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Commentary - Protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces
    [p.1461] Article 15 -- Protection of works and installations
    containing dangerous forces


    General remarks

    4814 During the conflicts which have characterized the last forty years, works and installations containing dangerous forces, particularly dykes and dams, have often [p.1462] been the object of attacks and destruction resulting in serious consequences and leading to heavy losses among the civilian population. (1)

    4815 In order to safeguard the civilian population from this sort of catastrophe, the ICRC had already proposed immunity for such works and installations in its Draft Rules of 1956 for the Limitation of the Dangers incurred by the Civilian Population in Time of War. (2) It will be recalled that those Rules were drawn up for all kinds of armed conflict, irrespective of whether they are internal or international. (3)

    4816 Article 15 has the same tenor as the first sentence of paragraph 1 of Article 56 of Protocol I ' (Protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces). ' (4) The simultaneous negotiation of these two provisions in Committee led to some additions being made to the draft presented by the ICRC. (5) These consisted of the ways in which the protection of such works and installations could be applied. (6) The text as finally adopted was reduced to the simplest essentials; unlike Article 56 of Protocol I ' (Protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces), ' it expresses the general principle without providing for any exceptions, which means that the rule is stated more categorically.

    4817 Protocol II does not set out to protect civilian objects generally. (7) Works and installations containing dangerous forces are the object of special protection because of the serious consequences that may ensue if they are destroyed.

    Text of the article

    4818 This provision is aimed at protecting the civilian population against the effects which might result from the release of dangerous forces such as large quantities of water or radioactivity. For this purpose it prohibits attacks on dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations if such attacks could release dangerous forces causing severe losses among the civilian population, even assuming such works and installations to be military objectives. (8) The list is exhaustive, which does not mean that there are not other kinds of works or installations whose destruction is likely to entail heavy losses among the civilian population. Thus, for example, the problem of storage facilities for crude oil and oil products and the risks of oil rigs were raised during the Diplomatic Conference. (9) In the end it was only possible to arrive at a consensus on the items listed above, though this does not exclude the protection of other types of installations under different international legal régimes.

    [p.1463] 4819 The extent of the protection of works and installations covered in this article is limited to cases in which an attack may cause severe losses among the civilian population. Thus such objects are not protected in themselves, but only to the extent that their destruction would release forces dangerous for the civilian population.

    4820 This means that, assuming such a work or installation were a military objective, it could be attacked as long as the civilian population were not seriously endangered thereby. On the other hand, protection is automatic, irrespective of the civilian, military or combined use made of the installation or works, whenever an attack could cause the release of dangerous forces resulting in severe losses among the civilian population.

    4821 The term "severe losses" is taken from military terminology, and clearly this must be judged in good faith on the basis of objective elements, such as the existence of densely populated areas of civilians (villages or towns) in the area which would be affected by the release of dangerous forces.

    4822 The ICRC draft provided that the parties to the conflict would endeavour not to locate military objectives in the vicinity of such objects, in order to prevent the danger of indirect attacks, i.e., the incidental effects of an attack directed against a nearby military objective. (10) In the absence of this special provision, which was not retained, (11) it is appropriate to recall that the civilian population is entitled to general protection against the effects of hostilities. (12) In any case, the prohibition laid down in this article covers attacks on military objectives in the direct vicinity of works or installations which might very well have the incidental effect of releasing dangerous forces and seriously injuring the civilian population. On the other hand, consciously locating military objectives in the vicinity of such works or installations would constitute a violation of the principle laid down in Article 13 ' (Protection of the civilian population), ' paragraph 1.

    4823 Article 56 ' (Protection of works and installations containing dangerous forces), ' paragraph 7, of Protocol I, provides for the optional identification of works and installations containing dangerous forces by means of three bright orange circles. A precise description is given in Annex I to Protocol I (Article 16 -- ' International special sign). ' (13)

    4824 This special optional identification is not specified in Protocol II. If a country were to decide to adopt it in time of peace for Protocol I, the identification would of course retain the same function and the same purpose in case of non-international armed conflict. However, such identification, which has an optional character, does not have the same importance in a situation covered by Protocol II. In fact, the forces engaged in a confrontation could be expected to be familiar with the location of dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, since [p.1464] they are situated in their own country, in the territory of which the hostilities are taking place. Moreover, this element might play a favourable role in their protection as it is the interests of both of the parties to the conflict not to destroy such works and installations.

    ' S.J. '


    * (1) [(1) p.1462] See historical information given in commentary Art. 56, Protocol I, supra, p. 665;

    (2) [(2) p.1462] Art. 17;

    (3) [(3) p.1462] Ibid., Art. 2;

    (4) [(4) p.1462] Apart from some slight differences in the wording of the French text of the article;

    (5) [(5) p.1462] Draft Art. 28. See commentary, infra, p. 1463;

    (6) [(6) p.1462] O.R. XV, p. 323, CDDH/215/Rev. 1;

    (7) [(7) p.1462] See introduction to this Part, in fine, supra, p. 1446;

    (8) [(8) p.1462] The concept of military objectives is defined in Art. 52, para. 2, Protocol I. Reference may be made to the commentary thereon, supra, p. 635;

    (9) [(9) p.1462] O.R. XV, p. 352, CDDH/III/264/Rev.1;

    (10) [(10) p.1463] Draft Art. 28, para. 2;

    (11) [(11) p.1463] O.R. IV, p. 90, CDDH/427;

    (12) [(12) p.1463] See Art. 13 and the commentary thereon, supra, p. 1447;

    (13) [(13) p.1463] See commentary Art. 56, para. 7, of Protocol I, supra, p. 675, and Article 16 of Annex I thereto, supra, p. 1295;