Rule 50. Destruction and Seizure of Property of an Adversary

Rule 50. The destruction or seizure of the property of an adversary is prohibited, unless required by imperative military necessity.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
This is a long-standing rule of customary international law already recognized in the Lieber Code and the Brussels Declaration and codified in the Hague Regulations.[1] The violation of this rule through “extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly,” is a grave breach under the Geneva Conventions.[2] Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “destroying or seizing the enemy’s property unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of war” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts.[3] With respect to the requirement that the destruction be extensive for it to constitute a grave breach, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia stated in the Blaškić case that “the notion of ‘extensive’ is evaluated according to the facts of the case – a single act, such as the destruction of a hospital, may suffice to characterize an offence under this count”.[4]
The rule is contained in numerous military manuals.[5] It is an offence under the legislation of many States to destroy or seize the property of an adversary unless it is required by imperative military necessity.[6] The rule was applied in several cases after the Second World War.[7] Several indictments before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia are based on this rule, and in the Blaškić case and Kordić and Čerkez case, the accused were found guilty of its violation.[8]
Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “destroying or seizing the property of an adversary unless such destruction or seizure be imperatively demanded by the necessities of the conflict” constitutes a war crime in non-international armed conflicts.[9]
This rule is included in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.[10] Its violation is an offence under the legislation of many States in any armed conflict.[11]
No official contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts.
[1] Lieber Code, Articles 15–16 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 16, §§ 57–58); Brussels Declaration, Article 13(g) (ibid., § 60); Hague Regulations, Article 23(g) (ibid., § 51).
[2] First Geneva Convention, Article 50 (ibid., § 53); Second Geneva Convention, Article 51 (ibid., § 53); Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 147 (ibid., § 53).
[3] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(b)(xiii) (ibid., § 55).
[4] ICTY, Blaškić case, Judgment (ibid., § 239).
[5] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., §§ 70–71), Australia (ibid., §§ 72–73), Belgium (ibid., §§ 74–75), Benin (ibid., § 76), Cameroon (ibid., § 77), Canada (ibid., §§ 78–79), Colombia (ibid., § 80), Dominican Republic (ibid., § 82), Ecuador (ibid., § 83), France (ibid., §§ 84–87), Germany (ibid., § 88), Israel (ibid., § 90), Italy (ibid., §§ 91–92), Kenya (ibid., § 93), Republic of Korea (ibid., § 94), Lebanon (ibid., § 95), Madagascar (ibid., § 96), Netherlands (ibid., § 97), New Zealand (ibid., § 98), Nigeria (ibid., §§ 100–102), Peru (ibid., § 103), Philippines (ibid., § 104), Romania (ibid., § 105), Russian Federation (ibid., § 106), Senegal (ibid., § 107), South Africa (ibid., § 108), Spain (ibid., § 109), Sweden (ibid., § 110), Switzerland (ibid., § 111), Togo (ibid., § 112), United Kingdom (ibid., §§ 113–114) and United States (ibid., §§ 115–120).
[6] See, e.g., the legislation of Armenia (ibid., § 122), Australia (ibid., §§ 123–125), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 126), Bangladesh (ibid., § 127), Barbados (ibid., § 128), Belarus (ibid., § 129), Belgium (ibid., § 130), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 131), Botswana (ibid., § 132), Bulgaria (ibid., § 133), Canada (ibid., §§ 136 and 138), Chile (ibid., § 139), Congo (ibid., § 142), Cook Islands (ibid., § 143), Croatia (ibid., § 144), Cuba (ibid., § 145), Cyprus (ibid., § 146), Czech Republic (ibid., § 147), El Salvador (ibid., §§ 149–150), Estonia (ibid., § 151), Georgia (ibid., § 154), Germany (ibid., § 155), India (ibid., § 157), Iraq (ibid., § 158), Ireland (ibid., § 159), Israel (ibid., § 160), Italy (ibid., §§ 161–162), Kenya (ibid., § 165), Latvia (ibid., § 166), Lithuania (ibid., § 168), Luxembourg (ibid., §§ 169–170), Malawi (ibid., § 171), Malaysia (ibid., § 172), Mali (ibid., § 174), Mauritius (ibid., § 175), Mexico (ibid., § 176), Republic of Moldova (ibid., § 177), Mozambique (ibid., § 178), Netherlands (ibid., §§ 179–180), New Zealand (ibid., §§ 181–182), Nicaragua (ibid., §§ 183–184), Niger (ibid., § 185), Nigeria (ibid., § 186), Norway (ibid., § 187), Papua New Guinea (ibid., § 189), Paraguay (ibid., § 190), Peru (ibid., § 181), Philippines (ibid., § 192), Portugal (ibid., § 193), Romania (ibid., § 194), Seychelles (ibid., § 196), Singapore (ibid., § 197), Slovakia (ibid., § 198), Slovenia (ibid., § 199), Spain (ibid., §§ 200–201), Tajikistan (ibid., § 205), Uganda (ibid., § 207), Ukraine (ibid., § 209), United Kingdom (ibid., §§ 210–211), United States (ibid., §§ 212–213), Uzbekistan (ibid., § 215), Vanuatu (ibid., § 216), Viet Nam (ibid., § 218), Yugoslavia (ibid., § 219) and Zimbabwe (ibid., § 220); see also the draft legislation of Argentina (ibid., § 121), Burundi (ibid., § 134), Jordan (ibid., § 164), Lebanon (ibid., § 167), Sri Lanka (ibid., § 204) and Trinidad and Tobago (ibid., § 206).
[7] See, in particular, France, Permanent Military Tribunal at Dijon, Holstein case (ibid., § 221); Germany, Oberlandsgericht of Dresden, General Devastation case (ibid., § 222); Netherlands, Special Court of Cassation, Wingten case (ibid., § 224); United States, Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, List (Hostages Trial) case (ibid., § 225) and Von Leeb (The High Command Trial) case (ibid., § 226).
[8] ICTY, Nikolić case, Initial Indictment and Review of the Indictment (ibid., § 236), Karadžić and Mladić case, First Indictment and Review of the Indictments (ibid., § 237), Rajić case, Initial Indictment and Review of the Indictment (ibid., § 238), Blaškić case, Judgment (ibid., § 239), and Kordić and Čerkez case, Judgment (ibid., § 240).
[9] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(e)(xii) (ibid., § 56).
[10] See, e.g., the military manuals of Australia (ibid., § 72), Benin (ibid., § 76), Canada (ibid., § 79), Colombia (ibid., § 80), Ecuador (ibid., § 83), Germany (ibid., § 88), Italy (ibid., §§ 91–92), Kenya (ibid., § 93), Lebanon (ibid., § 95), Madagascar (ibid., § 96), Nigeria (ibid., §§ 100 and 102), Peru (ibid., § 103), Philippines (ibid., § 104), South Africa (ibid., § 108) and Togo (ibid., § 112).
[11] See, e.g., the legislation of Armenia (ibid., § 122), Australia (ibid., § 125), Azerbaijan (ibid., § 126), Belarus (ibid., § 129), Belgium (ibid., § 130), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 131), Cambodia (ibid., § 135), Canada (ibid., § 138), Congo (ibid., § 142), Croatia (ibid., § 144), El Salvador (ibid., §§ 149–150), Estonia (ibid., § 151), Georgia (ibid., § 154), Germany (ibid., § 155), Latvia (ibid., § 166), Lithuania (ibid., § 168), Republic of Moldova (ibid., § 177), Netherlands (ibid., § 180), New Zealand (ibid., § 182), Nicaragua (ibid., § 184), Niger (ibid., § 185), Portugal (ibid., § 193), Slovenia (ibid., § 199), Spain (ibid., §§ 200–201), Tajikistan (ibid., § 205), United Kingdom (ibid., § 211), Uzbekistan (ibid., § 215) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 219); see also the legislation of Bulgaria (ibid., § 133), Czech Republic (ibid., § 147), Italy (ibid., §§ 161–162), Mozambique (ibid., § 178), Nicaragua (ibid., § 183), Paraguay (ibid., § 190), Peru (ibid., § 191), Romania (ibid., § 194) and Slovakia (ibid., § 198), the application of which is not excluded in time of non-international armed conflict, and the draft legislation of Argentina (ibid., § 121), Burundi (ibid., § 134), Jordan (ibid., § 164) and Trinidad and Tobago (ibid., § 206).