Rule 31. Humanitarian Relief Personnel

Rule 31. Humanitarian relief personnel must be respected and protected.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts. Respect for and protection of humanitarian relief personnel is a corollary of the prohibition of starvation (see Rule 53), as well as the rule that the wounded and sick must be collected and cared for (see Rules 109–110), which are applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts. The safety and security of humanitarian relief personnel is an indispensable condition for the delivery of humanitarian relief to civilian populations in need threatened with starvation.
The obligation to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel is set forth in Article 71(2) of Additional Protocol I.[1] Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, intentionally directing attacks against personnel involved in a humanitarian assistance mission in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations is a war crime in international armed conflicts, as long as such personnel are entitled to the protection given to civilians under international humanitarian law.[2] Hence, members of armed forces delivering humanitarian aid are not covered by this rule. United Nations personnel delivering humanitarian aid, however, enjoy specific protection under the Convention on the Safety of United Nations Personnel.[3]
A number of military manuals state the obligation to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel.[4] Sweden’s IHL Manual, in particular, identifies Article 71(2) of Additional Protocol I as codifying pre-existing rules of customary law.[5] It is an offence under the legislation of numerous States to attack humanitarian relief personnel.[6] The rule is also supported by official statements and reported practice.[7] This practice includes that of States not party to Additional Protocol I.[8] The rule has also been invoked by parties to Additional Protocol I against non-parties.[9]
The obligation to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel is recalled in resolutions of international organizations, the large majority of which deal with non-international armed conflicts (see infra).
While Article 18(2) of Additional Protocol II requires that relief actions for the civilian population in need be organized, the Protocol does not contain a specific provision on the protection of humanitarian relief personnel. 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 personnel 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 personnel are entitled to the protection given to civilians under international humanitarian law.[10] In addition, this rule is contained in a number of other instruments pertaining also to non-international armed conflicts.[11]
The obligation to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel is laid down in some military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.[12] It is also contained in official statements specifically relating to non-international armed conflicts.[13]
In addition, the United Nations and other international organizations have adopted resolutions invoking this rule. The UN Security Council, for example, has on numerous occasions urged the parties to non-international armed conflicts, such as in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Kosovo, Liberia, Rwanda and Somalia, to respect and protect humanitarian relief personnel.[14]
This rule was reiterated at the World Conference on Human Rights in 1993 and at the 26th and 27th International Conferences of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1995 and 1999 respectively.[15]
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 whether the conflict was international or non-international in nature.[16] They have also been condemned by international organizations.[17] Following attacks upon a vehicle carrying ICRC personnel in Burundi in 1996, the President and the Prime Minister of Burundi both stated that they deplored the incident and that they had requested an independent inquiry to identify the perpetrators.[18] The Russian government reacted similarly when six ICRC aid workers were killed in Chechnya the same year.[19] The ICRC has reminded parties to both international and non-international armed conflicts to respect this rule.[20]
Civilian humanitarian relief personnel are protected against attack according to the principle of distinction (see Rule 1). In addition to the prohibition of attacks on such personnel, practice indicates that harassment, intimidation and arbitrary detention of humanitarian relief personnel are prohibited under this rule.[21] The collected practice also contains examples in which the following acts against humanitarian aid personnel have been condemned: mistreatment, physical and psychological violence, murder, beating, abduction, hostage-taking, harassment, kidnapping, illegal arrest and detention.[22]
Furthermore, there is a considerable amount of State practice which requires that parties to a conflict ensure the safety of humanitarian relief personnel authorized by them, as invoked in a number of official statements.[23] In addition, the UN Security Council has called on the parties to the conflicts in Afghanistan, Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Burundi, Kosovo, Liberia, Rwanda and Somalia to ensure respect for the security and safety of humanitarian relief personnel.[24] In a resolution adopted in 2000 on protection of civilians in armed conflicts, the UN Security Council called upon all parties to an armed conflict, including non-State parties, “to ensure the safety, security and freedom of movement” of humanitarian relief personnel.[25]
While the Additional Protocols provide that the protection of humanitarian relief personnel applies only to “authorized” humanitarian personnel as such, the overwhelming majority of practice does not specify this condition. The notion of authorization refers to the consent received from the party to the conflict concerned to work in areas under its control.[26] Authorization may not be withheld for arbitrary reasons to deny access to humanitarian relief personnel (see commentary to Rule 55).
[1] Additional Protocol I, Article 71(2) (adopted by consensus) (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 8, § 3).
[2] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(iii) (ibid., § 142).
[3] Convention on the Safety of UN Personnel, Article 7(2) (ibid., § 4).
[4] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 12), Australia (ibid., § 13), Canada (ibid., § 14), France (ibid., § 15), Netherlands (ibid., § 16), Sweden (ibid., § 17) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 18).
[5] Sweden, IHL Manual (ibid., § 17).
[6] See, e.g., the legislation of Australia (ibid., § 147), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 148), Canada (ibid., § 150), Congo (ibid., § 151), Estonia (ibid., § 152), Ethiopia (ibid., § 153), Germany (ibid., § 154), Ireland (ibid., § 19), New Zealand (ibid., §§ 156–157), Norway (ibid., § 20), Philippines (ibid., §§ 21 and 158), Portugal (ibid., § 159) and United Kingdom (ibid., §§ 161–162); see also the draft legislation of Burundi (ibid., § 149) and Trinidad and Tobago (ibid., § 160).
[7] See, e.g., the statements of Australia (ibid., § 23), Germany (ibid., §§ 25–26), Iraq (ibid., § 28), Slovenia (ibid., § 35), South Africa (ibid., § 36) and Switzerland (ibid., § 37) and the reported practice of Iraq (ibid., § 29), Netherlands (ibid., § 32) and Rwanda (ibid., § 34).
[8] See the practice of Azerbaijan (ibid., § 148), India (ibid., § 170), Iraq (ibid., §§ 28–29), Israel (ibid., § 172), Malaysia (ibid., § 174), Turkey (ibid., § 177) and United Kingdom (ibid., § 38).
[9] See, e.g., the statements of Germany vis-à-vis Afghanistan (ibid., § 25) and vis-à-vis Sudan (ibid., § 169).
[10] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(e)(iii) (ibid., § 142); Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Article 4(b) (ibid., § 143).
[11] See, e.g., Agreement No. 2 on the Implementation of the Agreement of 22 May 1992 between the Parties to the Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, § 2(d) ( ibid., § 5); Agreement No. 3 on the ICRC Plan of Action between the Parties to the Conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, § II(9) (ibid., § 6); Bahir Dar Agreement, § 2 (ibid., § 7); Agreement on Ground Rules for Operation Lifeline Sudan (ibid., § 8); UN Secretary-General’s Bulletin, Section 9 (ibid., § 9); Agreement on the Protection and Provision of Humanitarian Assistance in the Sudan, § 1 (ibid., § 10); Cairo Declaration, § 67 (ibid., § 11).
[12] See, e.g., the military manuals of Canada (ibid., § 14) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 18).
[13] See, e.g., the statements of Burundi (ibid., § 166), Germany (ibid., § 26), Russian Federation (ibid., § 175), South Africa (ibid., § 36), United Kingdom (ibid., § 178) and United States (ibid., § 180).
[14] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Res. 733 and 814 (ibid., § 41), Res. 746 and 751 (ibid., § 42), Res. 758, 770 and 787 (ibid., § 43), Res. 819 and 824 (ibid., § 44), Res. 851 (ibid., § 45), Res. 897, 923 and 954 (ibid., § 47), Res. 918 and 925 (ibid., § 48), Res. 946 (ibid., § 49), Res. 952 (ibid., § 50), Res. 954 (ibid., § 51), Res. 985, 1001 and 1014 (ibid., § 52), Res. 998 (ibid., § 53), Res. 1040 (ibid., § 54), Res. 1041, 1059 and 1071 (ibid., § 55), Res. 1075 and 1087 (ibid., § 56), Res. 1088 (ibid., § 57), Res. 1127 (ibid., § 58), Res. 1173 (ibid., § 59), Res. 1193 (ibid., § 60), Res. 1195 (ibid., § 61), Res. 1199 and 1203 (ibid., § 62); UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 67–70, 72–73, 75–76, 81, 87–88, 90–91 and 93).
[15] World Conference on Human Rights, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (ibid., § 120); 26th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Res. IV (ibid., § 121); 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Plan of Action for the years 2000–2003 (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 123).
[16] See, e.g., the statements of Germany (ibid., § 169) and United States (ibid., §§ 179–180) and the reported practice of the Russian Federation (ibid., § 175).
[17] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Res. 757 (ibid., § 185), Res. 864 (ibid., § 186), Res. 897 and 923 (ibid., § 187), Res. 913 (ibid., § 188), Res. 946 (ibid., § 192), Res. 950 (ibid., § 193), Res. 954 (ibid., § 194), Res. 1049 (ibid., § 195), Res. 1071 and 1083 (ibid., § 196), Res. 1193 (ibid., § 197) and Res. 1265 (ibid., § 198); UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 199–218); UN General Assembly, Res. 49/196 (ibid., § 219), Res. 49/206 and 50/200 (ibid., § 221), Res. 50/193 (ibid., § 223), Res. 53/87 (ibid., § 227), Res. 54/192 (ibid., § 229) and Res. 55/116 (ibid., § 230); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1994/72 (ibid., § 233), Res. 1995/89 (ibid., § 235), Res. 1995/91 (ibid., § 236), Res. 1996/1 and 1997/77 (ibid., § 237) and Res. 1998/70 (ibid., § 242); OAU, Council of Ministers, Res. 1526 (LX) (ibid., § 255), Res. 1649 (LXIV) (ibid., § 256) and Res. 1662 (LXIV) (ibid., § 257); OSCE, Chairman-in-Office, Press Release No. 86/96 (ibid., § 258).
[18] See the practice of Burundi (ibid., § 166).
[19] See the practice of the Russian Federation (ibid., § 175).
[20] See the practice of the ICRC (ibid., §§ 125–128 and 130–132).
[21] See the practice of Germany (ibid., § 169) and Philippines (ibid., § 158); UN Security Council, Res. 897 and 923 (ibid., § 187), Res. 918 and 925 (ibid., § 189), Res. 940 (ibid., § 190), Res. 946 (ibid., § 192), Res. 950 (ibid., § 193), Res. 954 (ibid., § 194) and Res. 1071 (ibid., § 196); UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 199, 202, 204, 212, 216 and 219); UN General Assembly, Res. 51/30 B (ibid., § 222), Res. 53/87 (ibid., § 227), Res. 54/192 (ibid., § 229) and Res. 55/116 (ibid., § 230); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1995/89 (ibid., § 225) and Res. 2001/18 (ibid., § 243); UN Secretary-General, Report on UNOMIL (ibid., § 244); UN Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan, Report (ibid., § 248).
[22] See, e.g., the practice of the Russian Federation (ibid., § 175) and United States (ibid., §§ 179–180); UN Security Council, Res. 897 and 923 (ibid., § 187), Res. 918 and 925 (ibid., § 189), Res. 940 (ibid., § 190), Res. 945 and 952 (ibid., § 191), Res. 950 (ibid., § 193), Res. 954 (ibid., § 194), Res. 1049 (ibid., § 195), Res. 1193 (ibid., § 197) and Res. 1265 (ibid., § 198); UN Security Council, Statements by the President (ibid., §§ 199, 204–208, 210–213 and 216); UN General Assembly, Res. 52/167 (ibid., § 226), Res. 53/87 (ibid., § 227), Res. 53/164 (ibid., § 228), Res. 54/192 (ibid., § 229) and Res. 55/116 (ibid., § 230); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1994/79 and 1995/77 (ibid., § 234), Res. 1995/91 (ibid., § 236), Res. 1996/1 and 1997/77 (ibid., § 237), 1996/73 (ibid., § 238) and 1997/59 (ibid., § 239); UN Secretary-General, Report on UNOMIL (ibid., § 244); UN Commission on Human Rights, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Burundi, Second report (ibid., § 247) and Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Sudan, Report (ibid., § 248); Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly, Res. 921 (ibid., § 251); OAU, Council of Ministers, Res. 1526 (LX) (ibid., § 255), Res. 1649 (LXIV) (ibid., § 256) and Res. 1662 (LXIV) (ibid., § 257); OSCE, Chairman-in-Office, Press Release No. 86/96 (ibid., § 258).
[23] See, e.g., the statements of Australia (ibid., § 23), Germany (ibid., § 25), Slovenia (ibid., § 35) and South Africa (ibid., § 36).
[24] UN Security Council, Res. 733 and 814 (ibid., § 41), Res. 746 and 751 (ibid., § 42), Res. 758, 770 and 787 (ibid., § 43), Res. 824 (ibid., § 44), Res. 851 (ibid., § 45), Res. 897, 923 and 954 (ibid., § 47), Res. 918 and 925 (ibid., § 48), Res. 946 (ibid., § 49), Res. 952 (ibid., § 50), Res. 954 (ibid., § 51), Res. 985, 1001 and 1014 (ibid., § 52), Res. 998 (ibid., § 53), Res. 1040 (ibid., § 54), Res. 1041, 1059 and 1071 (ibid., § 55), Res. 1075 and 1087 (ibid., § 56), Res. 1193 (ibid., § 60), Res. 1195 (ibid., § 61) and Res. 1199 and 1203 (ibid., § 62).
[25] UN Security Council, Res. 1296 (ibid., § 65).
[26] Additional Protocol I, Article 71(1) (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 3); Additional Protocol II, Article 18(2) (adopted by consensus) (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 17, § 680).