Use the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities From Military Use

Use the Guidelines and bring them into domestic policy and operational frameworks as far as possible and appropriate

The Guidelines are intended to provide guidance to states and armed non-state actors for the planning and execution of military operations. They are primarily aimed at parties involved in armed conflict. The Guidelines are intended, therefore, for wide dissemination and implementation by both state and armed non-state actors.

Below is a non-exhaustive list of recommended actions to be undertaken by governments, the security sector, and civil society and international organizations to operationalize the Guidelines.


Create provisions for the protection of educational facilities from military use in domestic policies and legislation;

Include protection of education from military use in military doctrine, codes of conduct, rules of engagement;

Disseminate the Guidelines in military training activities and outline specific measures that armed forces can take to mitigate potential risks for local students and teachers. Such trainings should take into account the specific needs of males and females;

Record cases of military use of schools by national armed forces or armed non-state actors.

Security Sector

Give explicit instructions to national armed forces either not to use educational facilities for military purposes in any circumstance, or to only use them as a last resort, for the shortest time possible, and when such facilities are no longer functioning as educational institutions;

Ensure that, if national armed forces are presently using schools or universities in a situation of armed conflict, action is swiftly taken to correct the situation, as appropriate, and in accordance with the government’s policy;

Integrate the Guidelines into operational frameworks and training manuals, as far as is possible and appropriate.

International Organizations and Civil Society Sector

Advocate for implementation of the Guidelines and support government and armed actors’ efforts to protect education from military use of schools;

Sensitize community members and armed non-state actors to the importance of keeping schools safe and refraining from using schools for military purposes;

Monitor the conduct of armed actors and report incidents of military use of schools.


Democratic Republic of Congo: The DRC issued a directive outlining the explicit prohibition of requisitioning schools, stating "[A]ll those found guilty of one of the following shortcomings will face severe criminal and disciplinary sanctions: ... requisition of schools ... for military purposes.”- Ministerial Directive on the implementation of the Action Plan, Department of National Defence and Veterans, NoVPM/MDNAC/CAB/2089/2012, November 3, 2012.

Philippines: In January 2019, the Philippines adopted the Children in Situations of Armed Conflict bill, which criminalizes the occupation of schools or disruption of education activities during armed conflict. Attacks on schools are also prohibited (Section 9(b)(9)) on penalty of imprisonment for 14-20 years and a fine of 1-2 million pesos. -“Republic Act 11188 or an Act Providing Special Protection of Children in Situations of Armed Conflict and Providing Penalties Thereof”

South Sudan: By Order of the Army Chief of Staff (Lt. Gen. Thomas Cirillo Swaka, Acting Sudan People’s Liberation Army Chief of Staff, 557/9/2014, September 10, 2014), all soldiers are prohibited from occupying or using schools in any manner. Anyone who violates the directive is subject to the full range of disciplinary and administrative measures available under South Sudanese and international law.

Sudan: In July 2017, the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) circulated a command order to all divisions prohibiting the military use of schools. The SAF began the process of evacuating and rehabilitating schools that had been in use by the National Intelligence Security Services. A school in South Kordofan was evacuated and rehabilitated in August 2016, having been occupied by the Sudanese National Intelligence Security Services (NISS) since March 2016. It was evacuated following advocacy by the UN and the Sudanese Ministry of Education.

Syria: In 2020, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) issued a military directive to protect schools and education by prohibiting the military use of schools by its forces, including placing equipment or weapons near them. The military directive followed the vacating of 10 schools by the SDF as the result of continued advocacy by the UN and partners. 

National Legislation

Central African Republic: The government promulgated the 2020 Child Protection Code, which criminalizes attacks on schools and their occupation. This is the first piece of legislation in Africa banning or criminalizing military use of schools. Article 180 states: “Any attack, occupation of schools, of hospitals or obstruction of humanitarian aid to the detriment of the best interests of the child is prohibited. Anyone who has attacked or occupied a school, hospital, or obstructed humanitarian aid is punishable with imprisonment for ten (10) to twenty (20) years and/or a fine of 5,000,000 to 20,000,000 francs.

Ecuador: National legislation passed in 2010 determined that campuses of universities and other higher education institutes cannot be searched and must be used exclusively for educational purposes, stating that “the monitoring and maintenance of internal order are the responsibility of campus authorities…those who violate these campuses will be sanctioned in accordance with law."- Ley Orgánica de Educación Superior. República del Ecuador. Registro Oficial Suplemento 298 de 12-oct. 2010. Art. 19.

Italy: In 2020, the Government reported that their draft 4th National Action Plan on implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, references protecting education and the Safe Schools Declaration.

Mali: In March 2020, the  Safe Schools Declaration Technical Committee launched an Action Plan with concrete activities to disseminate the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, and incorporate protection of schools and universities into national legislation. In May 2020, the Ministry of Education and the Technical Committee issued a letter to the Ministry of Defence asking them to respect the spirit of the Guidelines while schools were closed due to the pandemic, and not use schools for military purposes.

Nigeria: Drawing on the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use, in September 2021, Nigeria released its National Policy for Safety, Security and Violence-Free Schools, accompanied by its implementing guidelines. In December 2022, the National Plan for Financing Safe Schools was adopted. The plan will be implemented over four years (2023-2026) and provides funding for various policies and initiatives to protect schools, learners, teachers, and non-teaching staff from attack in Nigeria. As part of implementing the plan, a National Safe School Response Coordination Centre was established in February 2023 with the mandate to ensure that schools across the country are secure. Moreover, according to a representative of the Ministry of Finance, 400 security personnel were trained to manage the protection of schools across Nigeria’s 36 states and the Federal Capital and vulnerable schools are being identified in very high- risk states to pilot implementation of the Safe Schools program.

Philippines: National legislation includes an explicit protection of educational facilities from military use: “Public infrastructure such as schools … shall not be utilized for military purposes such as command posts, barracks, detachments, and supply depots…"- RA No. 7610, An Act Providing for Stronger Deterrence and Special Protection against Child Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination, Providing Penalties for its Violation and Other Purposes, June 17, 1992, art. X(22)(e).

Military doctrine and manuals

Colombia: Military use of educational institutions is characterized as a violation of the principles of distinction and precaution in a military order: “Considering International Humanitarian Law norms, it is considered a clear violation of the Principle of Distinction and the Principle of Precaution in attacks and, therefore a serious fault, the fact that a commander occupies or allows the occupation by his troops, of … public institutions such as education establishments."- General Commander of the Military Forces, order of July 6, 2010, official document Number 2010124005981 / CGFM-CGING- 25.11.

Denmark: The military manual on the law of the armed forces explicitly protects educational institutions: “Protection of children entails some respect for children’s right to education etc., including in conflict affected areas… [R]estraint should be exercised with respect to use of schools and other education institutions in support of Danish military operations. This particular focus on schools is due to the grave consequences of military use, not only in terms of immediate risk to the lives of children and young people, who may be in or in the neighborhood of such schools, but also more long-term consequences for school aged children."- Military Manual on the Law of the Danish Armed Forces in International Military Operations, September 2016, pp. 45, 115, & 154.

Ecuador: Ecuador’s Armed Forces’ Manual of International Humanitarian Law of 2016 states that “educational ... institutions shall be considered as neutral and as such respected and protected by belligerents. The same respect and protection shall be due to the personnel of the institutions mentioned above.” 

Lebanon: The Code of Conduct for the Palestinian National Security Forces finalized in March 2019, includes special protections for “schools and universities” during armed violence and clashes. The language mirrors the formulation in the Guidelines, even though there are no universities in the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.

NATO: At the Vilnius Summit which took place on 11-12 July 2023, Allies approved NATO’s first Policy on the Protection of Children in Armed Conflict which references the Safe Schools Declaration and its Guidelines. The Policy states:

21. NATO will seek to integrate good practices and child protection principles into its training and operational considerations with an emphasis on practical protection measures. In integrating these practices and child protection principles, NATO will consider the best practices of all Allies, and will take note, as appropriate of international and regional initiatives on CAAC, including as applicable,[…] the Safe Schools Declaration and associated Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, while noting that these are non-legally binding documents to which some Allies and Partners have committed. […]

22. NATO will seek to adopt the highest standards in protecting schools, students, teachers and other important elements of educational processes in its missions, operations and activities, acting in a manner consistent with IHL and in line with international good practices. In doing so, NATO will consider the best practices of all Allies, and will take note, as appropriate, of international and regional initiatives on CAAC, including, as applicable, the Safe Schools Declaration and its associated Guidelines.”

New Zealand: New Zealand has released their updated military manual, which highlights the importance of protecting education and calls for military use of educational infrastructure to be avoided unless absolutely necessary, with a footnote to the Declaration and Guidelines. It also says that schools that have become military targets may only be attacked if “imperatively demanded by military necessity", which is in line with Guideline 4. “Use and occupation of schools and other educational institutions obviously inhibits the exercise of this right [to education] and is to be avoided wherever possible… [Defence forces] are not to use school buildings or facilities for military purposes unless it is absolutely necessary." – Manual of Armed Forces Law, volume 4, 2019.

Spain: In June 2020, the Ministry of Defense released its new national defense directive stating that in their operations abroad, the armed forces will be supporting implementation of “the Safe Schools initiative”.

Switzerland: The Swiss Armed Forces have revised their manual on the legal principles applicable in military operations to include explicit protections for schools from military use. “Particular caution is required regarding educational institutions. Their destruction can bring particularly serious disadvantages for people and the future of the country. Schools are also home to many children who are to be protected because of their vulnerability, while universities and other higher education establishments regularly display significant cultural assets. Educational institutions must therefore be accorded special importance in the context of precautionary measures and proportionality. Their military use is to be avoided.‘’- Swiss Armed Forces manual on the law of armed conflict, addition of May 1, 2019.

South Sudan: In 2021, the Ministry of General Education and Instructions, with support from Save the Children International, and Charity and Empowerment Foundation, developed a Guide  to assist better understanding of the Safe Schools Declaration and its Guidelines, as well as the South Sudan People Defense Forces’ (SSPDF) Code of Conduct, which incorporates the SSD Guidelines. The objective of the Guide was to promote the protection of schools and other learning institutions during armed conflict.

United Kingdom: In December 2021, the Ministry of Defence published the Joint Services Publication 985: Human Security in Defence, which supersedes JSP 1325. JSP 985 Volume 1 contains advice and direction on how UK Defence can integrate cross-cutting themes including the protection of civilians; women, peace and security (including conflict-related sexual violence); and children affected by armed conflict, into operational work. JSP985 states:

“To protect children and youth, UK Defence should:

(5) whilst on deployments, unless absolutely unavoidable, not use functioning schools, universities or places of learning for any purpose or to carry out any security tasks in close proximity to their buildings or grounds, and not use evacuated or abandoned schools, universities or places of learning except in extenuating circumstances with no viable alternative, in line with the ‘Safe Schools Declaration’;

(6) ensure all reasonable options available have been explored when a school is being used by an adversary, making it a military objective, before attacking it”.

In August 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development, and the Ministry of Defense published an updated policy paper on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict. The paper notes the country’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration and the need to improve accountability for violations of children’s rights in conflict.

Yemen: In January 2021, the Ministry of Education published a National Manual for the Protection of Schools which, among its principles, prohibits the use of schools by armed groups. 

According to the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Children and Armed Conflict’s report  to the Human Rights Council, the Houthis, a non-state armed group, signed an action plan with the United Nations to end attacks on schools, along with other grave violations against children in armed conflict. According to the report, the Houthis issued two military instructions to their forces in July 2022 to end and prevent the recruitment and use of children, the killing and maiming of children, as well as to protect health and education facilities and personnel.

African Union: In 2021, the African Union Doctrine on Peace Support Operations states that the “AU shall systematically address and mainstream the rights as well as ensure protection and welfare of children…including into the work of relevant components of all AU Peace Support Operations (PSOs) policies, strategies, training and briefing programs. These steps shall be with a view to ensure full compliance with IHL, in particular to ensure that schools are not attacked and used for military purposes”. 

Central African Republic: MINUSCA issued a directive in 2015 (MINUSCA/OSRSG/046/2015) which states that “[a]ll MINUSCA military and police personnel should avoid encroaching on the security and education of children by using the following guidelines as good practice […] The use of a school or university by a party to a conflict is not permitted, and cannot provide grounds for continuation of such use”.

Somalia: In 2017, in the context of implementing the Declaration, AMISOM handed a number of educational buildings back to the authorities, including the Somali National University. Prior to the handover, the UN Support Office in Somalia supported the clearance of all unexploded ordnance and rehabilitated the buildings that had been occupied by the troops.

United Nations Department of Peace Operations: There is an explicit ban on military use of schools in the UN peacekeeping framework: “Schools shall not be used by the military in their operations.”- United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, United Nations Department of Field Support, United Nations Infantry Battalion Manual, Vol. I, August 2012, section 2.13.

Côte d’Ivoire: The armed forces of Côte d’Ivoire have integrated modules on the rights and protection of children, including a specific module on prohibiting occupation of schools and training institutions. The training is established in the four military regions of Côte d'Ivoire, and provided by a child protection cell, which is staffed with trained military personnel.

Mali: In October 2020, the Technical Committee held a capacity-building workshop on implementing the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines.

Nigeria: In November 2020, the Nigerian National Human Rights Commission launched a two-day training programme for its staff on Principles of the Safe School Declaration to further build their capacity to protect education from attack.

Spain: In February and March 2021, the government, with the support of GCPEA, convened a global online training program on implementing the Safe Schools Declaration. Over 90 representatives from 20 endorsing states attended the training. It was aimed at providing participants with a solid understanding of the Safe Schools Declaration and its Guidelines, and encourage them to share knowledge, experience, and good practices in protecting education during conflict and insecurity. A second global online training program on implementing the SSD took place in May and June 2023, with the participation of around 80 representatives from 22 endorsing states from different regions.

United Nations Department of Peace Operations: DPO integrated a case study on military use of schools in child protection training materials for UN peacekeepers. The case study includes a scenario of military use of a school and suggested questions to guide the discussion. -United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Specialized Training Materials on Child Protection for Peacekeepers – Trainers Guide, Module 6, pp. 144-145.

Ukraine: In August 2021, the Government of Ukraine adopted an action plan for implementing the Safe Schools Declaration. With the support of civil society organizations, at least 1,000 officers in the armed forces received trainings on the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines.


“The Safe Schools Declaration: A Framework For Action”, GCPEA, 2017.

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“Commentary on the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military use during Armed Conflict”, GCPEA, 2015.

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“Protecting Schools from Military Use: Law, Policy, and Military Doctrine”, Human Rights Watch, 2017.
“Implementing the Guidelines: A toolkit to guide understanding and implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military use during Armed Conflict”, GCPEA-Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, 2017.

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“Protecting Schools from Military Use: Law, Policy, and Military Doctrine”, GCPEA, 2021.