Practice Relating to Rule 50. Destruction and Seizure of Property of an Adversary
South Africa’s LOAC Manual (1996) states that soldiers must “restrict destruction to that required by the mission”.
The manual also considers “purposeless destruction” and “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly,” to be grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and war crimes.
South Africa’s Revised Civic Education Manual (2004) provides that soldiers in combat must “[r]estrict destruction to that required by the mission”.
The manual also states that the destruction of civilian property is forbidden.
Furthermore, the manual provides that “[a]cts not justified by military necessity and which are carried out unlawfully and wantonly, causing extensive destruction of property or extensive appropriation of property” are grave breaches of the law of armed conflict and war crimes.
South Africa’s LOAC Teaching Manual (2008) states:
2.2 Military Medical Services and Religious Personnel/objects
- Medical material that falls in the hands of an enemy must be reserved for the care of the wounded and sick and may not be intentionally destroyed. ( Geneva Convention I article 33.)
- The buildings, material and stores of fixed medical establishments may not be diverted from care for the wounded and sick. However, commanders of forces in the field may use it in cases of urgent military necessity, as long as they have made previous arrangements for the welfare of the enemy wounded and sick that are nursed in them. (Geneva Convention I article 33.) Military medical transport (excluding military medical aircraft and hospital ships) that are no longer needed for the sick and wounded become war booty.
2.4 Specifically Protected Persons and Objects:
The protection of civilians can be briefly summarised as follows:
- Civilian property must also be respected. It is NOT:
- War booty;
- To be taken for own gain; or
- To be willfully destroyed or treated with wanton disregard for its protection.
[emphasis in original]
The manual also states:
- Grave Breaches of the LOAC [law of armed conflict]
-  Geneva Convention III article 130 and  Geneva Convention IV article 147 determine that the following acts are grave breaches:
- Extensive destruction and appropriation of property not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.
South Africa’s ICC Act (2002) reproduces the war crimes listed in the 1998 ICC Statute, including “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly” in international armed conflicts and “destroying or seizing the enemy’s property unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities” of the conflict in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
South Africa’s Implementation of the Geneva Conventions Act (2012) states:
5. Breach of Conventions and penalties
(1) Any person who, whether within or outside the Republic, commits a grave breach of the [1949 Geneva] Conventions, is guilty of an offence.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), “a grave breach” means–
(a) a grave breach referred to in Article 50 of the  First [Geneva] Convention;
(b) a grave breach referred to in Article 51 of the  Second [Geneva] Convention;
(d) a grave breach referred to in Article 147 of the  Fourth [Geneva] Convention.