Safe Schools Declaration and Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict

A girl student leaves al-Furadh School at the end of the day.
© 2012 Priyanka Motaparthy - Human Rights Watch (Yemen)

Around the world, in places experiencing armed conflict, schools and universities are becoming part of the battlefield. The use of schools and universities as bases, barracks, firing positions, and armories may transform places of learning into legitimate military objectives under international law, thus endangering students and teachers, and rendering their educational infrastructure and materials vulnerable to attack.

The presence of fighting forces in schools and universities also often leads to students dropping out, reduced enrollment, lower rates of transition to higher levels of education, and overall poorer educational attainment. Girls are often disproportionately affected.

The Guidelines have been drawn up with the aim of better protecting schools and universities from use by armed groups for military purposes, and to minimize 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. They may also serve as a tool for organizations engaged in monitoring, programming, and advocacy related to the conduct of armed conflicts.

States and intergovernmental bodies are urged to encourage all parties to armed conflicts to act in accordance with these Guidelines, and to help enable them to do so.

To learn more about the Guidelines and what they aim to achieve, read the question-and-answer document available in: Arabic, French, and Spanish.


The Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict were finalized in December 2014, under the leadership of Norway and Argentina. A Safe Schools Declaration has been developed through state consultations in Geneva. This Declaration is the instrument through which states can express broad political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict, and endorse and commit to implement the Guidelines. A first group of 37 states endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration at an international conference convened by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on May 29, 2015 in Oslo and that number has since been growingStates can announce their endorsement at any time by making a public statement and/or sending an endorsement letter (sample letter available here) to the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs via its embassies or permanent missions or directly at and   

GCPEA is currently encouraging states to champion the Guidelines by:

  • Endorsing the Safe Schools Declaration, thereby committing to implement the Guidelines; and encouraging other states to do the same.
  • Implementing the Guidelines by strengthening relevant elements and provisions, for instance, in their own legislation and military doctrine, and by encouraging appropriate practice throughout the chain of command.

GCPEA is also seeking ways to include non-state armed groups in endorsing and implementing the Guidelines.


The Guidelines were developed through an extensive consultation process:

  • In May 2012, in Geneva, GCPEA convened a roundtable with experts from governments, militaries, UN agencies, and international and human rights organizations.
  • Based on recommendations from that meeting, GCPEA commissioned a former British military officer to prepare the first draft of the Guidelines.
  • In November 2012, GCPEA convened a larger expert consultation in Lucens, Switzerland, with representatives from 12 states, as well as the human rights and humanitarian law community.
  • A drafting committee, including state representatives and other experts, was then formed to further refine the Guidelines.
  • In June 2013, the Draft Lucens Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict were released.
  • In June 2014, Norway announced that it would lead the process of finalizing the Guidelines and developing a means by which states could commit to implementing the GuidelinesRead additional public statements issued by states, which reference the importance of the Guidelines.
  • The Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict were finalized through a state-led process headed by Norway and Argentina in December, 2014 and unveiled at the UN in Geneva, Switzerland. 
  • A Safe Schools Declaration was developed through state consultations led by Norway and Argentina throughout the first half of 2015. The Declaration provides states the opportunity to express broad political support for the protection and continuation of education in armed conflict, and for the implementation of the Guidelines. The Declaration, was endorsed by a first group of 37 states at the Safe Schools Conference in Oslo on May 29, 2015. Check the current status of endorsement here


Read Questions and Answers on the Guidelines for Protecting schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict also available in ArabicFrench, and Spanish.

Read Lessons in War 2015: Military Use of Schools and Universities during Armed Conflict, a GCPEA study that identifies cases of military use in 26 countries spread across four continents between 2005 and 2015. Full report available also in ArabicFrenchand SpanishExecutive summary available in French, Spanish. 

Download our brochure or learn about our initiative on protecting schools and universities from military use. 

Read the thematic essay, "Military use of schools and universities: changing behaviour", from Education under Attack 2014.

Students and educators who wish to add their voice to support the end of military use of schools can contribute photos and slogans to the website