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Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use Global Coalition to

Protect Education from Attack



Around the world, schools and universities are ending up on the battlefield. In the majority of countries with armed conflicts in recent years, armed forces and non-state armed groups have used schools and universities for military purposes. They have converted schools into barracks and military bases by stacking assault rifles in hallways, hiding grenades under desks, and parking armored vehicles in gymnasiums. They have filled classrooms with sleeping cots and encircled playing fields with barbed wire. And they have established fortifications atop school buildings, in order to better observe and shoot enemy forces.

Rebel fighters are shown how to use an antiaircraft gun during training held at a secondary school in Benghazi, Libya, March 1, 2011 Š 2011 Ed Ou/The New York Times/Redux


An assault rifle left inside a classroom of a school occupied by soldiers in Chocó State, Colombia. Colombia’s internal armed conflict has long resulted in serious abuses by irregular armed groups, including guerillas and successor groups to government-backed paramilitaries. © 2007 Getty Images


Between 2005 and 2013, national armed forces and non-state armed groups used schools and universities in at least 24 countries in conflicts across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. Schools and universities have been used as: • • • • • • • •

Bases Barracks Detention facilities Interrogation and torture centers Defensive or offensive positions Observation posts Military training facilities Weapons and ammunition storage

Using a school or university for a military purpose can convert it into a legitimate military target under international humanitarian law (the laws of war), making students, teachers, and education facilities vulnerable to attack from belligerent forces. Military use of schools and universities can result in: • • • • • • • •

Death or injury to students, teachers, and school staff Damage or destruction to education buildings and support structures, requiring expensive reconstruction and rehabilitation Long-term school closures Displacement of students to schools away from their home communities Declines in student attendance, enrollment, and rates of transition to higher levels Declines in availability of teachers Negative psychosocial impacts on students, teachers, and communities Disproportionate impacts on girls


Not only have armed soldiers and fighters taken children’s schools by force, they have also used every type of educational facility—from universities to kindergartens—for military purposes. In doing so, they have often endangered the lives and safety of students and teachers, and imperiled these students’ right to education.

“Some men came to our village. I tried to escape, but they took me to jail. Except it wasn’t a jail—it was my old school. It’s ironic—they took me there to torture me, in the same place I used to go to school to learn… They had taken over the school and made it into a torture center.” Khalid, 15, Syria


Fighters from the Syrian opposition rest at a disused primary school in the center of Syria’s embattled northern city of Aleppo, July 25, 2012. Š BULENT KILIC/AFP/GettyImages


During times of armed conflict and insecurity, students’ access to schooling can provide important protection. Safe schools provide life-saving information, mitigate the psychosocial impact of war, and can protect children from trafficking, sexual violence, and recruitment by armed groups. But perhaps more importantly, access to a safe space to learn offers a sense of normalcy, routine, and calm amid the chaos of war.

Boys at Tankuppa High School in Bihar, India, where paramilitary police have been stationed since Maoist guerillas bombed and destroyed the local police station in 2006. Brick sentry boxes added to the school by the paramilitary police are visible on the school roof. Š 2010 Moises Saman/Magnum Photos


“[The paramilitary police based at the school] take baths in front of the girls and in front of us in their underwear, which is not appropriate in our culture‌ Sometimes these police are teasing the girls too.â€? Hetal, 15, India


MILITARY USE OF SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES Countries C ount n ries wher where e armed d fforces orrces orr nonn non-state state a arm armed med m groups gr oups used used d sc schools hools or u hoo universities nivers rsitie e be es between e ween etw e 2005 and 2012.

Examples off g Examples good ood pr practice actice pr protecting otect ctting t g sc schools ho ls and hoo d universities u niversities ffrom rom mi military litary u use, se, in i legi llegislation, slation, t n ti mi litary doctrine, doctrine, ccourt ourt ru lings, s or po licy. military rulings, policy. IRELAND Military Mi litary m manoeuvers anoeuvers and encampments enc ampments ccannot annot interfere with schools int erfere w ith sc hools or school sc hool grounds. grounds. Defence Defence Act,, 1954 1954.. Act COLOMBIA C OLOMB BIA Both g government overnment sec security urity non-state fforces orces and nonstate a armed gr groups oups h have ave u used sed schools. Aprill 2011, sc hools. In Apri 300 cchildren hildren w were ere trapped trapped byy a cconfrontation b onfrontation be be-tween FARC-EP tw een FFARC ARC-EP guerillas guerillas and mi military litary fforces orces who had h ad set u up p ttents ents in a sschool’s sc hool’s soc soccer cer field field..

UNITED NA NATIONS ATIONS TIO TIONS IO ION “Schools “Sc hools shall shall not n be used used byy the military b military in n their th t operations.” oper ations.” UN PeacePeac a ekeeping k eeping Infantry Infantry Battalion Battalion a ion Manual, M anual, 2012. 2012. UN Committee Committee on the Rights off the C hild ccalled alled Child ffor or an end to to armed fforces orces u sing schools schools in C olombia, using Colombia, Sri Lan ka, Syria, Syria, and ThaiThaiLanka, lland and in 2010 and 2012 2012..

NICARAGUA NICARAGUA University Uni versity ccampuses ampuses are are inviolable. in violable. P Public ublic forces forces ccan an only on ly enter enter them with with written written authorization authoriz ation from from the uniunivversity ersity authoritie authorities. s. La Law w on Institutions Ins titutions off Higher EducaEducation, 1990 1990..

COLOMBIA COLOMBIA It is is a violation violation ffor or a comcommander m ander to to allow allow hi hiss ttroops roops tto o occupy occupy a sc school, hool, whic which h ccauses auses an imminent risk risk tto o a cchild’s hild’s protection. protection. Or Order der off Gener General al C Commander ommander of Military Mi litary Forces, Forces, 2010 2010.. Pr event sec urity forces forces ffrom rom Prevent security ent ering sc hools ffor or ttrainrainentering schools ing s, tto o mou nt weapons, weapons, or ings, mount tto o deploy deploy armed personnel. personnel. C onstitutional C ourt, 1999. 1999. Constitutional Court,


UNITED KINGDOM KINGDOM “The bett er vview” iew” iiss that that better the llaw aw pr prohibits ohibits the u use se off educ education ation ins institutions titutions ffor or p purposes urposes likely likely to to expose e xpose it to to damage, damage, unl ess tthere here is n o feasible feasible unless no alternative. alt ernative. Manual Manual off the Law La w off Armed Conflict, Conflict, 2004 2004..

ARGENTINA Public P ublic forces forces cannot cannot enter enter national n ational universities uniiversities without w ithout prior priior i written written order or der err from from a court court or a rrequest eq q st from que from the univeruniverssity. it . Higher E ity Education ducation Act,, 1995 A Act 1995..

COTE D’IV COTE D’IVOIRE OIRE UN and NGOs sshared hared information inf ormation on mi military litary use u se off sc schools hools with with UN peacekeepers pe acekeepers who then advocated adv ocated w with ith sstate tate and non-state nonstate act actors ors to to le leave ave occupied oc cupied sc schools. hools.

SOUTH SUD SUDAN DAN In 2011, troops troops op used used ed at lleast east 21 schools, schoo sc h ls, affecta ectaff ing app approximately pp oximately ppr 10,900 10,90 00 cchildren. 0 hildren n. The e cost cost tto o rrepair e air ep ai d damage amag ge ccaused aused such u was ass a use around by such b se w round US$67 7 0 per sc 7,000 sschool. hool. US$67,000

YEMEN In 2010, 20 Houthi Ho rrebels ebels oc cupied i dozens do ozens of occupied sschools sc h ols in northern hoo northern Yemen, Y emen em n,, preventing p preventing at least least 30 30,000 0 cchildren hildren from from att ending. attending. In 2011, armed forces forces and nonstate armed groups groups non-state o ccupied a east 54 occupied att lleast sschools chools in San aa. Sanaa.

AF HANISTAN AFGHANISTAN AFG TAN AN In 2011, 01 ther 011, here were were at least least there 31 inc iden n s off oppo nts sition incidents opposition groups gr oups and pr proogovernment g overnment forces forces u using sing schools. sc hools. Thi Thiss rivals rivals the schools burned burned nu mber off schools number do wn during during the ssame ame down period h was was 35. period,, whic which

THAILAND In 2010, g overnment forces forces government u sed a east 79 schools schools for for used att lleast ccamps amps and b barracks arracks in southern Th Thailand, ailand, end endanangering g ering and imperi imperiling ling the estimated educ ation on off an e stimated education 20,500 sstudents. tudents.

INDIA During Du uring 2010, sec security urity fforces orces u used sed more more than than 129 sc schools, hoo ols, di disrupting isrupting ting estimated sstudies tudies ffor orr an an e stimated 20,800 sstudents. tudentss.

DEMO DEMOCRATIC DEM EM MOC O RA RATIC C REPUBLIC REPUB REP REPU UBLIC U BLIC B C OFF C CONGO O GO ONGO O In 201 2 2013, armed a arm me m e groups ed g ou gr oups occupied oc cupied ed 64 4 sc schools ho h hoo ools in oo Katanga K atang an n a province provinc ince alone. alon on one e e. Schools Sc hoo ols were were also also o used used s in i Nor tth and a South o Kivu. North Kivu.

NEP NEPAL PAL “No No armed activities activities in n the sc school hool premises premi em se ses es and nd in its periphery.” peripher he y.” M Ministry inistr ty off E Education ducation Guidelines, Gu Guidelin G in nes, 2011.. 2011

SOUTH H SUDAN SUDAN N Occupation O Oc cupation no off sc schools chools iiss “deplorable” “dep “d d lorab dep ble” an and n in nd ““violation “v iolation on n off ou our ur llaw.” aw.” Order O Or der off A Arm Armyy Dep Deputy uty Chief C hieff of St Staff, aff ff, 2012 2012..

INDIA Ensure Ens ure th that at schools schools “are “are not allowed allowed to to be occuoccupied p ied by by the armed or security sec urity fforces orces in ffuture uture ffor or wh whatsoever atsoever p purpose” urpose” Supreme S upreme C Court, ourt, 2010 2010..

BURMA/MYANMAR BURMA/M YANMAR TTwo wo nonnon-state state armed groups gr oups p publicly ublicly ccommitommittted ed to to a avoid void using using schools sc hools for for military military purpur-poses po ses in 2012.

THE PHILIP PHILIPPINES P PPIN PPINE PPI S Schools Sc hoo oo s “shall ool ““shall nott be utilized uti tilized for for military military p pururposes po ses ssuch uch as as ccommand ommand posts, po sts, b barracks, arracks, det detachachments, and ssupply upply depots.” Special Special Pr Protecotection off Children Chiildr l en Act, ld Act, 1992. 1992.


Soldiers from the Iraqi Ground Forces Command sleep in the playground area of an abandoned school on July 31, 2005 in Fallujah, Iraq. Š 2005 Getty Images



Recognize the Incidence and Impact of Military Use: Governments, non-state armed groups, and other actors—such as international financial institutions and intergovernmental bodies—should acknowledge that military use of schools and other education institutions is a common practice in armed conflict that requires a concerted response at both the national and international levels.

Adhere to International Law: All parties to an armed conflict should take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and civilian objects, including schools and universities, against the effects of attacks, and to respect and ensure students’ security and right to education under international humanitarian law and international human rights law. At a minimum, this means prohibiting the military use of schools and universities while they continue to be used as education institutions.

Monitor and Report: Local organizations, states, and relevant international agencies and mechanisms should give greater attention to monitoring and reporting on military use of schools and education institutions, including higher education campuses, whenever it occurs.

Take Preventive Measures: Ministries of Education, Defense, and Foreign Affairs should coordinate to establish preventive measures to avoid military use of schools and universities, or to quickly return them to their original use.

Improve Negotiations: United Nations agencies and nongovernmental organizations experienced in negotiating with national armed forces and armed groups to stop or prevent their use of schools and universities, should evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts and share their good practice.

Seek Accountability: Governments should credibly and impartially investigate and prosecute, in accordance with international standards, those individuals who use schools and universities in a manner that violates international humanitarian law. Those that have restrictive domestic legislation should hold accountable those who violate these laws. Organizations that have successfully brought domestic court cases ordering armed forces out of schools should advise others interested in pursuing such strategies.

Strengthen Legal Standards: Armed forces should amend their military manuals, train their personnel, and issue military orders in line with good practice, including by prohibiting armed forces from using schools and universities. Those that have already done this should share their good practice with other countries. Legislators should enact legislation in line with good practice to prohibit use of schools and universities by national armed forces and armed groups.


ACTION: Developing International Guidelines to Protect Schools and Universities from Military Use In May 2012, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack initiated a multi-year international expert consultative process to discuss strategies for protecting schools and universities from military use, including the development of international guidelines. Participants have included representatives from governments, militaries, UN agencies, and international humanitarian and human rights inter-governmental and nongovernmental organizations, some of which have direct and indirect contact with non-state armed groups. This process identified the urgent need for clear and simple guidance on the obligations of armed forces to protect students’ and teachers’ safety, and the right to education during times of conflict. The guidelines will assist: •

Soldiers in their decision-making during battlefield situations and other military operations.

Commanders and military planners in preparing ahead to lessen the need to use and endanger schools.

Governments and international and domestic organizations in monitoring and assessing the conduct of national armed forces and armed groups; negotiating with parties to a conflict using schools; and mitigating the harmful consequences when parties to a conflict do use schools.

“When [the troops] tortured the old man here, we got very scared. They beat him and electrocuted him right in the courtyard of the school. It was during recess.” Ahlam, 13, Yemen


A girl student leaves al-Furadh School at the end of the day, in Sanaa, Yemen. Soldiers sit and chew qat, a mild intoxicant, outside the school walls. For several months, soldiers lived in the third-floor classrooms, putting the students at risk of attack and disrupting their education. Š 2012 Priyanka Motaparthy/Human Rights Watch


CALL FOR SUPPORT The Global Coalition is working with expert partners to finalize new international guidelines to better protect schools and universities from use by armed forces and armed groups, and then to disseminate them broadly and work for their implementation. We welcome your support and invite you to contact our Secretariat for further information.


Two soldiers sit in a school in the town of Mutongo, Democratic Republic of Congo, December 4, 2004. Š 2004 AP Photo/Riccardo Gangale


Global Coalition to

Protect Education from Attack The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack is an inter-agency coalition formed in 2010 to address targeted attacks on students, teachers, schools and universities during armed conflict. It is led by a steering committee comprised of eight international organizations: Council for Assisting Refugee Academics, Education Above All, Human Rights Watch, Institute of International Education, Save the Children, UNICEF, UNESCO, and UNHCR.


Secretariat Office: 350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor New York, NY 10118-3299 1.212.377.9413

For more information please read the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack’s report Lessons in War: Military Use of Schools and Other Education Institutions during Conflict available at

Loi Sam’s secondary school, located at the heart of the Nawagai Valley in Pakistan near the Afghan border, was destroyed during fighting with Taliban insurgents who had commandeered it as a stronghold. The compound was then taken over by the Baloch Battalion of the Bajaur Scouts and used as a “forward operating base” in Pakistan's front line against Islamist insurgents © 2008 Alixandra Fazzina/NOOR/Redux


“I had nothing against the soldiers when they were outside the school… But when they moved into the school, I feared there would be an attack on the school, so … I withdrew my children… If there was a hit on the grounds, the children would be hit.” The mother of two children whose school was partially occupied by government paramilitary forces. Pattani, Thailand

A student at Ban Samala Elementary School, Pattani, Thailand. An army unit had set up base in a part of the main school building and on the school grounds. © 2010 David Hogsholt/Reportage by Getty Images

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