This report collects recent and historic examples of laws, court decisions, military orders, policies, and practice by governments, armed forces, non-state armed groups, and courts aimed at protecting schools and universities from use for military purposes.

The examples in this report should encourage more governments and non-state groups to adopt their own concrete measures to protect students, educators, and the institutions in which they study.

Since 2014, the military use of schools or universities has been documented in at least 30 countries with armed conflict or insecurity, according to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, of which Human Rights Watch is a member. That number represents the majority of countries experiencing armed conflict during the past decade. Examples can be found in Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. The military use of schools is therefore a global problem, needing international attention and response.

Schools and universities have been taken over either partially or entirely to be converted into military bases and barracks; used as detention and interrogation facilities; for training fighters; and to store or hide weapons and ammunition.

Human Rights Watch has investigated the military use of schools in Afghanistan, Cameroon, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, India, Iraq, Mozambique, Pakistan, Palestine, the Philippines, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Ukraine, and Yemen. Further information on our research can be found in the annex of this report.

Our research has documented how the use of schools for military purposes endangers students’ and teachers’ safety, and can interfere with students’ right to education.

In 2009, the issue of the military use of schools began to garner international attention. Early that year, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child�the international body of experts that oversees implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child�recommended that parties to the treaty fulfill their obligation therein to ensure schools as zones of peace and places where intellectual curiosity and respect for universal human rights is fostered; and to ensure that schools are protected from military attacks or seizure by militants; or used as centres for recruitment.

Later in that year, Mexico, acting as president of the UN Security Council, noted the council urges parties to armed conflict to refrain from actions that impede children’s access to education, in particular the use of schools for military operations.

Since then, both the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Security Council, increasingly joined by other international and regional bodies, have continued to elaborate protections that should be provided to protect children’s safety and students’ right to education from the potential negative consequences of military use of schools.

In 2012, in response to this increased interest, a coalition of UN agencies and civil society organizations, including Human Rights Watch, initiated consultations with experts from the ministries of foreign affairs, education, defense, as well as the armed forces of countries from various world regions, to develop guidelines directed at both government armed forces and non-state armed groups on how to avoid using schools and mitigate the negative consequences of such use. In 2014, the government of Norway took over the global consultation on these guidelines, and in December 2014 oversaw the release of the finalized Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict.

In early 2015, the governments of Norway and Argentina led a consultative process that led to the Safe Schools Declaration, a political commitment by countries to do more to protect students, teachers, schools, and universities during armed conflict, including through use of the Guidelines to refrain from using schools and universities for military purposes. As of May 8, 2019, 87 countries had endorsed the declaration.

In June 2015, the month following the launch of the Safe Schools Declaration, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2225, which expressed deep concern that the military use of schools in contravention of applicable international law may render schools legitimate targets of attack, thus endangering the safety of children. The Security Council encouraged all member states to take concrete measures to deter such use of schools by armed forces and armed groups. In July 2018, the Security Council repeated this call for all countries to take concrete measure to deter the military use of schools in Resolution 2427.

See chapter 1 for more information on international law and standards protecting schools from military use.

In addition to laws and standards at the international level, many individual countries have also adopted their own laws and policies to protect schools and universities from military use. Indeed, protections for schools are likely to be most effectively guaranteed when they are explicitly enumerated domestically. Chapter 2 contains examples of legislation, military orders, jurisprudence, municipal ordinances, and other statements of doctrine and policy from around the world, including from armed non-state actors.

Most of these examples of domestic laws and policies fall within five linking themes, although some countries fall into multiple categories:

1. Many countries that have experienced the military use of schools, or countries that have deployed their armed forces to conflict zones, have created new policies in response to these experiences.

2. At least four countries�Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Sudan�have included commitments to refrain from all military use of schools as part of ceasefire or peace agreements between the government and domestic armed non-state actors.

3. A number of countries, particularly in Latin America, have laws making university campuses immune from action by government security forces: national police and military units cannot enter the grounds without the university rector’s authorization. Such laws draw from traditions to value universities’ autonomy or independence from the state.

4. At least six countries have laws modeled on the Manoeuvres Act enacted by the British parliament in 1897 regulating the conducting of military manoeuvres and excluding certain areas, such as schools, from encampments or other related interferences. The UK law (and its subsequent updates) did not define what constitutes a military manoeuvre. In 1991, during the Gulf War, the then-UK minister of state for the armed forces broadly defined the term as the strategic or tactical movement of a military force. A fair reading of the term might also suggest that it refers to military training exercises, involving a degree of simulation, sometimes popularly referred to as war games. Even with this limited definition, such laws are still relevant to protecting schools from military use in light of the adage that soldiers should fight like they train.

5. Since 2009, and hand-in-hand with increased international interest and the drafting of the Safe Schools Declaration in 2015, has been more consideration of the issue of protecting schools from military use in some domestic contexts. Further domestic examples are likely in the coming years, as demonstrated by recent policy statements from armed forces and ministries of foreign affairs.


Disclaimer: The inclusion of a law or policy in this collection does not reflect any assessment by Human Rights Watch as to whether the relevant country or entity has adhered to its own doctrine. Instead, the examples aim to encourage greater awareness that alternatives to military use of schools have been considered both feasible and necessary, and to ease greater monitoring for their enforcement.

Source: Human Rights Watch

This report collects recent and historic examples of laws, court decisions, military orders, policies, and practice by governments, armed forces, non-state armed groups, and courts aimed at protecting schools and universities from use for military purposes.The examples in this report should encourage more governments and non-state groups to adopt...