Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict

The Draft Lucens Guidelines urge parties to armed conflict not to use schools and universities for any purpose in support of the military effort. While it is acknowledged that certain uses would not be contrary to the law of armed conflict, all parties should endeavor to avoid impinging on students’ safety and education, using the Guidelines as a guide to responsible practice.

The Draft Lucens Guidelines and accompanying preface, definitions, applicable international legal framework, and examples of good domestic law, guidance, and practice are available in English, العربية, Español, Français, 日本語 (ガイドライン だけ).

For more on the process leading to the drafting of the guidelines, see further below.

Click here for more information on the problem of military use and occupation of schools and universities.

The Guidelines

Parties to armed conflict are urged not to use schools and universities for any purpose in support of the military effort. While it is acknowledged that certain uses would not be contrary to the law of armed conflict, all parties should endeavour to avoid impinging on students’ safety and education, using the following as a guide to responsible practice:

Guideline 1:

Functioning schools and universities should not be used by the fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in any way in support of the military effort, either for immediate tactical advantage or for longer term purposes.

(a) This principle extends to schools and universities that are temporarily closed outside normal class hours, during weekends and holidays, and during vacation periods.

(b) Parties to armed conflict should neither use force nor offer incentives to education administrators to evacuate schools and universities in order that they can be made available for use in support of the military effort.

Guideline 2:

Abandoned schools and universities should not be used by the fighting forces of parties to armed conflict for any purpose in support of the military effort except only when, and for as long as, no choice is possible between such use of the school or university and another feasible method for obtaining a similar military advantage. Appropriate alternative premises should be presumed to be a better option, even if they are not as convenient or as well positioned for the desired military purpose, although all feasible precautions should be taken to protect all civilian objects from attack. The fighting forces of parties to armed conflict should be mindful that they may not have full knowledge of the potential negative consequences of their use of a school, including its effect on a civilian population’s willingness to return to an area.

(a) Any such use of abandoned schools and universities should be for the minimum time necessary.

 (b) Abandoned schools and universities that are used by the fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in support of the military effort should always remain available to allow educational authorities to re-open them as soon as practicable, provided this would not risk endangering the security of students and staff.

(c) Any evidence or indication of militarisation or fortification should be completely removed following the withdrawal of fighting forces, and any damage caused to the infrastructure of the institution should be promptly and fully repaired. All munitions and unexploded ordnance or remnants of war must be cleared from the site.

Guideline 3:

Schools and universities—be they in session, closed for the day or for holidays, evacuated, or abandoned—are ordinarily civilian objects. They must never be destroyed as a measure intended to deprive the opposing parties to the armed conflict of the ability to use them in the future.

Guideline 4:

Use of a school or university by the fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in support of the military effort may have the effect of turning it into a military objective subject to attack. Parties to armed conflict should consider all feasible alternative measures before attacking a school or university that has become a military objective, including warning the enemy in advance that an attack will be forthcoming unless it does not cease its use.

(a) Prior to any attack on a school that has become a military objective, the parties to armed conflict should take into consideration the duty of special care for children, and the potential long-term negative effect on a community’s access to education posed by the damage or destruction of the school.

(b) The use of a school or university by the fighting forces of one party to a conflict in support of the military effort should not serve as justification for an opposing party that captures it to continue to use it in support of the military effort. As soon as feasible, any evidence or indication of militarisation or fortification should be removed and the facility returned to civilian authorities for the purpose of its educational function.

Guideline 5:

The fighting forces of parties to armed conflict should generally not be employed on security tasks related to schools and universities except when the risk to those institutions is assessed as high; if alternative means of reducing the likelihood of attack are not feasible; if evacuation from the high risk area is not feasible; and if there are no alternative appropriately trained civilian personnel available to provide security.

(a) If such fighting forces are engaged in security tasks related to schools and universities, their presence within the grounds or buildings of the school should be avoided if at all possible, to avoid compromising its civilian status and disrupting the learning environment.

Guideline 6:

All parties to armed conflict should, as far as possible and as appropriate, incorporate these Guidelines into their doctrine, military manuals, rules of engagement, operational orders, and other means of dissemination, to encourage appropriate practice throughout the chain of command.

Process Leading to Draft Lucens Guidelines

In 2012, the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA) initiated the process of developing guidelines to protect schools and universities from military use during armed conflict. The Coalition carried out this process in co-ordination with experts who attended two consultative meetings held in 2012.

In May 2012, GCPEA organized an expert consultation hosted by the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights in Geneva, Switzerland. Attendees included representatives from the armed forces or ministries of foreign affairs of four countries, two international inter-governmental organizations, five non-governmental organizations, and academics. GCPEA presented commissioned research on the prevalence, scale, and consequences of the use of schools and universities by parties to armed conflict, as well as examples of good practice to address such use. At the conclusion of the meeting, the experts recommended moving forward in developing international guidelines.

In May 2012, a second, larger, expert conference was held in November 2012, in the village of Lucens in Switzerland. Participants included representatives from the armed forces, ministries of defense, ministries of education, ministries of foreign affairs, and other officials from twelve countries from across Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Other attendees included representatives from three international inter-governmental organizations, and seven non-governmental organizations.

Participants reviewed and provided significant feedback and suggestions on an initial draft of guidelines to protect schools and universities from use by parties to armed conflict. This initial draft was prepared by a public international law expert, with more than 30 years of service in the armed forces. The drafter incorporated revisions to the draft guidelines proposed by participants at the Lucens Conference, and at the suggestion of participants, a drafting committee was formed to review the revisions.

Following the review and editing process by the committee, the revised draft guidelines were shared with all participants at the Lucens conference and additional experts, who were again invited to provide additional input.

In June 2013, at the conclusion of this review process, GCPEA began wide dissemination of the Draft Lucens Guidelines. The Guidelines would remain ‘draft’ during this period of broad consultation and until their formal launch and endorsement in 2014.