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What are some of the specific legal aspects of occupation?

15-04-2003 FAQ

When a territory is placed under the authority of a hostile army, the rules of international humanitarian law dealing with occupation apply. Occupation confers certain rights and obligations on the occupying power.

The rules of international humanitarian law apply whenever a territory comes under enemy control during an armed conflict. 

Article 42 of the 1907 Hague Regulations states that a " territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army. The occupation extends only to the territory where such authority has been established and can be exercised. " While the Geneva Conventions do not define occupation, the Fourth Convention nevertheless contains provisions applicable in occupied territories.

Since occupation does not imply sovereignty over a territory, the occupying power may not alter the lega l status of protected persons. Occupation confers certain rights and obligations on the occupying power.

The duties of the occupying power include restoring and ensuring, as far as possible, public order and safety; providing the population with food and medical supplies; agreeing to relief schemes undertaken by other States or impartial humanitarian organizations if the population is inadequately supplied; maintaining medical facilities and services; ensuring public health and hygiene; and facilitating the work of educational institutions.

The occupying power must uphold the criminal laws of the occupied territory and may suspend them only when they constitute a threat to the occupying power or an obstacle to the application of international humanitarian law. Should legal proceedings be instituted against protected persons, the occupying power must respect all judicial guarantees and ensure a regular trial for such persons.

Prohibited actions include forcibly transferring protected persons from the occupied territories to the territory of the occupying power; compelling protected persons to serve in the armed forces of the occupying power; and looting.

For further information see Report by the International Committee of the Red Cross - Meeting of Experts, Geneva  , 27 - 29 October 1998.


The answers to FAQs on this site are intended as brief, informative summaries of what are often complex matters, and the terminology used has no legal significance.