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Commentary - Part IV : Civilian population
    [p.583] Part IV -- Civilian population Introduction


    1815 Part IV is the longest of the six parts of Protocol I, containing thirty-two articles divided into three sections and nine chapters, i.e., virtually a third of the whole Protocol.

    1816 It is also the most important, for Section I, entitled ' General protection against effects of hostilities ' obviously represents the crowning achievement of the Diplomatic Conference of 1974-1977 and the most significant victory achieved in international humanitarian law since the adoption of the fourth Geneva Convention in 1949 relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War.

    1817 The contribution of 1977 is a beneficial complement to the work of 1949, which despite its size remained incomplete, at least on this point. In fact the fourth Convention, which belongs to the whole body of Geneva law aimed at safeguarding soldiers ' hors de combat ' as well as persons not participating in hostilities, does not offer complete protection to civilians. Apart from some provisions in Part II, it only protects them against arbitrary and wanton acts of the enemy, leaving aside their protection against dangers arising from certain methods of warfare and the use of certain weapons. The Diplomatic Conference of 1949 did not have a mandate to deal with that particularly delicate area, which at that time fell under the Hague law laying down the rights and duties of belligerents in the conduct of military operations and restricting the choice of the means to be used for inflicting damage.

    1818 Although Geneva law had been developed in great detail in 1949, and adapted to the requirements of the time, the Hague law had not evolved to the same extent, while the techniques of warfare had developed enormously during the two World Wars. The written rules which could be invoked for protecting civilians against the dangers of hostilities dated back to 1907, when aerial bombardment did not yet exist. Such was the tragic absurdity of the situation.

    1819 Therefore the ICRC, the initiator of the Geneva Conventions, adopted as one of its main objectives the filling of this glaring gap when it decided in 1967 to undertake a new step in the development of humanitarian law, even if this meant going beyond the classical traditions of Geneva law. However, it did so without hesitation because of the paramount importance of the interests at stake. In fact it had always been interested in this distressing problem and had carried out numerous studies on the subject. Its initiative was fully endorsed by the Red Cross Movement, which lent its full support. This resulted in the development of an impressive body of rules which will be examined hereafter, and which finally [p.584] provide guarantees for the population of countries involved in conflicts. There can be no doubt that the population is entitled to such guarantees, though it had been deprived of them for far too long.

    1820 A welcome addition to the protection for civilians is the protection of the civilian objects (Chapter III). Chapter V deals with non-defended localities, confirming and supplementing the famous Hague rule, and with demilitarized zones. Chapter VI is entirely new and was introduced in this Section after lengthy debate. It deals with so-called civil defence organizations, whose intervention is so very necessary in conflicts, particularly for the search for and aid of victims of bombardment.

    1821 Part IV include two more Sections, also for the benefit of civilians, though in entirely different fields, which supplement the fourth Convention. Section II is aimed at facilitating relief actions. Section III, which is quite lengthy as it comprises Articles 72-79, is concerned with the treatment of persons in the power of a Party to the conflict; its main concerns are measures in the interests of women and children, the reunion of dispersed families, and the protection of journalists. Moreover, the creation of the important Article 75 ' (Fundamental guarantees) ' is particularly welcome; all those who do not enjoy more favourable treatment under the Conventions and the Protocol can resort to this.

    ' J. P. '