Written by Gianna Chen
The endorsement of Safe Schools Declarations and Guidelines on Military Use is an international collaboration effort to protect education from attack. It consists of proposals and actions to prevent schools and universities from armed conflict. More importantly, the Declaration aims to reduce the use of schools and universities by parties of armed conflict and attempts to minimise the negative impact caused to student’s safety and access to education. According to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, every individual has the right to educationi. However, the lack of explicit standards or norms to protect educational institutions from using military effort is a challenge to the right to education. Further, it allows fighting forces to exploit the use of schools and universities to support military efforts. Examples of military use of education facilities such as fighting positions, overnight shelters, strategic positioning and operating bases should be prevented and limited if there are no other alternatives. Subsequently, it led to the destabilisation of education opportunities, emphasising the psychosocial distress and a range of health issues that could affect students, teachers and communities.
Developed between 2012 and 2014 and published in 2015 in Oslo, the Safe School Declaration has been endorsed by 118 states. It is an inter-governmental political commitment to protect students, teachers, schools and universities from attack during armed conflict. The guidelines for protecting schools include the followingii:
- “… Use the Guidelines and bring them into domestic policy and operational frameworks as far as possible and appropriate;
- Make every effort at a national level to collect reliable, relevant data on attacks on educational facilities, on the victims of attacks, and military use of schools and universities during armed conflict, including through existing monitoring and reporting mechanisms, to facilitate such data collection and to provide assistance to victims, in a non-discriminatory manner;
- Seek to ensure the continuation of education during armed conflict, support the re-establishment of educational facilities and, where in a position to do so, provide and facilitate international cooperation and assistance to programmes working to prevent or respond to an attack on education, including for the implementation of this Declaration…”
By addressing the importance of education and the right to education, the guidelines intended to achieve a durable peace and hope to inspire responsible practices among those involved in the planning and executing military operations. On top of that, the Declaration serves as a framework for states to cooperate and meet on a regular basis to assess the implementation and application of the guidelines.
In addition to the Declaration, the military use of education facilities under extreme circumstances such as war and international or national violence should be avoided to the greatest extent following the guidelines listed belowiii:
- Functioning schools and universities should not be used by fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in any way.
- Schools and universities that have been abandoned should not be used by fighting forces of parties to armed conflict for any purpose in support of their military effort.
- Schools and universities must never be destroyed as a measure intended to deprive the opposing parties of the armed conflict.
- Prior to any attack on a school that has become a military objective, parties to armed conflict should consider all feasible alternative measures before attacking them.
- The fighting forces of parties to armed conflict should not be employed to provide security for schools and universities.
- All parties to armed conflict should incorporate these guidelines into their doctrine, military manuals, rules of engagement, operational order, and other means of dissemination.
The above-summarised guidelines contain the fundamental humanitarian standard for states to follow during armed conflict. It is essential to refrain from actions that interfere with children’s access to education and reinstate the role of education in durable development and promoting understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations. The impact of conflict, violence and military disruption on educational institutions not only increases the risk of students and teachers being exposed to a range of abuse but also threatens the very right to life, the right to education and the right to be in their home and communities. The Safe Schools Declaration marks the baseline for protecting education institutions to be used for military purposes. It urges states committed to the Declaration to incorporate the guidelines into their domestic policies and defend the fundamental human rights to which every individual is entitled.
GCPEA. Safe schools declaration and guidelines on military use. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2022.
GCPEA. Guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2022.
GCPEA. COMMENTARY ON THE “Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict”. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2015.
Human Rights Watch. Protecting Schools from Military Use Law, Policy, and Military Doctrine. Human Rights Watch, May 2019.
i GCPEA. COMMENTARY ON THE “Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict”. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2015.
ii GCPEA. Guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2022.
iii GCPEA. COMMENTARY ON THE “Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict”. Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, 2015.