Practice Relating to Rule 37. Open Towns and Non-Defended Localities
France’s LOAC Manual (2001) defines as an open town “any inhabited area located in the combat zone or in its proximity, which is open to enemy occupation in order to avoid fighting and destruction”. It lists the following four conditions that must be fulfilled in order for a town to be considered an open town: all combatants as well as mobile weapons and military material must be evacuated; no hostile use shall be made of fixed military installations and establishments; the authorities and the population shall abstain from committing any act of hostility; no activities in support of military operations shall be undertaken. The manual gives Paris in 1940 and Rome in 1943 as examples of open towns during the Second World War.
France’s LOAC Manual (2001) is guided by Article 59 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I as regards the conditions that must be fulfilled in order for an area to be declared a non-defended locality.
France’s LOAC Teaching Note (2000) includes non-defended localities among the zones that are specially protected by IHL. It states that, while occupation of non-defended localities is permitted, attacks against such localities are prohibited, provided they are completely demilitarized.
France’s LOAC Manual (2001) includes undefended localities in the list of specially protected objects and states that it is prohibited for the parties to a conflict to attack them by any means whatsoever.
The manual also prohibits attacks on open towns.
France’s Penal Code (1992), as amended in 2010, states in its section on war crimes related to international armed conflict: “Attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives is punishable by life imprisonment.”
The Report on the Practice of France states that attacks against protected zones are prohibited.