Rule 52. PillageRule 52. Pillage is prohibited.
SummaryState practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
International armed conflictsThe prohibition of pillage is a long-standing rule of customary international law already recognized in the Lieber Code, the Brussels Declaration and the Oxford Manual. Pillage is prohibited under all circumstances under the Hague Regulations. Pillage is identified as a war crime in the Report of the Commission on Responsibility set up after the First World War, as well as by the Charter of the International Military Tribunal (Nuremberg) established following the Second World War. The Fourth Geneva Convention also prohibits pillage. Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “pillaging a town or place, even when taken by assault,” constitutes a war crime in international armed conflicts.
The prohibition of pillage is set forth in numerous military manuals. Pillage constitutes an offence under the legislation of a large number of States. This prohibition has been enforced in several cases before national courts after the Second World War, as it has by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. The prohibition of pillage has been supported by official statements and other practice.
Non-international armed conflictsPillage is prohibited under Additional Protocol II. Under the Statute of the International Criminal Court, “pillaging a town or place, even when taken by assault,” constitutes a war crime in non-international armed conflicts. Pillage is also included as a war crime in the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.
The prohibition of pillage is set forth in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts. Pillage is an offence in any armed conflict under the legislation of many States. In its judgment in the Military Junta case in 1985, Argentina’s National Court of Appeals applied the prohibition of pillage in the Hague Regulations to acts committed in the context of internal violence. The prohibition of pillage has been supported by official statements and other practice in the context of non-international armed conflicts.
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. They have also been condemned by the United Nations and other international organizations. In most cases, they have been denied or recognized as unlawful by the parties involved. In another instance the authorities expressed their inability to impose discipline on their troops.
The Plan of Action for the years 2000–2003, adopted by the 27th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in 1999, requires that all the parties to an armed conflict ensure that “strict orders are given to prevent all serious violations of international humanitarian law, including … looting”.
The specific practice collected with respect to pillage of cultural property (see Rule 40) and of property of the wounded and sick (see Rule 111), the dead (see Rule 113) and persons deprived of their liberty (see Rule 122) should also be considered in the assessment of the customary nature of this rule.
DefinitionPillage (or plunder) is defined in Black’s Law Dictionary as “the forcible taking of private property by an invading or conquering army from the enemy’s subjects”. The Elements of Crimes of the Statute of the International Criminal Court specifies that the appropriation must be done “for private or personal use”. As such, the prohibition of pillage is a specific application of the general principle of law prohibiting theft. This prohibition is to be found in national criminal legislation around the world. Pillage is generally punishable under military law or general penal law.