Rule 35. Directing an attack against a zone established to shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of hostilities is prohibited.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
The First and Fourth Geneva Conventions provide for the possibility of setting up hospital and safety zones, and a draft agreement for the establishment of such zones is attached thereto.
In addition, the Fourth Geneva Convention provides for the possibility of setting up neutralized zones.
Both types of zone are intended to shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of conflict, but the hospital and safety zones are meant to be far removed from military operations, whereas neutralized zones are intended for areas in which military operations are taking place.
The relevant provisions of the Geneva Conventions are incorporated in many military manuals, which emphasize that these zones must be respected.
Under the legislation of several States, it is an offence to attack such zones.
In a resolution adopted in 1970 on basic principles for the protection of civilian populations in armed conflicts, the UN General Assembly stated that “places or areas designated for the sole protection of civilians, such as hospital zones or similar refuges, should not be the object of military operations”.
Zones providing shelter to the wounded, the sick and civilians have been agreed upon in both international and non-international armed conflicts, for example, during Bangladesh’s war of independence, the war in the South Atlantic and the conflicts in Cambodia, Chad, Cyprus, Nicaragua, Lebanon, Sri Lanka and the former Yugoslavia.
Most of these zones were established on the basis of a written agreement. These agreements were premised on the principle that zones established to shelter the wounded, the sick and civilians must not be attacked. The neutralized zone established at sea during the war in the South Atlantic (the so-called “Red Cross Box”) was done without any special agreement in writing. A zone which contains only wounded and sick (see Rule 47), medical and religious personnel (see Rules 25 and 27), humanitarian relief personnel (see Rule 31) and civilians (see Rule 1) may not be attacked by application of the specific rules protecting these categories of persons, applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.