Lessons in war – military use of schools and other education institutions during conflict

TransConflict is pleased to present the findings of a study by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) which sets out how armed forces and non-state armed groups have used schools and universities as bases, barracks, weapons caches, firing ranges, recruitment grounds, and interrogation and detention centers in most conflicts around the world in the last seven years.

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Conflict Background


Key Findings:

  • In the majority of countries with armed conflicts, armed forces or armed groups used schools and other education institutions. Between January 2005 and October 2012, they used education institutions in at least 24 countries in conflicts across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America.
  • In more than half of all countries affected by armed conflict around the world, government forces used schools or other education institutions for a military purpose. Government armed forces used schools in every country where military use was reported.
  • In over a third of all countries affected by armed conflict, non-state armed groups used schools. Multinational forces and even peacekeepers have also used education institutions.
  • In the worst cases, children have been injured and killed and schools damaged or destroyed as belligerent forces have attacked schools because military forces were using them.
  • Frequently, the consequences of military use of schools and other education institutions include high student drop-out rates, reduced enrollment, lower rates of transition to higher education levels, overcrowding, and loss of instructional hours. Girls are particularly negatively affected.
  • Military use of education institutions can cause damage to already-fragile education infrastructures and systems. For example, in newly independent South Sudan, security forces used at least 21 schools for military purposes during 2011, affecting approximately 10,900 children. The cost of repairing resultant damage was around US$67,000 per school.
  • Examples of good practice exist. Communities, international organizations, legislatures, courts, and armed forces have found ways to better protect schools from use by armed forces and groups. For example, in India, where security forces used more than 129 schools during 2010, disrupting studies for an estimated 20,800 students, India’s Supreme Court ordered the forces out. In the Philippines, although some incidents of military use of schools continue to occur, the practice has been explicitly banned under both national legislation and military policy. And in 2012, the United Nations issued a new manual for all infantry battalions serving as peacekeepers, that requires that schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.


Incidents and Impact of Military Use of Education Institutions:

  • The international community, states, non-state armed groups, and other actors should acknowledge that military use of schools and other education institutions is a common tactic in conflict that requires a concerted response at both the national and international levels. When education institutions are used for military purposes, the damage to societies, as well as to individuals, can be severe.

Monitoring and Reporting:

  • States, local organizations, and relevant international agencies should rigorously monitor military use of education institutions to devise effective, coordinated, responses, including preventative interventions, rapid response, and both legal and non-legal accountability measures for those individuals or groups who contravene existing laws, judicial orders, or military orders.
  • Basic details that should be collected and reported include the names of the educational institutions being used, the purposes for which they are being used, the duration of the use, the armed force or armed group making the use, the enrollment prior to use, and student attendance during the period of use. Better documentation of the educational consequences of military use of schools—including on drop-out rates, lower enrollment, damage to educational infrastructure, and the psychosocial toll on students and teachers—would contribute to understanding the costs of this practice.
  • UN human rights monitoring mechanisms, including the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights; the Human Rights Committee; the Committee on the Rights of the Child; and the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, including the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, should give greater attention to monitoring and reporting on military use of education institutions whenever it occurs.
  • Country task forces of the UN-led Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism (MRM) on grave violations against children in situations of armed conflict should enhance the monitoring and reporting of military use of schools, as requested by the Security Council in Resolution 1998 of July 2011. Documentation of attacks on schools and other education institutions should also examine whether the schools were being used by a military force or armed group either at the time of the attack, or recently before the attack.
  • Although military use of higher education campuses occurs, examinations of the consequence are almost non-existent and therefore greatly needed.
  • Further research and documentation is required into the long-term effects of military use of education institutions on students and communities, about which almost nothing is currently known.

Programmatic Measures:

  • Legislators should consider enacting legislation in line with the good practice identified in this study, including the prohibition of armed forces and armed groups using education institutions.
  • Education ministries in countries where military use of education institutions occurs should establish preventative measures, through co-ordination with their ministries of defense and armed forces, to avoid the military use of education institutions, and to return them expeditiously to use as schools where they are being used by armed forces.
  • Armed forces should consider amending military manuals and issuing military orders in line with the good practice identified in this study, including by prohibiting armed forces from using education institutions. Military Rules of Engagement and military trainings with both national and allied forces should further reiterate the prohibition.
  • Armed forces that have banned military use of schools and other education institutions should share with other countries their good practice in regulating and avoiding the use of schools for military operations.
  • UN agencies and NGOs experienced in negotiating with armed forces and armed groups to stop or prevent their use of schools, should internally evaluate the effectiveness of their efforts, and then share their good practice both internally and externally.
  • Organizations that have successfully brought domestic court cases to have armed forces ordered out of schools, should advise others interested in pursuing similar strategies.
  • Education ministries and education actors working in contexts where military use of education institutions occurs should develop rapid response systems to establish adequate temporary learning spaces for students displaced by military use of their education institutions, and to advocate immediately for the return of the occupied facility. International organizations should support these efforts.
  • Defense ministries and armed forces should establish preventative planning measures to minimize or eradicate the need to use education institutions during military operations.


  • States should credibly and impartially investigate and prosecute, in accordance with international standards, those individuals who use education institutions in a manner that violates international humanitarian law.
  • States that regulate or ban military use of schools or other education institutions under domestic legislation, military orders or policy, or court orders, should hold accountable individuals who violate these rules.

Adherence To and Strengthening of International Law and Standards:

  • All parties to an armed conflict should abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and civilian objects, including education institutions, against the effects of attacks.
  • Military manuals, policies, and training should make explicit armed forces’ obligations to respect and ensure students’ security and right to education under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

There is an urgent need for clear and simple guidance on armed forces’ obligations to protect students’ and teachers’ safety, and the right to education during times of conflict. Soldiers would benefit from clear and simple rules that would guide their decision-making during battlefield situations and other military operations. Commanders and planners would benefit from knowing how to prepare ahead so as to lessen the need to use and endanger schools. And governments and international organizations would benefit from standards they could use to monitor and assess the conduct of armed forces and armed groups. Clear international standards could serve as a tool for negotiating with contravening groups, and could advise militaries on how to mitigate the damage when armed groups do use schools.

A simple, clear ban – as some countries have already adopted – goes further than the requirements of international humanitarian law, but provides an unambiguous and easily conveyed rule.

The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) was established in 2010 by organizations from the fields of education in emergencies and conflict-affected fragile states, higher education, protection, international human rights, and international humanitarian law who were concerned about ongoing attacks on educational institutions, their students, and staff in countries affected by conflict and insecurity.

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13 Responses

  1. See my reports on USA’s efforts at world inhumane domination; note that all USA prisoners of war are chipped and most are targeted for assassination (usually by drones) by intel after learning of activities and associates of the subject.

    So long as the United States is at war, their power is preserved, and now that they have attained empire the USA must expand the war or fall, for concerning the arts of peace they know nothing and have never engaged in any employment higher than torture, murder, war. Aristotle







  2. Pingback : Ukraine modernising its military education | Iztopics

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