Rule 32. Objects used for humanitarian relief operations must be respected and protected.
Volume II, Chapter 8, Section B.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts. This rule is a corollary of the prohibition of starvation (see Rule 53), which is applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts, because the safety and security of humanitarian relief objects are an indispensable condition for the delivery of humanitarian relief to civilian populations in need threatened with starvation. In that framework, this rule is also a corollary of the prohibition on deliberately impeding the delivery of humanitarian relief (see commentary to Rule 55), because any attack on, destruction or pillage of relief objects inherently amounts to an impediment of humanitarian relief.
The Fourth Geneva Convention requires that all States guarantee the protection of relief supplies intended for occupied territory.
This rule is now more generally set forth in Additional Protocol I.
Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, intentionally directing attacks against installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations is considered a war crime in international armed conflicts, as long as such objects are entitled to the protection given to civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict.
The protection of objects used for humanitarian relief operations is also contained in the legislation of numerous States, under which it is an offence to attack such objects.
This rule is also supported by official statements and other practice.
This practice includes that of States not party to Additional Protocol I.
It has also been invoked by parties to Additional Protocol I against non-parties.
The rule is also recalled in resolutions of international organizations, the large majority of which, however, deal with non-international conflicts (see infra).
While Article 18(2) of Additional Protocol II requires relief actions for the civilian population in need to be organized, the Protocol does not contain a specific provision on the protection of objects used in humanitarian relief operations.
This rule is indispensable, however, if relief actions for civilian populations in need are to succeed. Under the Statutes of the International Criminal Court and of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, intentionally directing attacks against installations, material, units or vehicles involved in a humanitarian assistance mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations is considered a war crime in non-international armed conflicts, as long as such objects are entitled to the protection given to civilian objects under the international law of armed conflict.
In addition, this rule is contained in other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.
The protection of objects used for humanitarian relief operations is supported by official statements made in the context of non-international armed conflicts and by reported practice.
The rule is recalled in a large number of resolutions adopted by the United Nations and other international organizations. The UN Security Council, for example, has referred to this rule with respect to the conflicts in Angola, Liberia and Rwanda.
No official contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts. Alleged violations of this rule have generally been condemned by States, regardless of the nature of the armed conflict.
They have also been condemned by the United Nations and other international organizations.
The ICRC has reminded parties to both international and non-international armed conflicts to respect this rule.
Objects involved in a humanitarian relief operation are, in principle, civilian objects and as such enjoy protection from attack (see Rule 7). State practice indicates that, in addition to attacks against humanitarian relief objects, destruction, misappropriation and looting of such objects are also prohibited.
This is an application of the general rules relating to the destruction and seizure of property (see Chapter 16). There is some practice indicating that each party to the conflict must ensure the safety of humanitarian relief objects. In 1996, for example, the UN Security Council called upon all parties to the conflict in Angola to guarantee the safety of humanitarian supplies throughout the country.