Practice Relating to Rule 52. Pillage
France’s Disciplinary Regulations (1975), as amended, provides that, under international conventions, pillage is prohibited.
France’s LOAC Summary Note (1992) prohibits pillage.
France’s LOAC Teaching Note (2000) provides: “Pillage is prohibited.”
France’s LOAC Manual (2001) provides that pillage is a prohibited method of warfare.
The manual also states: “Pillage constitutes an act of spoliation by which one or several military personnel appropriate objects for a personal or private use, without the consent of the owner of those objects. Pillage constitutes a war crime.” It stresses that war trophies or souvenirs might be qualified as theft when the owner does not consent to the appropriation.
The manual further states that pillage is a crime for which there is no statute of limitation under the 1998 ICC Statute.
France’s Code of Military Justice (1982) punishes pillage and damage to commodities, goods or belongings committed by soldiers as a group.
France’s Code of Military Justice (2006) states:
Any pillage of or damage to food, commodities or effects committed in a group by soldiers … [with violence] is punished with life imprisonment.
In all other cases, pillage and destruction committed in a group is punished with ten years’ imprisonment.
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: “Pillaging, with or without weapons, a city or locality, even when taken by assault, is punishable by 15 years’ imprisonment.”
The Penal Code also states, under the same section: “Unless they are justified by military necessity, the following offences committed against a person protected by the law of armed conflict constitute … war crimes: … [s]tealing [or] extorting … objects”.
During the First World War, France adopted a law to extend its jurisdiction to offences committed in invaded territory. On this basis, some German officers and soldiers were convicted by courts-martial of acts of pillage.
In the Szabados case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1946, the accused, a former German non-commissioned officer of the 19th Police Regiment stationed in occupied France, was charged with, and found guilty of, inter alia
, the count of pillage in time of war. The Tribunal found the looting of personal belongings and other property of civilians evicted from their homes prior to their destruction to be a violation of Article 440 of the French Penal Code, which dealt with pillage.
In the Holstein case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1947, some of the accused, members of various German units, were found guilty of war crimes for having committed acts of looting and pillage, prohibited under the French Code of Military Justice.
In the Bauer case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1947, a German gendarme
was found guilty of war crimes for having stolen a sewing machine and other objects, which he took to Germany during the retreat from France. He was also found guilty of war crimes for having received stolen goods, when removing and using furniture which his predecessor in the gendarmerie
post had stolen from a French inhabitant to whom the accused knew it belonged.
In the Buch case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1947, the accused, a paymaster during the occupation of France, was found guilty of a war crime for having received stolen goods. The German Kommandantur
at Saint-Die had seized silverware which a French doctor had left behind in crates before leaving the locality. The goods were sold at an auction by the Kommandantur
and part of it bought by the accused.
In 1999, during the conflict in Kosovo, the French President criticized acts of the Serbian authorities in Kosovo, including pillage, and demanded that these acts cease.