schools and other education institutions. According to the GCPEA study Lessons in War, between 2005 and 2013, they used education institutions in conflicts in at least 24 countries, including: Afghanistan, Burma / Myanmar, Central African Republic, Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Georgia, India, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nepal, Occupied Palestinian Territory/Israel, Pakistan, Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Uganda, and Yemen.

Such use can result in:

  • Long-term school closures
  • Displacement of students to schools away from their home communities
  • Declines in student attendance, enrollment, and transitions to higher levels
  • Declines in availability of teachers
  • Attacks by opposing parties and destruction and damage of education infrastructure
  • Psychosocial impacts on students, teachers, and communities
  • Disproportional impacts on female students and teachers and on marginalized groups

Restricting the use of education institutions by militaries and armed groups is critical for ensuring that education continues during and after conflict. The initiative is intended to build global recognition of the negative consequences of military use of schools and universities, and the need – and commitment – to restrict the practice.

In November 2012, the Coalition released its report, Lessons in War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions during Conflict, which set out how armed forces and non-state armed groups used schools and universities as bases, barracks, weapons caches, firing ranges, and interrogation and detention centers in most conflicts around the world in the last seven years. It also described the deadly consequences of this practice, including converting education facilities into legitimate military targets under international law, and the resultant risk of students being caught in attacks by opposing forces.

In 2012, GCPEA held two expert consultations with representatives from governments, militaries, UN agencies, and international humanitarian and human rights organizations, some of which have direct and indirect contact with non-state actors, to discuss how to address military use of schools and universities. At the first meeting, held in Geneva in May, participants recognized the need for clear international guidelines setting out recommendations for minimizing military use of education institutions. In response, GCPEA commissioned a former British military commander to prepare draft guidelines based on input from the consultation. This draft was reviewed at a second expert consultation with wider participation, including representation from 12 states, at the Château de Lucens in Switzerland in November. A preliminary version of the guidelines resulted from deliberations at this meeting and was subsequently revised by a drafting committee comprised of state representatives. as well as other experts.

In June 2013, GCPEA released the Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict and seeks support from states, multilateral institutions, and other organizations to finalize, and then adopt, endorse, and implement them.

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For further information please see:

Questions and Answers on the Draft Lucens Guidelines (GCPEA, 2014)

Lessons in War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions during Conflict (GCPEA, 2012)
[Arabic] [Español] [Français]

Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict (GCPEA, 2013)
[Arabic] [Español] [Français]

Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use (GCPEA, 2013)

Education Under Attack 2014: Thematic Essay on military use of schools and universities