Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.
[p.208] ARTICLE 28
. -- DANGER ZONES
1. ' Distinction between ruses of war (which are permissible)
and acts of barbarity (which are unlawful) '
During the last World War public opinion was shocked by certain instances (fortunately rare) of belligerents compelling civilians to remain in places of strategic importance (such as railway stations, viaducts, dams, power stations or factories), or to accompany military convoys, or again, to serve as a protective screen for the fighting troops. Such practices, the object of which is to divert enemy fire, have rightly been condemned as cruel and barbaric; in this they differ from ruses of war, about which a few words ought to be said in order to bring out the exact meaning of this Article.
Ruses of war used in conjunction with armed force have been from time immemorial an essential part of the conduct of operations. A special Article of the Hague Regulations (1), confirming the unwritten law on the subject, states specifically that "ruses of war... are considered permissible". There is not the slightest doubt in regard to the general principle; but when it is wished to define ruses of War, a difficult question arises: at what point does a practice authorized by the laws and customs of war cease to be lawful and become, instead, an act condemned by international law?
It may be stated, in the first place, that certain actions involving treachery, bad faith or deceit are prohibited as measures of war. Misuse of a flag of truce or of the Red Cross emblem would be cases in point.
Ruses of war are not a valid pretext for breaking the law. They must remain intra legem; they must "have regard to the duties imposed by international law" (2). The lawfulness of ruses of war depends on the observance of the laws and customs of war, which are themselves based on the principle of respect for the civilian population. Consequently, the presence of civilians must never be used to render immune from military operations objectives which are liable to be attacked.
[p.209] 2. ' Scope of the provision '
In order to determine the exact scope of the provision, it is necessary to define the term "military operations". Those words refer here to any acts of warfare committed by the enemy's land, air or sea forces, whether it is a matter of bombing or bombardments of any kind or of attacks by units near at hand. It also covers acts of War by groups, such as volunteer corps and resistance movements, which are placed in the same category as the regular armed forces under Article 4, sub-paragraphs (2), (3) and (6)
, of the Third Geneva Convention of 1949. The prohibition is expressed in an absolute form and applies to the belligerents' own territory as well as to occupied territory, to small sites as well as to wide areas.
The prohibition expressed in this Article also occurs in Article 83
, which lays down that places of internment for civilians are not to be set up in areas particularly exposed to the dangers of War.
Notes: (1) [(1) p.208] See ' The Hague Regulations of 1907, ' Article
(2) [(2) p.208] FAUCHILLE: ' Traité de droit international
public, ' Vol. II, No. 1086;