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Promoting access to quality, safe, and relevant education for all persons affected by crisis

Protecting Education From Attack

Schools and universities should be safe havens where students and educators can work toward a better future. Instead, in countries affected by armed conflict, insecurity, and weak systems of human rights protections or political pluralism, education is often targeted for attack. Types of attacks include killing, disappearance, abduction, imprisonment, torture, and maiming of students and educational personnel, as well as bombing, and burning of educational buildings and destruction of educational materials. Attacks also include sexual violence at, or on the way to, school or university and recruitment by parties to the conflict at school and on the way to school. In addition, schools and universities have been used for military purposes, such as bases and barracks, weapons stores, and detention centers, by state armed forces and armed non-state groups. Attacks on education occur at all levels of the education system, from pre-school to higher education.

Attacks on education violate the right to education and other internationally protected human rights applicable at all times, and can constitute war crimes. Military use of an educational institution can convert it from a civilian object to a military object under international law and can place the school at risk of attack by opposing forces.

Attacks on students, educators, and education institutions can have devastating impacts on access to education and education systems and on a society’s overall development in the long-term. Existing information suggests that attacks on education disproportionately affect girls and women. The impact of military use of schools and universities can also be severely damaging, as these institutions may be taken over completely by armed parties and closed for education, or students may be forced to share their schools with armed soldiers. Military use of schools and universities also increase the likelihood of other forms of attacks on education, including attacks on the educational institution by opposing forces, child recruitment, or sexual violence.

The safety of all schools should be a priority to ensure the continuation of education in emergencies.



Key Messages

  • Attacks on education are widespread and affect everyone - between 2009-2013, in at least 70 countries, students of all ages, teachers, academics, members of teachers unions, and education institutions were the target of thousands of intentional attacks for political, military, ideological, sectarian, ethnic, or religious reasons.
  • The vast majority of attacks involved either the bombing, shelling, or burning of schools or universities, and/or the killing, injury, kidnapping, abduction, or arbitrary arrest of students, teachers, and academics. 
  • In at least 30 countries there was a pattern of attacks on education by state security forces and non-state armed groups.
  • In at least 26 countries in the past decade, educational institutions were used for military purposes: this is the majority of countries in which there were conflicts during this time period.
  • Governments should investigate, prosecute, and punish individuals responsible for ordering, bearing command responsibility for, or taking part in, the range of violations of international law that constitute attacks on education.
  • All parties should refrain from using schools and universities for military purposes.


Key Activities


Global Coalition to Protect Education From Attack

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 on-going attacks on educational institutions, their students, and staff in countries affected by conflict and insecurity.

GCPEA is governed by a steering committee made up of the following international organizations: CARA (Council for At-Risk Academics), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Institute of International Education/ IIE Scholar Rescue Fund, Education Above All Foundation through its program Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC), Save the Children, Scholars at Risk Network, UNICEF, UNESCO, and UNHCR.

GCPEA Vision: A world where all people can teach and learn in safety and free from fear.

Find out more at

Safe Schools Declaration

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment, developed through state consultations led by Norway and Argentina, which provides states the opportunity to express broad political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict, and is the instrument through which  states can  endorse and commit to implementing the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict. The Declaration was opened for endorsement at the Oslo Conference on Safe Schools on May 29, 2015. As of February 2019, it had been endorsed by more than 80 countries.

The United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, his Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, Virginia Gamba, and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, have all recommended states to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration. In addition, United Nations treaty bodies, including the Committee on the Rights of the Child, have issued specific recommendations to states to endorse and implement the Declaration in order to better protect children and education in armed conflict.

The Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use

Between 2012 and 2014, following research published by GCPEA, experts and representatives from states and international organizations worked together on the development of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict (the Guidelines). The drafting process was spearheaded by GCPEA and finalized under the leadership of Norway and Argentina in December 2014.

The Guidelines offer practical guidance to help parties to conflict reduce the use of educational facilities for military purposes and mitigate the impact this practice can have on students, teachers and on education. They are intended primarily to serve as guidance for those involved in the planning and execution of military operations, in relation to decisions over the use and targeting of institutions dedicated to education. The Guidelines are non-binding and do not create new international obligations, they rather aim to instill a voluntary shift in behavior, drawing on existing practice, in order to better safeguard the civilian character of educational facilities and to help also safeguard, by extension, their protection from attack.


Scholars at Risk Academic Freedom Monitor

SAR’s Academic Freedom MONITOR focuses on developing greater understanding of the volume and nature of attacks on higher education communities in order to develop more effective protection responses. The MONITOR aims to identify, assess and track incidents involving one or more of six defined types of conduct which may constitute violations of academic freedom and/or the human rights of members of higher education communities. 

SAR welcomes submissions of additional corroborating, clarifying or contradictory information which may be used to further research or otherwise improve data reported. To share information about an incident or to report a new incident, please click here.  

Find out more at


Key Resources






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