Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries
Treaties and Documents
Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Additional Protocols, and their Commentaries
Historical Treaties and Documents
Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977.
Prohibition of forced movement of civilians
[p.1471] Article 17
-- Prohibition of forced movement of civilians
4847 The prohibition of forced movement is an important element in the protection of the civilian population. In fact, such displacements
are all too often considered as measures falling within the range of
military operations, and all too often [p.1472] civilians are
uprooted from their homes and forced to live in difficult or even
quite unacceptable conditions.
4848 The problem was raised in 1949. In fact, Article 49
of the fourth Convention already laid down some norms as protection against
deportations, transfers and evacuations in or from occupied
territories, and it was not considered necessary to supplement these
rules in Protocol I.
4849 However common Article 3
is silent on this matter. (1) And yet the problem is particularly acute in situations of non-international
armed conflict in which there have been cases, for example, of the
forced movement of ethnic groups and national groups opposed to the
4850 Article 17 serves to fill this gap in the protection. The ICRC introduced this provision in its draft; it was based on a proposal
put forward by experts in 1972 and inspired by the wording of Article
of the fourth Convention. (2) The text which was adopted, with a
few additions, has the same tenor as the original draft. (3)
4851 It should be noted that the present article only covers forced movement and does not, of course, restrict the right of civilians to
move about freely within the country, subject to any restrictions
that may be imposed by the circumstances, or to go abroad. (4)
4852 This paragraph covers displacements of the civilian population as individuals or in groups within the territory of a Contracting Party
where a conflict, within the meaning of Article 1
' (Material field
of application), ' is taking place. Forced movement beyond the
national boundaries is dealt with in paragraph 2.
' First sentence '
4853 This sentence prohibits the forced displacement of the civilian population, except in exceptional circumstances of two kinds:
1) The security of the civilian population. It is self-evident that a displacement designed to prevent the population from being
exposed to grave danger cannot be expressly prohibited.
2) Imperative military reasons. Military necessity as a ground for derogation from a rule always requires the most meticulous
assessment of the circumstances. In this case, military necessity
is qualified by referring to [p.1473] "imperative military
reasons"; Article 49
of the fourth Convention also refers to
"imperative military reasons". The French text uses a slightly
different expression: "impérieuses raisons" while the Spanish
text uses here the expression "razones imperiosas". All these
terms mean the same thing. The situation should be scrutinized
most carefully as the adjective "imperative" reduces to a minimum
cases in which displacement may be ordered.
4854 Clearly, imperative military reasons cannot be justified by political motives. For example, it would be prohibited to move a
population in order to exercise more effective control over a
dissident ethnic group.
4855 The article prohibits forced movements "for reasons related to the conflict". In fact, displacement may prove to be necessary in
certain cases of epidemics or natural disasters such as floods or
earthquakes. Such circumstances are not covered by Article 17, and
this clarification was included in the text for that reason. (5)
' Second sentence '
4856 In accordance with this paragraph, forced movements must remain exceptional and be limited to cases where it is required by the
security of the civilian population or imperative military reasons. In such cases "all possible measures shall be taken in order that the
civilian population may be received under satisfactory conditions of
shelter, hygiene, health, safety and nutrition". Obviously the same
conditions should apply to the movement itself. These practical
points are aimed at guaranteeing the displaced population with decent
living conditions. They are based on Article 49, paragraph 3
, of the
fourth Convention. Security conditions are related to the location of
camps intended for accommodating the population; they should not be
situated in the vicinity of military operations and military
4857 Like Article 49
of the fourth Convention, Article 17 emphasizes that all possible measures must be taken. The reference to "all
possible measures" takes into account the fact that there might be
practical difficulties, but even so it should not serve to reduce the
effect of the obligation in any way. It is essentially concerned with
cases where evacuation may have to be improvized on short notice and
where urgency is essential in order to protect the population against
imminent and unforeseen dangers. (7)
4858 This paragraph prohibits compelling civilians to leave their own country for reasons connected with the conflict.
[p.1474] 4859 First, there is a question whether, within the meaning of this provision, the term "territory" is equivalent to country. The ICRC
draft referred to "national territory". (8) Some amendments proposed
substituting the formula "across the frontiers of the country of
origin". (9) It is clear that there was never any doubt in anyone's
mind that the phrase was intended to refer to the whole of the
territory of a country. However, the text states that it is
prohibited to compel civilians to leave "their own territory". In
fact, this formula appears to be better suited to all the possible
cases which might arise in a situation covered by Protocol II, and to
take into account, in particular, situations where the insurgent
party is in control of an extensive part of the territory. In this
case the insurgents, too, should respect the obligation laid down
here, and not compel civilians to leave the area under their
4860 The prohibition covers measures taken against civilians, either individually or in groups.
4861 An example would be expulsion of groups of civilians across the boundaries by armed forces or armed groups because of military
operations. Basically these are the kind of cases that the Conference
intended to cover.
4862 The problem may prove to be more complex in individual cases. In our view, to get one or more people to leave the country by means of
threats should also be considered as forced movement.
4863 What is the position as regards deportation measures obliging an individual to leave his country?
4864 If such a measure arises from the situation of conflict, it constitutes forced movement within the meaning of this article;
however, this conclusion is not without possible exceptions as, for
example, a sentence following conviction giving the option to leave
the territory, might not be considered as such.
4865 If the conviction is not related to the conflict, it is clear that that measure is not covered by the article under consideration
4866 Some delegations preferred to include explicit exceptions, but these were not adopted for the sake of simplification of the
4867 In specific cases each Contracting Party will probably seek an interpretation related to already existing national legislation on
this subject, without losing sight of the humanitarian aim of the
obligation imposed upon it by this article.
4868 Finally, it should be noted that national legislation concerning aliens is not affected by this provision. (12)
' S.J. '
* (1) [(1) p.1472] Although common Art. 3 is silent on the question of transfers as such, it does prohibit inhumane
and degrading treatment;
(2) [(2) p.1472] See ' CE 1972, Report ', Vol. II, p. 50, CE/COM II/85, and Art. 49, paras. 1-3, Fourth Convention.
See also Resolution 2675 (XXV) of the United Nations
General Assembly, Principle 7;
(3) [(3) p.1472] Draft Art. 29;
(4) [(4) p.1472] O.R. XIV, p. 224, CDDH/III/SR.24, para. 46;
(5) [(5) p.1473] O.R. XV, p. 295, CDDH/215/Rev.1, paras. 149-150;
(6) [(6) p.1473] O.R. XIV, p. 224, CDDH/III/SR.24, paras. 44-47. On the concept of military objectives, see Art. 52,
para. 2, of Protocol I, and the commentary thereon, supra,
(7) [(7) p.1473] See ' Commentary IV, ' p. 281 (Art. 49);
(8) [(8) p.1474] Draft Art. 29;
(9) [(9) p.1474] O.R. IV, p. 94, CDDH/III/12 and CDDH/III/327;
(10) [(10) p.1474] See O.R. XIV, p. 325, CDDH/III/SR.24, para. 52;
(11) [(11) p.1474] See O.R. XV, p. 324, CDDH/215/Rev.1 (Art. 29). The text read as follows: "except in cases in which
individuals finally convicted of crimes are required to
leave that territory or having been offered the
opportunity of leaving the territory, elect to do so, or
individuals are extradited in conformity with law". See
also O.R. IV, p. 103, CDDH/427;
(12) [(12) p.1474] See ' Commentary Drafts, ' p. 161;