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Strengthening resilience: The ICRC's community-based approach to ensuring the protection of education

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 November 2018


Education has received increased attention within the humanitarian sector. In conflict-affected contexts, access to education may be hampered by attacks against and the military use of educational facilities as well as attacks and threats of attacks against students, teachers and other education-related persons. Affected populations may also find themselves unable to access education, for example due to displacement.

This article looks into the different sets of humanitarian responses aimed at (1) ensuring the protection of educational facilities and related persons, mostly through advocacy efforts centred on weapons bearers, and (2) (re-)establishing education services where they are not present or are no longer functioning, mostly through programmes directed at affected populations. It then argues that, in contrast with dominant practices, the protection of education can also be ensured through programmatic responses with meaningful participation of affected communities, and examines the example of the Safer Schools programme in Ukraine.

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1 UN Children's Fund (UNICEF), Education Uprooted: For Every Migrant, Refugee and Displaced Child, Education, New York, September 2017, available at: (all internet references were accessed in April 2018 unless otherwise stated).

2 Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), Education under Attack – 2014, New York, 2014, p. 8, available at:

3 See Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Missing Out: Refugee Education in Crisis, September 2016, available at:

4 See Save the Children, What Do Children Want in Times of Crisis? They Want an Education, June 2015, pp. 1, 16, available at:

5 Ibid., p. 11.


6 There is no provision of IHL that specifically prohibits the military use of schools, but such use must be assessed in light of the obligations under IHL that require parties to armed conflict to take all feasible precautions to protect the civilian population and civilian objects under their control against the effects of attacks.

7 Impact of Armed Conflict on Children: Note by the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/51/306, 26 August 1996, para. 1, available at: See also UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict (SRSG-CAAC), “Timeline”, available at:

8 Impact of Armed Conflict on Children: Report of the Expert of the Secretary-General, Ms. Graça Machel, Submitted Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 48/157, above note 7.

9 Ibid., paras 186–202.


10 Ibid., para. 203(a). This is notably the case with regard to recommendations on the provision of educational opportunities for refugee and internally displaced children (para. 203(d)), and on supporting the re-establishment and continuity of education (para. 203(e)).


11 Ibid.


12 SRSG-CAAC, above note 7; UNGA Res. 51/77, 20 February 1997, paras 36–37, available at:

13 UNSC Res. 1261, 30 August 1999, Item 2, available at:

14 SRSG-CAAC, above note 7.

15 UNSC Res. 1261, above note 13.

16 Ibid., Item 16.


17 UNSC Res. 1314, 11 August 2000, Item 9, available at:

19 UNICEF and SRSG-CAAC, Machel Study 10-Year Strategic Review: Children and Conflict in a Changing World, New York, April 2009, p. 86Google Scholar.

20 The other five grave violations are the killing or maiming of children; recruiting or using child soldiers; rape or other grave sexual violence against children; the abduction of children; and the denial of humanitarian access for children. See Children and Armed Conflict: Report of the Secretary-General, UN Doc. A/59/695-S/2005/72, 9 February 2005, para. 68, available at:

21 UNSC Res. 1998, UN Doc. S/RES/1998 (2011), 12 July 2011, Item 3, available at: The first time the UN Secretary-General was asked to list parties to armed conflict engaged in violations against children was in 2001, concerning child recruitment. See UNSC Res. 1379, UN Doc. S/RES/1379 (2001), 20 November 2001, para. 16, available at:

22 UNSC Res. 1998, above note 21, Item 4.

23 GCPEA, “Who We Are”, available at:

24 GCPEA, “Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use”, available at:

26 GCPEA, “Safe Schools Declaration Endorsements”, 4 September 2018, available at: (accessed in September 2018).

27 See GCPEA, Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, available at:; see also GCPEA, above note 25.

28 UNSC Res. 1998, 12 July 2011, Item 4, available at:

29 See, for example, GCPEA, Implementing the Guidelines: A Toolkit to Guide Understanding and Implementation of the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict, 2017, available at:

30 GCPEA, above note 25 (emphasis added).

31 A notable example is the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which has had the task of meeting the demand of Palestine refugees for education since 1950, when the Agency began its operations. See George Dickerson, “Education for the Palestine Refugees: The UNRWA/UNESCO Programme”, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1974, p. 122.

32 USAID, Education in Crisis Situations: Mapping the Field, New York, 2005, p. 9, available at:

33 INEE, INEE Strategic Plan 2008–2010, 7 January 2008, p. 4, available at:

34 USAID, above note 32, p. 10.

35 INEE, “History and Development”, available at: See also INEE, INEE Minimum Standards for Education in Emergencies, Chronic Crises and Early Reconstruction, 2004, available at:; as well as its updated edition, INEE Minimum Standards for Education: Preparedness, Response, Recovery, 2010 (2010 Minimum Standards), available at:

36 Education was not initially considered a key sector to be included in the Cluster System when it was created in 2005. For more details on the lengthy process which led to the establishment of the Education Cluster and the involvement of the INEE and Save the Children in those efforts, see Allison Anderson and Marian Hodgkin, The Creation and Development of the Global IASC Education Cluster, UNESCO and Education For All Global Monitoring Report, 2010, pp. 1–9, available at:

37 Brookings Institution, New Momentum for Global Education and the Post-2015 Development Agenda, 30 November 2012, available at:

38 INEE, “World Humanitarian Summit 2016”, available at:

39 See the official website of Education Cannot Wait, available at:; see also INEE, “Education Cannot Wait: A Fund for Education in Emergencies”, available at:

40 See, for example, Sinclair, Margaret, “Education in Emergencies”, in Crisp, Jeff, Talbot, Christopher and Cipollone, Daiana B. (eds), Learning for a Future: Refugee Education in Developing Countries, UNHCR, Geneva, 2001, p. 4Google Scholar, available at:; Susan Nicolai and Carl Triplehorn, The Role of Education in Protecting Children in Conflict, Humanitarian Practice Network Paper No. 42, March 2003, p. 2, available at:

41 One of the four types of crises eligible for funding through Education Cannot Wait is “[c]rises with large-scale displacement with affected host populations”. See Education Cannot Wait, “The Situation”, available at: During the WHS, in terms of education in emergencies, particular emphasis was put on displacement settings, “with several significant commitments made to guarantee the provision of quality education for refugees and to bolster education support to refugee-hosting countries”. See WHS, Commitments to Action, 8 September 2016, p. 5, available at: Furthermore, the WHS saw thirty-eight actors, including States, NGOs and international organizations, make seventy-seven commitments related to education. A third of those commitments (i.e., twenty-six, by twenty-one actors) mentioned displacement directly, including references to migrants, refugees, internally displaced persons, host communities and countries, and refugee camps. This is based on a brief mapping, conducted by the authors, of all commitments listed under the category “Education” on Agenda for Humanity's website. See Agenda for Humanity, “Individual Commitments”, available at:

42 Nicolai, Susan, Education in Emergencies: A Tool Kit for Starting and Managing Education in Emergencies, Save the Children, London, 2003, pp. 2930Google Scholar, available at: According to the mapping conducted by the authors, mentioned in above note 41, about 10% of education-related commitments made during the WHS concerned inclusive education – most notably, girls’ education. “Girls’ education and gender issues”, as well as “inclusion and social cohesion”, are also key activities of UNHCR's Education Strategy; see UNHCR, 2012–2016 Education Strategy, Geneva, 2012, pp. 1516Google Scholar, available at:

43 2010 Minimum Standards, above note 35, p. 55.

44 Save the Children, Delivering Education for Children in Emergencies: A Key Building Block for the Future, London, 2008, pp. 89Google Scholar, available at:; UNHCR, above note 42, pp. 11–12, 15–16, 19–20.

45 2010 Minimum Standards, above note 35, p. 3.

46 Ibid., p. 46.


47 Ibid., p. 61.


48 Eight actors mentioned these terms in their commitments to education, according to the mapping conducted by the authors, mentioned in above note 41.

49 UNHCR, above note 42, p. 15.

50 UNHCR and IRC, “Creating Safe Learning Environments: E-Course”, available at:

51 Plan International, “Preventing Violence against Girls at School”, available at:

52 UNICEF Cambodia, “Safe Learning Spaces”, available at:

53 Agenda for Humanity, “Commitment Description (252018)”, available at:; Agenda for Humanity, “Commitment Description (294016)”, available at:

54 See Global Alliance for Disaster Risk Reduction and Resilience in the Education Sector, Towards Safer School Construction: A Community-Based Approach, 2015, pp. 11–12, available at:

55 Agenda for Humanity, “Commitment Description (288019)”, available at:

56 Agenda for Humanity, “Commitment Description (288026)”, available at:

57 UNRWA, Schools on the Front Line: The Impact of Armed Conflict and Violence on UNRWA Schools and Education Services, 2016, p. 12, available at: UNRWA also provides security trainings to staff from Jordan and Lebanon; see UNRWA, “Fostering the Safety and Security of School Communities, UNRWA Runs an Integrated Training Programme for Education Staff and Safety Personnel”, 16 December 2015, available at:

58 2010 Minimum Standards, above note 35, p. 30.

59 Ibid., p. 62.


60 Save the Children Sudan, “Child Protection”, available at:

61 UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina, “Mine Risk Education in Schools”, available at:

62 Save the Children, Moving Ahead on Education: A Focused Strategy for Achieving our Education Goals 2012–2015, 2012, p. 12, available at:

63 See Plan International, Policy Brief: Advancing Comprehensive School Safety for Asia and the Pacific, November 2016, available at:

64 See GCPEA, The Role of Communities in Protecting Education from Attack: Lessons Learned, New York, 2014, available at:; GCPEA, What Schools Can Do to Protect Education from Attack and Military Use, New York, 2016, available at:

65 Additional Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions obliges parties to non-international armed conflict – which includes non-State armed groups – to ensure that children “be provided with the care and aid they require”, and in particular that “they shall receive an education, including religious and moral education, in keeping with the wishes of their parents, or in the absence of parents, of those responsible for their care”. See Protocol Additional (II) to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts, 1125 UNTS 609, 8 June 1977 (entered into force 7 December 1978) (AP II), Art. 4.3(a). Furthermore, research shows that non-State armed actors in recent history have provided education or acted as regulators and facilitators of the provision of educational services; see Protect Education in Insecurity and Attack, Education and Armed Non-State Actors: Towards a Comprehensive Agenda, 2015, available at: More recently, in a study by Geneva Call, “all interviewed ANSAs [armed non-State actors] affirmed that they would support in some way or another the schools located in the territories where they operate”. Geneva Call, In Their Words: Armed Non-State Actors Share Their Policies and Practice with Regards to Education in Armed Conflict, November 2017, p. 8, available at:

66 Customary IHL relating to children (a norm that is applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts) dictates that “children affected by armed conflict are entitled to special respect and protection”, and practice indicates that this includes access to education. See Henckaerts, Jean-Marie and Doswald-Beck, Louise (eds), Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 1: Rules, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005CrossRefGoogle Scholar (ICRC Customary Law Study), Rule 135. In addition to customary IHL, provisions specific to non-international armed conflict (see above note 65), and to the general rules of IHL that protect students, educational personnel, and educational facilities in the conduct of hostilities, the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I specifically address education with regard to the following situations in international armed conflict: all children under 15 orphaned or separated as a result of war (see Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 287 (entered into force 21 October 1950) (GC IV), Arts 13, 24); civilian internees, notably children and young people (GC IV, Arts 94, 108, 142); occupation (GC IV, Art. 50); circumstances involving evacuation of children (Protocol Additional (I) to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, 1125 UNTS 3, 8 June 1977 (entered into force 7 December 1978) (AP I), Art. 78); and prisoners of war (Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949, 75 UNTS 135 (entered into force 21 October 1950), Arts 38, 72, 125). Finally, the right to education is also enshrined in several instruments of international human rights law, which also apply in times of armed conflict.

67 This responsibility is enshrined in the rules of customary IHL concerning the distinction between civilians and combatants, the distinction between civilian objects and military objectives, indiscriminate attacks, proportionality in attack, precaution in attack, and precautions against the effects of attacks (see ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 66, Chap. I). It is also reflected in AP I, particularly Article 48 (on the principle of distinction), Article 51 (on the protection of the civilian population) and Article 52 (on the protection of civilian objects), as well as in AP II, particularly Article 13 (on the protection of the civilian population).

68 See above note 44.

69 See Cotroneo, Angela and Pawlak, Marta, “Community-Based Protection: The ICRC Approach”, Forced Migration Review, No. 53, October 2016, p. 37Google Scholar, available at

70 Unless otherwise indicated, the information in this section pertaining to ICRC programmes in Ukraine comes from internal reports on file with the authors.

71 UNICEF Ukraine, The Children of the Contact Line in East Ukraine: An Assessment of the Situation of Children and Their Families Living in Government-Controlled Areas Along the Contact Line in the East Ukraine Conflict Zone, June 2017, pp. 3, 14, available at:

72 OCHA, Ukraine Humanitarian Needs Overview 2018, December 2017, pp. 3, 37, available at:

73 The ICRC Safer Schools programme in eastern Ukraine is not to be confused with the Safe Schools Guidelines initiative led by the GCPEA and outlined previously in the present article.

74 For details of the early stage of the programme, see ICRC, “ICRC Support to Schools and Kindergartens – Eastern Ukraine”, available at:

75 Ibid.


76 The authors’ detailed understanding of the programme stems from internal reports and a support mission of the ICRC's education adviser to the delegation in Ukraine. This allowed for a categorization of the activities implemented as follows: (1) school rehabilitation; (2) mine risk education and risk awareness; (3) evacuation drills; (4) provision of assistance for emergency preparedness; (5) first-aid trainings; and (6) psychosocial assessments and support for teachers. These are the dimensions of the programme that are explored in the paragraphs below.

77 See ICRC, above note 74.

78 See above note 76.

79 See above note 76.

80 See ICRC, “Ukraine: ICRC Helps Schools Affected by Conflict”, 6 January 2016, available at:

81 ICRC, above note 74.

82 The school in Novotoshkivske is an example where the special panels were used. See ibid.

83 Ibid.


84 Ibid.


85 Ibid.


86 Ibid.


87 Ibid.


88 A. Cotroneo and M. Pawlak, above note 69, p. 36.

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