Rule 9. Definition of Civilian Objects

Rule 9. Civilian objects are all objects that are not military objectives.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts. The definition of civilian objects has to be read together with the definition of military objectives: only those objects that qualify as military objectives may be attacked; other objects are protected against attack.
This definition of civilian objects is set forth in Article 52(1) of Additional Protocol I, to which no reservations have been made.[1] At the Diplomatic Conference leading to the adoption of the Additional Protocols, Mexico stated that Article 52 was so essential that it “cannot be the subject of any reservations whatsoever since these would be inconsistent with the aim and purpose of Protocol I and undermine its basis”.[2] The same definition has been used consistently in subsequent treaties, namely in Protocol II, Amended Protocol II and Protocol III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.[3] Upon signature of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, Egypt declared that the term “civilian objects” in the Statute must be understood in accordance with the definition provided in Additional Protocol I.[4]
Numerous military manuals contain this definition of civilian objects,[5] including those of States not, or not at the time, party to Additional Protocol I.[6]
Although this definition was not included in Additional Protocol II, it has subsequently been incorporated into treaty law applicable in non-international armed conflicts, namely Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.[7] This definition of civilian objects is also contained in Protocol III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which has been made applicable in non-international armed conflicts pursuant to an amendment of Article 1 of the Convention adopted by consensus in 2001.[8]
This definition of civilian objects is also set forth in military manuals which are applicable in or have been applied in non-international armed conflicts.[9]
No contrary practice was found with respect to either international or non-international armed conflicts in the sense that no other definition of civilian objects has officially been advanced. Some military manuals define civilian objects as “objects that are not used for military purposes”.[10] This definition is not incompatible with this rule but rather underlines the fact that civilian objects lose their protection against attack if they are used for military purposes and, because of such use, become military objectives (see Rule 10).
State practice considers civilian areas, towns, cities, villages, residential areas, dwellings, buildings and houses and schools,[11] civilian means of transportation,[12] hospitals, medical establishments and medical units,[13] historic monuments, places of worship and cultural property,[14] and the natural environment[15] as prima facie civilian objects, provided, in the final analysis, they have not become military objectives (see Rule 10). Alleged attacks against such objects have generally been condemned.[16]
[1] Additional Protocol I, Article 52(1) (adopted by 79 votes in favour, none against and 7 abstentions) (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 2, § 660).
[2] Mexico, Statement at the Diplomatic Conference leading to the adoption of the Additional Protocols (ibid., § 679).
[3] Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Article 2(5) (ibid., § 661); Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Article 2(7) (ibid., § 661); Protocol III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Article 1(4) (ibid., § 662).
[4] Egypt, Declarations made upon signature of the ICC Statute (ibid., § 663).
[5] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina, Australia, Cameroon, Canada, Colombia, Kenya, Madagascar, Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, United Kingdom and United States (ibid., § 665), Benin (ibid., § 666), Croatia (ibid., § 667), Ecuador (ibid., § 668), France (ibid., § 669), Italy (ibid., § 670), Sweden (ibid., § 671), Togo (ibid., § 672), United States (ibid., § 673) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 674).
[6] See, e.g., the military manuals of France (ibid., § 669), Kenya (ibid., § 665), United Kingdom (ibid., § 665) and United States (ibid., § 665).
[7] Amended Protocol II to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Article 2(7) (ibid., § 661).
[8] Protocol III to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, Article 1(4) (ibid., § 662).
[9] See, e.g., the military manuals of Colombia, Kenya, Madagascar and South Africa (ibid., § 665), Benin (ibid., § 666), Croatia (ibid., § 667), Ecuador (ibid., § 668), Italy (ibid., § 670), Togo (ibid., § 672) and Yugoslavia (ibid., § 674).
[10] See the military manuals of Benin (ibid., § 666), Croatia (ibid., § 667), France (ibid., § 669), Italy (ibid., § 670) and Togo (ibid., § 672).
[11] See the practice cited in ibid., §§ 199–264.
[12] See the practice cited in ibid., §§ 265–315.
[13] See the practice cited in Vol. II, Ch. 7.
[14] See the practice cited in Vol. II, Ch. 12.
[15] See the practice cited in Vol. II, Ch. 14.
[16] See, e.g., the statements of Croatia (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 2, § 145), Egypt (ibid., § 146), EC and its member States, USSR and United States (ibid., § 147), Mozambique (ibid., § 152), Slovenia (ibid., § 155), United Arab Emirates (ibid., § 157) and United Kingdom (ibid., § 159).