Protecting Education from Attack

© Enayatullah Azad, NRC

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

Colombia IRC
© J. Arredondo, IRC
  • Attacks on education are widespread and affect everyone - between 2013-2017, 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. 
  • From 2014-2018, more than 14,000 attacks on education were reported in 34 countries, where there was a systematic pattern of attacks on education by state security forces and non-state armed groups.
  • In at least 30 countries in the past five years, educational institutions were used for military purposes: this is the majority of countries in which there were conflicts during this time period.
  • Young women are nearly 90% more likely to be out of secondary school than their counterparts in countries not affected by conflict.
  • 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.

This collection was developed with the support of Amy Kapit, Research Director at Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack.

1 December 2018 Report Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

Education Under Attack 2018

This report covers the five-year period from January 2013 to December 2017. The previous edition included profiles of 30 countries that had experienced at least five incidents of attacks on education in which students or education personnel were harmed, including at least one direct attack or one person killed, between 2009 and mid-2013.

1 April 2019 Report Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

"All That I Have Lost": Impact of Attacks on Education for Girls and Women in Kasai Central Province, Democratic Republic of Congo

This report documents abuses that women and girls experienced when schools were attacked in the Kasais, focusing specifically on Kasai Central province, where the conflict originated and where the largest number of schools were attacked. This research is part of a multi-country study on the impact of attacks on education on women and girls.

1 November 2018 Project Brief Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

Attacks on Education in Afghanistan

This briefing paper addresses the progress that Afghanistan had made since 2001 on increasing access to education for Afghani children, and how due to ongoing conflict, increasing insecurity and attacks on education, there has been a reversal in this progress since 2018. 

1 September 2015 Report Save the Children

Education Under Attack in Syria

Testimonies from Syria and attacks on education in the region. In order to protect children and teachers who agreed to be interviewed by Save the Children, names in this report have been changed and exact locations omitted.

1 March 2017 Report
Human Rights Watch

No Class: When Armed Groups Use Schools in the Central African Republic

Based on interviews in November 2016 and January 2017 with over 40 people this report documents the occupation of schools for military purposes, such as for barracks or bases. Further, the report outlines how abuses by fighters in and around schools are threatening the safety of students and teachers, as well as children’s ability to learn.

1 January 2015 Report
Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Our School Became the Battlefield

This report documents how schools have come under attack from armed groups engaged in eastern Congo’s armed conflicts. Warring parties have also unlawfully recruited children, including by force, from schools or while on the way to school, to use either in combat operations or in support roles.

1 January 2010 Report Protect Education in Insecurity and Conflict (PEIC)

Institutional Autonomy and the Protection of Higher Education from Attack

This research study examines the relationship between institutional autonomy and the security of higher education institutions from violent and coercive attacks. It includes a review of the limited literature available, as well as a series of examples illustrating different forms of attacks, such as physical intimidation on campuses in Tunisia. 

1 May 2015 Convention/Declaration Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

Safe Schools Declaration

The Safe Schools Declaration is an inter-governmental political commitment that provides countries the opportunity to express support for protecting education from attack during times of armed conflict; the importance of the continuation of education during war; and the implementation of concrete measures to deter the military use of schools.

1 January 2017 Report Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

​The Safe Schools Declaration: a Framework for Action

This Framework for Action seeks to provide governments with a non-exhaustive list of suggestions, recommendations, and examples that can assist them as they determine the appropriate way to implement the commitments made through endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration.

1 January 2016 Manual/Handbook/Guide Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

Guide to Implementing the Principles of State Responsibility to Protect Higher Education from Attack

In response to a growing crisis of attacks on higher education communities worldwide, GCPEA conducted a wide-ranging consultation with representatives of higher education networks and associations from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas to understand the causes and consequences of such attacks and to identify measures to increase protection.

1 January 2014 Manual/Handbook/Guide Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

Guidelines for protecting schools and universities from military use during armed conflict

The Guidelines were drawn up with the aim of better protecting schools and universities from use by armed groups for military purposes, and to minimise the negative impact that armed conflict has on students’ safety and education. They provide concrete guidance to states and non-state armed groups for the planning and execution of military operations.

15 July 2014 Manual/Handbook/Guide Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

Protecting Education Personnel from Targeted Attack in Conflict-Affected Countries

The paper addresses the scope and nature of attacks on education personnel and the range of measures put in place to protect them. Many of the measures have not been formally evaluated. Additional research is needed to understand the dynamics of attacks on teachers and how to most effectively protect teachers.

1 January 2017 Manual/Handbook/Guide Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

Technical Guide: What Teachers and School Administrators Can Do to Protect Education from Attack

This document extracts from the “What Schools Can Do to Protect Education from Attack” report in order to serve as a technical guide for ministries of education, local education officials, communities, NGOs, and international agencies seeking to develop localized templates on actions that school-based actors can take to protect schools, students, and teachers from attack.

15 December 2015 Manual/Handbook/Guide Global Coalition to Protection Education from Attack (GCPEA)

What Ministries Can Do to Protect Education from Attack and Schools from Military Use: A Menu of Actions

This Menu of Actions is intended as a resource to empower personnel of ministries responsible for education to better prevent attacks on education or protect schools from military use, mitigate the impact of attacks when they do occur, and respond to attacks.