United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 55. Access for Humanitarian Relief to Civilians in Need
Section A. Access for humanitarian relief
The UK Military Manual (1958) provides:
Belligerents must allow the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores and articles necessary for religious worship intended for civilians, including those of an opposing belligerent, and all consignments of essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics intended for children under 15, and expectant and nursing mothers. This obligation is subject to the condition that the belligerent concerned is satisfied that there are no serious grounds for fearing: that the consignments may be diverted from their destination, that control may not be effective, or that the consignments may be of definite advantage to the military effort or economy of the enemy by permitting him to substitute them for goods which he would otherwise have to provide or produce himself.
The manual further states:
If the whole or part of the population of occupied territory suffers from shortage of supplies, the Occupant must agree to relief schemes by all the means at his disposal. The schemes in question will consist in particular of the provision of consignments of foodstuffs, medical supplies and clothing.
The manual also stipulates: “Within the limits of military or security considerations these organisations [the ICRC, the local national Red Cross (or equivalent) society or any other organisation that may assist protected persons] must be granted by the belligerent all necessary facilities for giving assistance.”
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) states, with regard to civilians in enemy hands: “The free passage of medical and hospital stores … is guaranteed as well as essential food and clothes for children, expectant mothers and maternity cases.”
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states:
9.12. The parties to the conflict and all parties to Additional Protocol I must allow and facilitate the free passage of all consignments of medical and hospital stores, objects necessary for religious worship, bedding, means of shelter and “other supplies essential to the survival of the civilian population”, such as essential foodstuffs, clothing and tonics, intended only for civilians, even those of an adversary. In the distribution of relief consignments, children under fifteen, expectant mothers, and maternity cases and nursing mothers are to be given priority.
9.12.1. This obligation is, however, conditional on the party being satisfied that there is no serious reason for fearing that:
a. the consignments may be diverted from their destination;
b. control may not be effective; or
c. the provision of these goods would lead to a definite advantage accruing to the military efforts or economy of the enemy.
9.12.2. In addition, the party retains the right to prescribe the technical arrangements for the movement of relief supplies, including search, and to insist that distribution be supervised by the protecting power. A duty is put on all parties not to divert relief consignments, nor to delay them “except in cases of urgent necessity in the interest of the civilian population concerned”. Indeed there is a further duty to protect such consignments and to “encourage and facilitate effective international co-ordination” of relief actions.
9.12.3. Such relief actions shall only be undertaken “subject to the agreement of the Parties concerned”. There is thus, except for those specific consignments covered by the convention, no duty to agree to them though there is a duty to consider in good faith requests for relief operations.
9.12.4. The provisions of paragraph 9.12 do not affect the existing rules of warfare regarding naval blockade, submarine warfare or mine warfare.
In its chapter on maritime warfare, the manual states:
13.75. If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies, subject to:
a. the right to prescribe the technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted; and
b. the condition that the distribution of such supplies shall be made under the local supervision of a protecting power or a humanitarian organization which offers guarantees of impartiality, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
13.76. The blockading belligerent shall allow the passage of medical supplies for the civilian population or for the wounded and sick members of the armed forces, subject to the right to prescribe technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted.
With regard to internal armed conflict, the manual provides: “Whenever the military situation permits, the delivery and distribution of humanitarian aid to people in need must be permitted. Starvation as a method of warfare is prohibited.”
Under the UK ICC Act (2001), it is a punishable offence to commit a crime against humanity as defined in Article 7(1)(b) and (2)(b) of the 1998 ICC Statute.
In 2008, during a debate in the House of Commons, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development stated: “The [UK] Government welcome the commitment of the Government of Sri Lanka to protect civilian populations and have continued to lobby for all parties in the conflict to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law. Those include … the preservation of humanitarian space, and ensuring free and unfettered access to all affected areas by neutral, impartial humanitarian actors.”
In 2008, a UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote to the House of Lords in response to a question concerning the lawfulness of the Israeli blockade of Gaza:
Although there is no permanent physical Israeli presence in Gaza, given the significant control that Israel has over Gaza’s borders, airspace and territorial waters, Israel retains obligations under the  Fourth Geneva Convention as an occupying power. The Fourth Geneva Convention is clear that an occupying power must co-operate in allowing the passage and distribution of relief consignments. …
… Rather than focus on whether the restrictions at any given time amount to collective punishment, we have consistently pressed the Israeli Government to comply with their obligations under international law and allow passage of relief supplies. This was the message my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary delivered in his meetings with Israeli leaders during his recent visit to the region.
The UK Government Strategy on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (2010) states: “IHL … calls on parties to authorise impartial humanitarian assistance to populations affected by the conflict.”
The Strategy further states under the heading “Improving humanitarian access”:
Parties to armed conflict must take all required measures to respect and protect civilians. States bear the primary responsibility to respect and ensure the human rights of their citizens and other persons within their territory. When states and other parties lack the capacity or will to respect their obligations, humanitarian organisations have an important role to play. Parties to conflict need to agree to and facilitate neutral, impartial and independent humanitarian aid reaching populations in a safe, timely and unimpeded way.