Practice Relating to Rule 35. Hospital and Safety Zones and Neutralized Zones
South Africa’s LOAC Teaching Manual (2008) states:
2.4 Specifically Protected Persons and Objects
Articles 13 to 26 of [the 1949] Geneva Convention IV cover the general protection of civilians to “alleviate the sufferings caused by war”. It covers such matters as:
- Hospital and safety zones and localities (article 14).
- Neutralised zones (article 15).
Special protection is granted to hospital and safety zones and localities, neutralised zones, evacuation of protected persons, civilian hospitals, hospital staff consignments of medical supplies, food and clothing, family news and dispersed families.
2.6 Localities and Zones under Special Protection – Demilitarised Zones, Non-defended Localities, and Demilitarised Zones
Hospital and Safety Zones and Localities (Geneva Convention IV Article 14)
Geneva Convention IV Article 14 provides for the establishment in the territory of a Party to the conflict and, if the need arises, in occupied territories, of hospital and safety zones and localities.
These zones and localities may be established in time of peace [a]s well as after the outbreak of hostilities.
The aim of the hospital and safety zones and localities is to protect the wounded, sick and aged persons, children under 15, expectant mothers and mothers of children under 7, from the effects of war.
Upon outbreak [of] and during hostilities, Parties to the conflict may agree on mutual recognition of the zones and localities they have created.
Neutralised Zones (Geneva Convention IV Article 15)
Any Party to a conflict may, either direct or through a neutral State or some humanitarian organisation propose to establish neutralised zones in the regions where fighting is taking place.
The aim of the neutralised zones is to shelter the following persons from the effects of war:
- Wounded and sick combatants (hors de combat);
- Non-combatants; and
- Civilians, who take no part in hostilities, and who, while they reside in the zones, perform no work of a military character.
If Parties to a conflict reach an agreement on neutralised zones, they must enter into a written agreement, which agreement the representatives of the Parties must also sign. Aspects that need to be addressed in the written agreement regarding the neutralised zone are[:]
- The geographical position of the zone;
- Food supply;
- Supervision of the zone; and
- The beginning and end of the neutralisation of the zone.
In view of the provisions of Geneva Convention IV articles 14 and 15 and  Additional Protocol I articles 59 and 60, it is important that the different zones and localities are clearly distinguished from another as far as their physical location is concerned, but also with regard to their aims. Their aims can be summarised as follows:
- Hospital Zones. Provide permanent shelter to military and civilian wounded or sick.
- Safety Zones. Provide permanent shelter to certain specially protected categories of persons. These zones require special protection.
- Neutral Zones. Provide temporary protection in the combat zones to wounded and sick combatants, non-combatants and civilians not participating in hostilities.
- Non-defended and Demilitarised Zones. Provide permanent protection in and/or near the combat zones to non-combatants and civilians not participating in hostilities. A Party to the conflict establishes non-defended zones by means of a unilateral declaration, while demilitarised zones are established by a formal agreement between Parties.
All these zones have one thing in common, apart from the aim to protect persons, to wit, that they are all dependent on recognition by an adverse Party.
The idea with such zones started in 1870 with Henri Dunant, who suggested that certain towns be declared neutral and that wounded persons be collected there. It is difficult to declare such zones before a war, as it is difficult to ascertain the strategic situation before a war. However, nothing prevents States from establishing a number of such zones in time of peace and only utilising a few such zones (or all of them) in time of war.
It is possible to combine different types of zones in one area.
The establishment of these zones does not mitigate the duty to protect persons outside the zone.
2.7 Special Protection: Occupied Territories
Responsibilities during Occupation
The Occupying Power has all the responsibilities of the legitimate State. Its responsibilities include to:
- Establish hospital and safety zones and non-defended localities in occupied territories, if the need arises. (Geneva Convention IV Article 14.)
The manual also states:
Establishment and Protection of Protected Zones
- Preplanned protected zones are established by agreement between Parties to the conflict. In such agreements they can recognise the following as protected zones:
- Hospital zones and localities;
- Commanders must ensure that they take all the necessary steps for the respect of such protected zones.
- Appropriate advice must be given to the civilian authorities regarding practical aspects and conditions to be fulfilled pertaining to such zones, such as who is responsible for the management of the zone, delimitation and marking of the perimeter, the removal of military personnel and equipment, access control, maintenance of public order and policing functions, supply, hygiene, keeping the public informed, etc.
- In cases where the perimeter of the protected zone does not correspond to the official boundary of a town, district, etc, the civilian authority over such zone must be clearly established. Such an ad hoc area will require ad hoc authority with corresponding responsibilities.
- The zone perimeter must be clearly visible from the air and the ground, eg a beach, edge of a built-up area or forest, a road, river, etc. Where necessary, the zone perimeter must be marked by agreed signs of sufficient size and visibility.
- All armed forces must be given precise instructions for behaviour regarding such protected zones when
- Leaving the protected zone;
- Abandoning it without fighting;
- Taking it over;
- Being prohibited from extending military operations to the zone; or
- When engaged in combat action in the vicinity of the zone.
Co-operation with Civilian Authorities.
Belligerent Parties have a duty to cooperate with civilian authorities to aim at ensuring the survival of the civilian population with the least possible civilian casualties and damage, e.g. by taking safeguarding measures in favour of the population such as warning, provision of shelter, evacuation, information on dangerous areas, etc.