The dilemmas of protecting civilians in occupied territory: the precursory example of World War I

Advances in the law of Geneva and the law of The Hague did not remain a dead letter during the World War I, but this was essentially with regard to the wounded and prisoners of war. Those categories of persons were better protected than civilians by treaty-based humanitarian law, which was still in its infancy. Although the ideal of humanity was realized on a large scale thanks to the efforts of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and myriad other charitable, denominational, or non-denominational organizations, none of the belligerents hesitated to infringe and violate the law whenever they could. The various occupied populations, on the Western and Eastern fronts and in the Balkans, served as their guinea pigs and were their perfect victims.

Keywords: occupation, occupied territories, World War I, total war, ICRC, civilians, reprisals, hostages, civilian internment.

About the author

Annette Becker
University of Paris Ouest Nanterre, Institut Universitaire de France

Annette Becker, Professor of Modern History at the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre and a senior fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France, is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Review of the Red Cross. She divides her work between the two world wars, and is especially interested in the plight of occupied, deported, and murdered civilians, in the concept of genocide, and in the memory of conflicts, in particular as practised by modern artists such as Jochen Gerz, Natacha Nisic, and Pierre Buraglio.