Protection of civilian persons and populations in time of war


Extract from "Basic rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols"

Additional Protocol I, Part IV  

Geneva Convention relative to the protection of civilian persons in time of war (Convention IV of 12 August 1949)



Section I   
Protection against the effects of hostilities

1 Fundamental principle and basic rules

2. Definition of civilians and civilian property

3. Protection of civilian persons and property

4. Special protection of certain property

5. Special protection of certain zones and localities

6. Precautionary measures

7. Civil defence


Section II   
General protection and administration of civilians in time of war

1. Scope of the Fourth Convention

2. General protection of all persons affected by the armed conflict

3. General treatment of persons protected by the Fourth Convention

4. Treatment of foreigners on the territory of a Party to the conflict

5. Occupation administration

6. Treatment of civilian internees



 (Please note: Roman numerals indicate the number of the Convention or the Protocol (designated by the letter  

 P), Arabic numerals refer to the articles of these instruments.)      

 Section I  

 Protection against the effects of hostilities  

Apart from a few provisions of limited scope, the Geneva Conventions do not deal with the general protection of civilian populations against the effects of hostilities. This matter came under The Hague Conventions, most of whose rules go back to 1907 and have from that time acquired a customary character and are stil l valid. But the evolution that has taken place since the beginning of this century in military technique and, in particular, extraordinary developments in aerial warfare has made it necessary to develop and make more specific the existing law of armed conflicts. This is the subject of Part IV of the First Protocol additional to the Conventions.

 1.  Fundamental principle and basic rules  

The fundamental principle on which the law of armed conflicts is based is expressed as follows: In any armed conflict, the right of  the Parties to the conflict to choose methods or means of warfare  is not unlimited. Two basic rules follow from this principle. The first prohibits the use of weapons, projectiles and material and methods of warfare of a nature to cause unnecessary injury. The second, in order to ensure respect and protection for the civilian population and civilian property, obliges the Parties to the conflict to distinguish at all times between the civilian population and combatants, as well as between civilian property and military objectives and to direct their operations only against military objectives.[P. I, 35; P. I, 48 ]

 2. Definition of civilians and civilian Property  

 Any Person not belonging to the armed forces (see Chapter III, Section I) is considered as a civilian and the same applies in case of doubt as to his sta tus. The civilian population comprises all persons who are civilians.[P. I, 50 ]

 Civilian property is anything which is not a military objective, i.e. which by its nature, location, purpose or use does not effectively contribute to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization would not offer a definite military advantage in the circumstances ruling at the time. Thus, military equipment, a road of strategic importance, a supply column on its way to the army, a civilian building evacuated and reoccupied by combatants are military objectives. In case of doubt, a property which is normally assigned to civilian use should be considered as civilian and must not be attacked.[P. I, 52 ]

 3. Protection of civilian persons and property  

 The prohibition of attacks on civilian persons and civilian property includes all acts of violence, whether committed in offence or defence. Attacks or threats of violence intended to terrorize the civilian Population are also prohibited.[P. I, 49, 51, 52 ]

 The prohibition includes attacks launched indiscriminately. In particular these are attacks which are not directed or which cannot be directed, because of the methods or means of combat employed, at a military objective. Also considered as indiscriminate are attacks which treat as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a town, village or other area containing a similar concentration of civilians or civilian property. The same applies to attacks which cause incidental civilian losses and damage excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.[P. I, 49, 51, 52 ]

The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians must not be used to try to shield military objectives from attack or to shield, favour or impede military operations.

The Fourth Convention provides for the conclusion by Parties to a conflict of local agreements for the evacuation from besieged or encircled areas of wounded, sick, disabled and old people, children and women in labour, and for the passage of ministers of all religions, medical personnel and equipment on their way to such areas.[IV, 17 ]

 The Protocol forbids starving civilian populations. Objects indispensable to the survival of civilian populations, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works must neither be attacked, destroyed, removed nor rendered useless. A belligerent may depart from this rule only on its own territory and only if imperative military necessities require it to do so.[P. I, 54 ]

 The environment itself must be protected against widespread,  long-term and severe damage. Methods or means of warfare likely to cause such damage and thereby jeopardize the health or survival of the population are forbidden.[P. I, 55 ]

 4.  Special protection of certain property  

 Cultural property (1) is entitled to special protection. Historical monuments, works of art or places of worship which constitute the cultural or spiritual heritage of peoples must not be the objects of any acts of hostility, nor be used in support of the military effort.[P. I, 53 ]

In case of risk of the release of dangerous forces which could cause severe losses among the civilian population, dams, dykes and nuclear electrical generating stations, must not be attacked, even if they constitute military objectives. This protection can only cease if they are used for the regular, significant and direct support of military operations and if attack is the only practical means of stopping this support. These installations may be marked with a special sign (three bright orange circles in a straight line).[P. I, 56, Annex I, 16 ]


 5. Special Protection of certain zones and localities  


 a) Safety zones  

The Fourth Convention provides that either before or after the outbreak of hostilities, hospital and safety zones and localities may be established so as to protect wounded, sick and aged persons, children under the age of fifteen, expectant mothers and mothers of children under the age of seven. The Protecting Powers and the ICRC are invited to lend their good offices in order to facilitate the setting up and recognition of such zones and localities.[ IV, 14 ]

If necessary, and when circumstances permit, these zones may be set up in or near places which already benefit from special protection as cultural property (see point 4).

 b) Neutralized zones  

Neutralized zones are zones established in fighting areas and intended to shelter from the dangers of war all persons, without distinction, who are not taking part, or no longer taking part, in hostilities and who do not perform any work of a military nature while they remain in these zones. They are established by agreement between the Parties concerned on the proposal of the Party setting up the zone. [IV, 15 ]

 c) Non-defended localities  

Any inhabited place near or in a zone where armed forces are in contact and which is open to occupation by the adversary may be declared a non-defended locality. Such a locality must fulfil the following conditions:[P. I, 59 ]

a) all combatants, as well as mobile weapons and mobile military  equipment must have been evacuated;  

b) no hostile use may be made of fixed military installations or  establishments,.  

c) no acts of hostility may be committed by the authorities or by  the population,.  

d) no activities may be undertaken in support of military operations.  


As long as these conditions are met, no attack can be launched on the locality by any means whatsoever.


 d) Demilitarized zones  

The Protocol prohibits extension of military operations to zones on which the opposing Parties have conferred by agreement the status of demilitarized zone, if such extension is contrary to the terms of such an agreement.[P. I, 60 ]

The purpose of the agreement will normally be to create a zone fulfilling the same conditions as for non-defended localities.


 6. Precautionary measures  

To implement the rules protecting civilian persons and property, those who plan or decide upon an attack are bound to take certain precautions. They must do everything feasible to verify that  the objectives to be attacked are definitely military objectives. They must choose means and methods of attack which avoid, or at least reduce to a minmum, incidental losses and damage which could be caused to civilians and civilian property. They must refrain from launching an attack if it seems clear that such losses or damage would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated, and even cancel or suspend it if it becomes apparent that such is the case. Advance warning must be given in good time to the civilian population of attacks which may affect them when circumstances permit. Finally, the location of military objectives in the vicinity of civilian populations and civilian property shall be avoided as far as possible and all other necessary precautions must also be taken (shelters, signs, etc.).[P. I. 57, 58 ]


 7.  Civil defence     

Civil defence organizations have humanitarian tasks. They are intended to protect the civilian population against the dangers of hostilities or disasters and to help it recover from their immediate effects, as well as to ensure the conditions necessary for its survival (warning, evacuation, shelters, rescue, medical services, fire-fighting, public services, etc.). These organizations and their personnel are entitled to perform their tasks except in case of imperative military necessity and must be respected and protected. Objects used for civil defence purposes may not be destroyed or diverted from their proper use except b y the Party to which they belong.[P. I, 61, 62 ]

These rules are also valid in occupied territory where civil defence organizations shall receive from the authorities the necessary facilities for the performance of their tasks. The occupant must not requisition buildings or equipment belonging to civil defence organizations nor divert them from their proper use.[P. I, 63 ]

The same rules also apply to civil defence organizations of neutral States operating on the territory of a Party to the conflict with the consent and under the control of that Party.[P. I, 64 ]

This protection may only cease if civil defence organizations are used to commit, outside their proper tasks, acts harmful to the enemy and only after an appropriate warning with a reasonable time-limit has been given and disregarded. The fact that civil defence organizations are formed along military lines, that they cooperate with military personnel or are placed under the direction of military authorities and incidentally benefit military victims is not considered as a harmful act. The same applies to the carrying of light individual weapons by civilian personnel for the purpose of maintaining order or for self-defence.[P. I, 65 ]

The distinctive sign of civil defence organizations is an equilateral blue triangle on an orange ground. [P. I, 66, Annex I, 15 ]

Members of the armed forces and military units permanently and exclusively assigned to civil defence organizations must be respected and protected, provided that the conditions stated above are observed and that they prominently display the international distinctive sign of civil defence. If they fall into enemy hands, they are prisoners of war. [P. I, 67 ]


 Section II  


 General protection and administration of civilians in time of war  

  1. Scope of the Fourth Convention  

Article 4 of the Fourth Convention defines protected persons as follows: persons protected by the Convention are those who, at a given moment and in any manner whatsoever, find themselves, in case of a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a Party to the  conflict or Occupying Power of which they are not nationals. [IV, 4 ]

This protection rules out any arbitrary actions by the enemy at whose mercy the protected persons may be.

The Fourth Convention is especially concerned with supplementing Section 111 of the Hague Regulations of 1907 on the laws and customs of war relating to occupied territories. But, in addition to a section concerning the administration of foreigners, it also includes provisions relative to the general protection of civilian populations and provisions common to the territories of the Parties to the conflict and to occupied territories.

Both these latter groups of provisions are supplemented or even replaced by corresponding Articles in the Protocol.


 2. General protection of all persons affected by the armed conflict  

 The rules of general protection stated in this subdivision refer to  all persons affected by an armed conflict, whether or not they are protected persons in the meaning of Article 4 of the Fourth Convention. In principle they therefore concern nationals as well as non-nationals of the Parties to the conflict, nationals of neutral States on the territory of a Party to the conflict as well as nationals of States not Parties to the Conventions and the Protocol who find themselves on this territory.


 a) Aid  

The Fourth Convention guarantees the free passage of all consignments of medicaments and medical equipment, as well as objects necessary for religious worship intended only for civilians of another Contracting Party, even those of an enemy. It also permits the free passage of foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under fifteen, expectant mothers and women in labour. The Protocol considerably extends the scope for undertaking relief operations. It provides that when the civilian population of a territory under the control of a Party to the conflict, other than an occupied territory, is not adequately provided for, relief actions of a humanitarian and impartial character, conducted without any adverse distinction, must be undertaken, subject to the agreement of the Parties concerned in such relief action. These may consist of foodstuffs, medicines, clothing, bedding, means of shelter and other supplies essential to the survival of the civilian population. [IV, 23; P. I, 69, 70, 71 ]

The personnel taking part in relief actions must be respected and protected.


 b) Protection of children  

The Protocol declares that children must be the object of special respect and must be protected against any form of indecent assault. They must receive the care and aid they require, whether because of their age or for any other reason. All practicable measures must be taken to prevent children under the age of 15 from taking a direct part in the hostilities and, if they have become orphaned or separated from their families as a result of the war, to ensure that they are not left to their own resources and that their maintenance, the exercise of their religion and their education are facilitated in all circumstances. In case of arrest, children shall be kept in quarters separate from those of adults, except where families are accommodated as family units. The death penalty must not be executed on persons who were under the age of 18 at the time the offence was committed.[P. I, 77; IV, 24 ]

Unless there are imperative reasons for doing so, no Party to the conflict shall arrange for the evacuation of children other than its own nationals to a foreign country. When evacuation does occur, all necessary steps must be taken to facilitate the return of the children to their families and their country. [P.I, 78 ]


 c) Protection of women  

 Women shall be the object of special respect and must be protected against any form of indecent assault. Pregnant women and mothers of dependent infants, who are arrested for reasons related to the armed conflict, shall have their cases considered in absolute priority and in the event of a death penalty being pronounced, it will not be carried out. [P. I, 76 ]


 d) Reuniting of dispersed families and family news  

 All the Parties to the Conventions and the Protocol must facilitate the reunion of dispersed families and encourage the work of the humanitarian organizations engaged in this task. [P. I, 74 ]

In particular, each Party to the conflict must facilitate enquiries made by members of families dispersed because of the war with the object of renewing contact with one another and, if possible, of meeting. [IV, 26 ]

All persons in the territory of a Party to the conflict, or in a territory occupied by it, shall be enabled to give news of a strictly personal nature to members of their families, wherever they may be, and to receive news from them.[IV, 25 ]


 e) Refugees and stateless persons  

Persons who, before the outbreak of hostilities, were considered as stateless persons or refugees under the relevant international agreements or under the legislation of the State of refuge or State of residence are protected persons within the meaning of the Fourth Convention. [P. I, 73 ]


 f) Journalists  

Journalists engaged in dangerous professional missions in areas of armed conflict shall be considered as civilians and protected as such. They may obtain identity cards attesting to their status as journalists. [P. I, 79 ]


 g) Fundamental guarantees  

 In so far as they are affected by a situation of armed conflict,  persons who are in the power of a Party to the conflict and who  do not benefit from more favourable treatment by virtue of the  Conventions and the Protocol shall be treated humanely in all circumstances and shall benefit from the fundamental guarantees  without any discrimination based on any pretext whatsoever. Among the fundamental guarantees, it is specified that the person, the honour, the convictions and religious practices of all such  persons must be respected. The following acts in particular are  prohibited under any pretext whatever, whether committed by  civil or military agents: [P. I, 75 ]


a) violence to the life, health and physical or mental well-being of  persons, particularly:  

 - murder;  

 - torture of all kinds, whether physical or mental;  

 - corporal punishment,.  

 - mutilation;  

 b) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and  degrading treatment, enforced prostitution and any form of indecent assault;  

 c) the taking of hostages;  

 d) collective punishments;  

 e) threats to commit any of the foregoing acts.  

Finally, the guarantees of judicial procedure (see Chapter III, point 6, page 31) also form part of the fundamental guarantees accorded to all persons affected by an armed conflict.  


 h) Activities of the Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations  

The Parties to the conflict must grant the ICRC all facilities within their power to enable it to carry out the

humanitarian functions assigned to it by the Conventions and the Protocol, in order to ensure protection and

assistance to the victims of conflicts. The ICRC may also carry out any other humanitarian activities in favour of

these victims, subject to the consent of the Parties to the conflict. 

These Parties shall also grant their respective Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations the facilities

necessary for carrying out their humanitarian activities. As far as possible, they shall facilitate the assistance

which other National Societies, the League of Red Cross Societies and other humanitarian organizations extend

to the victims of conflicts.


 3. General treatment of persons protected by the Fourth Convention (2) 

 a) Respect for the human person      

Article 27 of the Fourth Convention states the basic principle of the Geneva Conventions. It proclaims respect for the human person and the inalienable character of his fundamental rights. This Article is now supplemented by Article 75 of the Protocol relative to fundamental guarantees as well as by other relevant provisions which appear under the heading " General Protection " (point 2, page 41). Article 27 declares:

 Protected persons are entitled, in all circumstances, to respect  for their persons, their honour, their family rights, their religious  convictions and practices, and their manners and customs. They  shall at all times be humanely treated, and shall be protected  especially against all acts of violence or threats thereof and against  insults and public curiosity. [IV, 27 ]    

Women shall be especially protected against any attack on their honour, in particular against rape, enforced prostitution or any form of indecent assault.

In case of infringement of these rules, the State is responsible. [IV, 29 ]


 b) Applications to Protecting Powers and the Red Cross  

To guarantee observance of the principle stated above, protected persons shall have every facility for making

application to the Protecting Powers, the ICRC, the National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society of the country

where they may be and to any other organization that might assist them. [IV, 30 ]


 c) Prohibition of maltreatment and pillage  

It follows from this same principle that no physical or moral coercion may be used against protected persons, in particular to obtain information from them, or from third parties, and that the High Contracting Parties specifically agree that each of them is prohibited from taking any action of a nature to cause either physical suffering or extermination of the protected persons in their hands. This prohibition applies not only to murder, torture, corporal punishment, mutilation and medical or scientific experiments not necessitated by the medical treatment of a protected person, but also to any other form of brutality by civilian or military agents. [IV, 31, 32 ]

Pillage is prohibited. [IV, 33 ]

The taking of hostages is prohibited. [IV, 34 ]


 4. Treatment of foreigners on the territory of a party to the conflict 

While recognizing the right of foreigners to leave the territory at the outset of, or during a conflict, the Convention also affirms the right of the State to detain them on certain conditions if their departure would be against the national interests. If departures take place, they must be carried out in satisfactory conditions as regards safety, hygie ne, sanitation and food. The situation of  foreigners who remain will continue to be governed, in principle,  by the provisions concerning aliens in time of peace. [IV, 35, 36, 38 ]

In all cases, foreigners on the territory of a Party to the conflict benefit from the rules stated under General Protection of all persons affected by the armed conflict and, in particular, from the fundamental guarantees (see point 2, page 41 and following). In addition, a number of basic rights are ensured them by the Convention (right to receive individual or collective relief, medical and hospital treatment, to practise their religion, and to benefit from the measures decreed by the Government in favour of certain categories of persons).

Among the enemy aliens on the territory of a Party to the conflict, there may be some whose situation merits special consideration: these are refugees, forced by events or persecution to leave their homeland and seek asylum elsewhere.

If the country of refuge enters into war with their country of origin, these refugees are qualified as enemy aliens because they have the nationality of an enemy Power. But their situation is a special one in that they are expatriates, no longer having ties with their country of origin and not benefiting from the support of the protecting Power. However, they do not yet have permanent links with the country that has received them. Therefore, they do not enjoy the protection of any government. It is to make allowance for this situation that the Convention provides the following article: the Detaining Power shall not treat as enemy aliens exclusively on the basis of their nationality de jure of an enemy  State, refugees who do not, in fact, enjoy the protection of any  government. [IV, 44 ]

The Protocol adds that persons who, before the beginning of hostilities, were considered as stateless persons or refugees under the relevant international instruments accepted by the Parties concerned or under the national legislation of the State of refuge or State of residence shall be protected persons within the meaning of the Fourth Convention in all circumstances and without any adverse distinction. [P. I, 73 ]

In order to remove any possibility for the States parties to the Convention to evade their obligations, it is prohibited to transfer  protected persons to a Power which is not a party to the Conven tion. In the event of a transfer to a Power which is a party to the Convention, the Detaining Power must satisfy itself that the Power in question is willing and able to apply the Convention. The Convention adds that a protected person can in no circumstances be transferred to a country where he or she may have  reason to fear persecution for his or her political opinions or  religious beliefs. If internment or placing in assigned residence are ordered, this decision will be reconsidered as soon as possible and, if it is upheld, the case will be re-examined at least twice yearly. [IV, 45, 42, 43 ]


 5. Occupation administration  

 a) Protection of persons  

Regarding the protection of persons, reference will first be made to point 2 under General Protection of all persons affected by the armed conflict (page 41 and following), and in particular to the section dealing with aid, fundamental guarantees and the protection of children and women, as well as to point 3, letter a): Respect for the human person.  

One of the most important clauses is that prohibiting deportations. Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory  of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied  or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive. [IV, 49 ]

Furthermore, as far as children are concerned, it is provided that the Occupying Power shall, with the cooperation of the national and local authorities, facilitate the proper working of all institutions devoted to the care and education of children. It will take all necessary steps to facilitate the identification of children and the registration of their parentage. It may not, in any case, change their personal status, nor enlist them in formations or organizations subordinate to it. [IV, 50 ]

The force of arms belonging to the Occupying Power, it will assume responsibility for public order and safety by virtue of Article 43 of The Hague Regulations. The rules laid down in the Convention are intended to safeguard the lives and interests of the population in humane conditions. Detailed provisions govern the following:

 Work: Only persons over the age of eighteen may be compelled to work, and this work will be carried out only within the occupied territory, according to the legislation in force. [IV, 51 ]

 Food: The Occupying Power has the duty of ensuring the food and medical supplies of the population. Fair value must be paid for any requisitioned goods. [IV, 55 ]

 Hygiene and public health must be ensured and maintained by the Occupying Power with the cooperation of national and local authorities. [IV, 56 ]

 Religion: The Occupying Power shall permit ministers of religion to give spiritual assistance to the members of their religious communities. [IV, 58 ]

 Relief: The Occupying Power must permit necessary relief operations to aid the population and facilitate them by all means at its disposal, particularly by authorizing the charitable work of the Protecting Power, of a neutral State, of the ICRC or any other impartial humanitarian organization. [IV, 59, 61 ]


 b) Protection of property  

Article 53 refers to the protection of property. In a way, this extends the scope of the Convention, whose principal object is the protection of persons. It is justified by the fact that certain attacks on private property are extremely detrimental to the mental and material situation of the persons concerned. (3)

The Occupying Power is prohibited from destroying real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State or other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations. [IV, 53 ]


 c) Role of the National Society  

The National Red Cross or Red Crescent Society is qualified to aid the wounded, sick and shipwrecked, to distribute relief and to supervise the welfare of the population with the means at its disposal. It must be shielded from any pressures that could prejudice its traditional character. To this end, and subject to temporary and exceptional measures imposed for urgent security reasons by the Occupying Power, the Convention provides as follows:

a) Recognized National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies  shall be able to pursue their activities in  

 accordance with Red  Cross principles, as defined by the International Red Cross  Conferences. Other relief  

 societies shall be permitted to  continue their humanitarian activities under similar conditions. [IV, 63 ]

 b) The Occupying Power may not require any changes in the personnel or structure of these societies, which  

 would prejudice  their activities.  

 Similarly, magistrates and public officials are, up to a point, protected against political pressures. The Occupying Power may not alter the status of public officials or judges in the occupied territory, or apply sanctions or take measures of coercion or discrimination of any kind against them, because they abstain from fulfilling their functions for reasons of conscience. [IV, 54 ]


 d) Penal legislation  

Finally, a detailed statute relative to penal legislation aims to permit the maintenance of order while protecting the population in the occupied territory from overbearing treatment on the part of the Occupying Power. The principle is that the penal legislation of the occupied territory remains in force, except in so far as it constitutes a threat to the Occupying Power, in which case it may be repealed or suspended by that Power. Subject to this reservation, the tribunals of the occupied territory shall continue to function for all offences covered by this legislation. [IV, 64 ]

In order to ensure that justice is observed, the courts shall apply only those provisions of law which were applicable prior to the offence, and which are in accordance with general principles of law, in particular the principle that the penalty shall be proportionate to the offence. They shall take into consideration the fact that the accused is not a national of the Occupying Power. [IV, 67 ]

 Judicial procedure must be regular, i.e. it must include at least  the following guarantees: the accused to be informed without  delay of the particulars of the offence he is alleged to have committed, which must have constituted an offence at the time it was  committed; presumption of innocence, no coercion to obtain confessions, judgement to be pronounced in the presence of the accused and, in principle, publicly. The prisoner may not be punished more than once for the same act or on the same charge if  based on the same law and the same judicial procedures. The rights of defence are recognized and guaranteed in that the accused has the right to question witnesses, or have them questioned, to be defended by a qualified attorney of his own choice and to call on the services of an interpreter. Finally, all convicted persons will be informed of their rights to appeal and the time limits within which they may do so. [P. I, 75; IV, 71, 72, 73 ]

Within this framework, the Occupying Power may promulgate penal provisions but the Convention confines within very strict limits the possibility of imposing the death penalty.

In no case may this penalty be pronounced on a protected person who was under the age of eighteen at the time the offence was committed, nor may it be carried out on a pregnant woman or a mother of young infants dependent on her.[IV, 68; P. I, 76, 77 ]

No death sentence may be carried out before at least six months have elapsed from the time this sentence was notified to the Protecting Power.[IV, 75 ]

A special clause protects refugees. [IV, 70 ]


 6.  Treatment of civilian internees  

Both in the case of enemy civilians on the territory of a Party to the conflict, and that of protected persons in occupied territory, the principle is that if the Detaining Power considers it necessary,  for imperative reasons of security, to take  safety measures concerning protected persons, it may, at the most, subject them to  assigned residence or to internment. [IV, 41,78 ]

Internment therefore is not a punishment. Like the code for prisoners of war, it must in all circumstances respect human dignity. The conditions of internment are virtually the same as those applying to prisoners of war and, by and large, the rules of internment applicable to civilians follow almost word for word those concerning prisoners of war (see articles 79 to 135 of the Fourth Convention).

However, it should be noted that several articles concerning, for example:

- management of property, [IV, 114 ]

- facilities for legal proceedings, [IV, 115 ]

- visits, [IV, 116 ]

have no direct parallels in the Convention relating to prisoners of war. They are intended to alleviate the hardships of internment for persons who, not being subject to military discipline, may in some cases benefit from less severe treatment than that meted out to prisoners of war.

Furthermore, as far as working conditions are concerned, an essential difference is worth pointing out. Whereas prisoners of war (excepting officers) can be compelled to work, civil internees  can only be employed as workers if they so wish. Apart from its strictly voluntary character, their work is governed by the same rules as those of prisoners of war. [IV, 95 ]

Also worthy of attention is a provision concerning family life, whereby internees may request that their children who are left at liberty without parental care should be interned with them. [IV, 82 ]

As far as possible, interned members of the same family must be housed in the same premises and given separate accommodation from other internees; they must also be granted all necessary facilities for leading a proper family life.

As far as the release of internees is concerned, the Convention specifies that each interned person must be released by the Detaining Power as soon as the reasons which necessitated his internment no longer exist. In addition, the Parties to the conflict will endeavour, during the hostilities, to conclude agreements for release, repatriation, return to places of residence or hospitalization in a neutral country of certain classes of internees, in particular children, pregnant women and mothers with infants and young children, the wounded and sick and internees who have been detained for a long time. [IV, 132 ]

Internment must cease as soon as possible after the close of hostilities and, at the end of hostilities or occupation, the States must try to ensure the return of all internees to their last place of residence or facilitate their repatriation. The spirit of this provision is of far-reaching consequence, benefiting not only internees but, in a general way, all persons displaced by the events of war. [IV, 133; IV, 134 ]



1. This property is also protected by The Hague Convention of May 14, 1954 for the protection of cultural property in the case of armed conflict.

2. A reminder that the definition of protected persons is given in article 4 of the Convention, see above, page 40. A distinction is made between protected persons: aliens on the territory of a Party to conflict (see page 45) and the population of occupied territories (see page 47).

3. A reminder that article 33, mentioned above, page 45, prohibits pillage.

Basic rules of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols