Practice Relating to Rule 31. Humanitarian Relief Personnel
France’s LOAC Manual (2001) states: “The law of armed conflict provides special protection for … relief personnel”.
France’s Code of Defence (2004), as amended in 2008, states:
Combatants must respect and treat with humanity all persons protected by the applicable international conventions …
… Personnel … involved in a humanitarian assistance mission … are … protected as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilians … under the law of armed conflicts.
Protected persons are protected as long as they abstain from taking a direct part in hostilities.
It is prohibited for combatants to deliberately target protected persons.
France’s Penal Code (1992), as amended in 2010, states in its section on war crimes common to both international and non-international armed conflicts:
Intentionally launching attacks against personnel … employed in a humanitarian relief mission … , as long as they are entitled to the protection given to civilian and civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict, is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment.
In 2008, the Prime Minister of France stated:
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, France endeavours to strengthen, through its actions and political influence, … the protection of humanitarian personnel. Resolution 1674 adopted on 28 April 2006 by the UN Security Council, on the initiative of France, condemns … deliberate attacks … against the personnel of … humanitarian organizations …
Also, under the 30th Conference of the ICRC in November 2007 in Geneva, France undertook to strengthen the protection of the emblems of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement within domestic law. All this contributes to a better protection of humanitarian personnel in the field …
On the eve of the Presidency of the European Union, France considers that the respect and protection of humanitarian personnel are an integral part of the respect for IHL as a whole …
The obligation to respect and protect humanitarian personnel lies with the States parties to the  Geneva Conventions, including France. The NCCHR [National Consultative Commission for Human Rights] states that the non-respect of such obligation constitutes a “grave breach of international humanitarian law” in the meaning of article 85 of the  Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. The French government recalls that, while it may happen that humanitarian personnel are victims of grave breaches of international humanitarian law (for instance, when such personnel are intentionally targeted), not all lack of respect or protection of humanitarian personnel constitutes, in itself, a grave breach of international humanitarian law. These breaches are exhaustively listed in the Geneva Conventions and its Additional Protocols.
Like the NCCHR, the French government considers that the obligation to respect and protect humanitarian personnel has customary value, by virtue of the general practice of States and their conviction as to its obligatory nature …
In practical terms, the security of humanitarian personnel in the field does not concern only expatriate personnel. Local humanitarian personnel are also often at risk.
In 2009, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of France stated:
Violations of humanitarian law are ever increasing, as the current crises are unfortunately there to remind us, whether we are looking at Darfur, Somalia, Gaza, Sri Lanka or the Kivus. … Worse still, … those who come to [the] aid [of the victims] are regularly targeted, obstructed or harassed.
We must react!
In 2009, the President of the French Republic stated:
There have never been as many humanitarian personnel deployed in the field but the barriers imposed on their action have never been so many. Worse, their security is nowadays more and more threatened.
Last year – this figure is unbelievable – 260 humanitarian agents were killed, kidnapped or seriously injured. This figure is intolerable. States are responsible for the security of the humanitarian personnel intervening in their territory. [States] have to protect them and punish those guilty of the atrocities committed against them.
The NGOs expelled from Darfur must be able to return. The humanitarian actors must have access to the civilians imprisoned within the combat zone in Sri Lanka. They must be able to accomplish their mission in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Somalia, without becoming targets or hostages of the forces present [in the field]. France will spare no effort in order for this duty to protect to be strictly applied and respected at the Security Council and in the field.