Rule 36. Directing an attack against a demilitarized zone agreed upon between the parties to the conflict is prohibited.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
Making a demilitarized zone the object of attack is a grave breach of Additional Protocol I.[1] A demilitarized zone is generally understood to be an area, agreed upon between the parties to the conflict, which cannot be occupied or used for military purposes by any party to the conflict. Such a zone can be established in time of peace as well as in time of armed conflict. Article 60(3) of Additional Protocol I provides a blueprint for the terms of an agreement on a demilitarized zone, but any such agreement can be tailored to each specific situation, as Article 60 recognizes.[2] The protection afforded to a demilitarized zone ceases if one of the parties commits a material breach of the agreement establishing the zone.[3] Practice indicates that international supervision is seen as an appropriate method of verifying that the conditions agreed upon are respected.[4] The agreement may authorize the presence of peacekeeping forces or police personnel for the sole purpose of maintaining law and order without the zone losing its demilitarized character.
Numerous military manuals provide for the establishment of demilitarized zones and prohibit their attack.[5] Attacks against demilitarized zones are an offence under the legislation of many States.[6]
Demilitarized zones have been set up in both international and non-international armed conflicts, for example, in the conflicts between India and Pakistan, North and South Korea, Israel and Syria, Israel and Egypt and Iraq and Kuwait, and the conflicts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia and Nicaragua.[7] Alleged violations of the status of a demilitarized zone have generally been condemned.[8]
[1] Additional Protocol I, Article 85(3)(d) (adopted by consensus) (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 11, § 106).
[2] Additional Protocol I, Article 60(3) (adopted by consensus), provides, inter alia, that “the subject of such an agreement shall normally be any zone which fulfils the following conditions: (a) all combatants, as well as mobile weapons and mobile military equipment, must have been evacuated; (b) no hostile use shall be made of fixed military installations or establishments; (c) no acts of hostility shall be committed by the authorities or by the population; and (d) any activity linked to the military effort must have ceased”.
[3] Additional Protocol I, Article 60(7) (adopted by consensus) (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 11, § 105).
[4] See, e.g., the Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria (ibid., § 64), Agreement on Demilitarization of Srebrenica and Žepa, Article 3 (ibid., § 67), the statement of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 169) and the reported practice of Pakistan (ibid., § 175).
[5] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., § 108), Australia (ibid., § 109), Benin (ibid., § 110), Cameroon (ibid., § 111), Canada (ibid., § 112), Croatia (ibid., § 113), Ecuador (ibid., § 114), France (ibid., § 115), Germany (ibid., § 116), Hungary (ibid., § 117), Italy (ibid., §§ 118–119), Kenya (ibid., § 120), Netherlands (ibid., § 121), New Zealand (ibid., § 122), Nigeria (ibid., § 123), South Africa (ibid., § 124), Spain (ibid., § 125), Switzerland (ibid., § 126), Togo (ibid., § 127), United States (ibid., §§ 128–130) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 131).
[6] See, e.g., the legislation of Armenia (ibid., § 133), Australia (ibid., §§ 134–135), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 136), Belarus (ibid., § 137), Belgium (ibid., § 138), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 139), Canada (ibid., § 140), Cook Islands (ibid., § 141), Croatia (ibid., § 142), Cyprus (ibid., § 143), Czech Republic (ibid., § 144), Estonia (ibid., § 146), Georgia (ibid., § 147), Germany (ibid., § 148), Hungary (ibid., § 149), Ireland (ibid., § 150), Lithuania (ibid., § 153), Netherlands (ibid., § 154), New Zealand (ibid., § 155), Niger (ibid., § 157), Norway (ibid., § 158), Slovakia (ibid., § 159), Slovenia (ibid., § 160), Spain (ibid., § 161), Tajikistan (ibid., § 162), United Kingdom (ibid., § 163), Yemen (ibid., § 164), Yugoslavia (ibid., § 165) and Zimbabwe (ibid., § 166); see also the draft legislation of Argentina (ibid., § 132), El Salvador (ibid., § 145), Jordan (ibid., § 151), Lebanon (ibid., § 152) and Nicaragua (ibid., § 156).
[7] See the Karachi Agreement, § D (ibid., § 62); Panmunjom Armistice Agreement, Article I(6) and (10) (ibid., § 63); Disengagement Agreement between Israel and Syria (ibid., § 64); Peace Treaty between Israel and Egypt (ibid., § 66); Agreement on Demilitarization of Srebrenica and Žepa (ibid., § 67); the practice of Colombia (ibid., § 89), Iraq and Kuwait (ibid., § 90) and Nicaragua (ibid., § 91).
[8] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Statement by the President (ibid., § 94); UN Secretary-General, Report on UNIKOM (ibid., § 96); UN Secretary-General, Report on the UN Observer Mission in Prevlaka (ibid., § 97); the practice of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 169) and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (ibid., § 173); the reported practice of the Islamic Republic of Iran (ibid., § 172) and Pakistan (ibid., § 175).