United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 51. Public and Private Property in Occupied Territory
Section C. Private property in occupied territory
The UK Military Manual (1958) states that, once a defended locality has surrendered, “it is not permissible to burn … private houses in such a place merely because it was defended”.
The manual provides:
Private property must be respected. It must not be confiscated … even if found in a captured town or other place. This prohibition embodied in the [1907 Hague Regulations] did not constitute a new rule … The rule that private property must be respected admits, however, of exceptions necessitated by the exigencies of war. In the first instance practically every operation, movement or combat occasions damage to private property. Further, the right of an army to requisition and to make use of certain property is fully admitted. What is clearly forbidden is the destruction by the Occupant of private property unless military operations render such destruction absolutely necessary and all extensive destruction and appropriation of private property not justified by military necessity, and carried out unlawfully and wantonly. Requisitions in kind must be in proportion to the resources of the country and limited to the needs of the Occupation army. Seizure is limited to certain types of property set out in [Article 53 of the 1907 Hague Regulations] which must be restored at the peace and indemnities paid.
Generally, therefore, no damage may be done that is not required by military operations. Any destruction of property whether belonging to private individuals, to the State or to social or co-operative organisations, is prohibited and “except when such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations”.
Land and buildings belonging to private individuals or commercial undertakings may not be appropriated or alienated, nor may they be used, let or hired for private or public profit.
The temporary use of land or buildings for the needs of the army is justified, even though such use may impair its value … Buildings may be used for purposes of observation, reconnaissance, cover, defence, etc., and, if necessary, houses, fences and woods may be demolished, cut down, or removed to clear a field of fire or to provide material for bridges, fuel, etc., imperatively needed by the occupying army.
The owner of property may claim neither rent for its use nor compensation for damage caused by the necessities of war. If time allows, however, a note of the use or damage should be kept, or given to the owner, so that in the event of funds being provided by either belligerent at the close of hostilities to compensate the inhabitants, there may be evidence to assist the assessors.
When troops are quartered in private dwellings some rooms should be left to the inhabitants; the latter should not be driven into the streets and left without shelter. If for military reasons, whether for operational purposes or to protect men and animals from the weather, it is imperative to remove the inhabitants, efforts should be made to give them notice and provide them with facilities for taking essential baggage with them.
When use is made of unoccupied buildings, care should be taken of the structure and internal fixtures and fittings. The fact that the owners are away does not authorise … damage. A note should be left if anything is taken. There is, however, no obligation to protect abandoned property.
The seizure of private movable property is governed by [Article 53 of the 1907 Hague Regulations]. By this rule, all appliances adapted for the transmission of news or for the transport of persons or goods by land, sea or air, except where naval law governs, stores of arms and in general every kind of war material, even if they belong to private individuals, may be seized, but they must be restored and the indemnity fixed when peace is made. These objects may be seized by, but they do not become the property of, the Occupant. The seizure operates merely as a transfer of the possession of the objects to the Occupant while the ownership remains in the private owner. Insofar as the objects seized are capable of physical restoration they must be restored at the conclusion of peace, and insofar as they have been consumed or have been destroyed or have perished a cash indemnity must be paid when peace is made. Within this rule fall: cables, telegraph, and telephone plant; television, telecommunications and radio equipment; horses, motorcars, bicycles, carts, carriages, railways and railway plant, tramways, ships in port, river and canal craft, aircraft of all descriptions, except ambulance aircraft, sporting weapons, and all kinds of property which could serve as war material. No provision in the [1907 Hague Regulations] obliges the belligerent who effects the seizure to give a receipt, or to carry out the seizure in any formal manner, but the fact of seizure should obviously be established in some way, if only to give the owner an opportunity of claiming the compensation expressly provided for.
Under [Article 52 of the 1907 Hague Regulations] requisition may be made of all commodities necessary for the maintenance of the occupying army. Within this category fall such things as: foods and fuel supplies, liquor and tobacco, cloth for uniforms, leather for boots, and the like. The taking of such articles is forbidden unless they are actually required for the needs of the occupying army. Moreover, [the 1949 Geneva Convention IV] lays down expressly that even if foodstuffs, goods or medical supplies available in the occupied territory are subject to requisition because they are needed for the forces of occupation and for administrative personnel, they may be requisitioned only after the requirements of the civilian population have been taken into account. In any case, the articles taken must be duly requisitioned, and the amount taken must be in proportion to the resources of the country.
Articles requisitioned should be paid for in ready money, but if this is not possible a receipt must be given for them and payment of the amount due must be made as soon as possible.
Articles properly requisitioned under [Article 52 of the 1907 Hague Regulations] become the property of the Occupant and pass out of the ownership of their former owner. As payment for these articles is made either at the time of requisition or becomes due at that time and is made later, a requisition under this [Article] is, in effect, a compulsory sale on the order of the Occupant.
Requisitions can only be demanded within the limits of the [1907 Hague Regulations] and [the 1949 Geneva Convention IV] on the authority of the commander in the locality occupied. However, it is not necessary that his order for the requisition should be produced, as the articles taken must be paid for or a receipt given. The assistance of the local authorities of the invaded territory may be invoked to obtain the supplies. When it is impossible to obtain this assistance special parties under an officer should be detailed to collect what is required. Except in cases of emergency, no one under the rank of commissioned officer is, by the regulations of practically all armies, permitted to requisition.
Requisitions of supplies may be made in bulk, that is, a community may be called upon to supply certain quantities, or a return may be called for from inhabitants giving the amounts in their possession of which a proportion may then be requisitioned, or the householders may be requisitioned to feed or partly feed the soldiers quartered on them. In fact, any way that is convenient may be employed provided that the above-mentioned rules and the provisions of [the 1949 Geneva Convention IV] are observed …
The right to billet troops on the inhabitants follows from the right to requisition. The prices to be paid for requisitioned supplies may be fixed by the commander of the occupying force. The prices of commodities on sale may also be regulated. Supplies in the hands of private inhabitants may not be destroyed except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations.
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states:
Respect for private property
11.76. Private property must be respected. Requisitions must be proportionate to the resources of the occupied territory and limited to the needs of the occupying power. Seizure is limited to certain types of property, see paragraphs 11.77 and 11.81 [below].
11.76.1. Private property includes not only what would be regarded in common parlance as private property but also property, regardless of ownership, which is dedicated to religion, charity, education or to the arts or sciences.
11.76.2. The requirement to respect private property is subject to conditions necessitated by armed conflict …
Permanent seizure of land buildings
11.77. Land and buildings (whether belonging to private individuals or to corporations) must not be appropriated or otherwise disposed of, nor even used, leased or hired for private or public profit …
Seizure of movable property
11.81. All private movable property used for the transmission of news or to transport people or goods, whether by land, sea or air, and private arms or munitions of war may be temporarily seized but must be restored to the owners when peace is made …
Requisitioning of private property
11.83. The occupying force may requisition commodities and services needed for its maintenance. Requisitioning must take into account the needs of the civilian population.
The UK Army Act (1955), as amended in 1971, punishes “any person subject to military law who, in any country or territory outside the United Kingdom, commits any offence against the … property of any member of the civil population”.
The UK Air Force Act (1955), as amended in 1971, punishes “any person subject to air-force law who, in any country or territory outside the United Kingdom, commits any offence against the … property of any member of the civil population”.
In 2003, in reply to a written question in the House of Lords, the UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote:
While the building of a separation wall for security reasons does not necessarily contravene international law, we do consider some aspects related to the construction of the “security fence” in the West Bank to be illegal. We do not believe that the route of the fence is determined by security requirements. We therefore conclude that much of the demolition and confiscation of Palestinian property associated with its construction violates the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prohibits such measures unless absolutely necessary. We are concerned that the lack of access for Palestinian owners to land on the west of the security fence results in the de facto appropriation of this territory by Israel.
The military orders, which requisition land for the fence, allow the owners of the property to request rental fees or compensation.
In 2005, in a written answer to a question concerning “the Israeli security wall”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We fully recognise Israel’s right to self-defence. A barrier is a reasonable way to achieve this. But the barrier’s route should be on or behind the Green Line, and not on occupied territory. Construction of the barrier on Palestinian land is illegal.
In 2006, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning “representations the Government has made to the Israeli Government on Israel taking more Palestinian land for settlements”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
We will continue to raise our concerns over the settlements and the barrier with the Israeli Government at all levels.
Our ambassador in Tel Aviv last raised our concerns about settlements and impact of the barrier in East Jerusalem with the Director General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 19 December 2005. He also raised Palestinian access to the Jordan Valley on 2 March with the Israeli Prime Minister’s Special Adviser.
We also fully recognise Israel’s right to self-defence. A barrier is a reasonable way to achieve this. But the barrier’s route should be on or behind the Green Line, and not on occupied territory. Construction of the barrier on Palestinian land is illegal.
In 2006, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons concerning, inter alia, “what the outcome was of discussions with EU partners and others on seeking compliance with the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) of 9 July 2004”, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated:
The UK continues to make representations to the Israeli government regarding the routing of the barrier. While Israel is entitled to take measures to strengthen their security, the routing of the barrier on occupied land is contrary to international law.
We agree with the broad conclusion of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), that building a barrier along the current route is unlawful. We supported UN General Assembly Resolution Emergency Session 10/15 which acknowledged the ICJ Advisory Opinion of 9 July 2004 on the legal consequences of the construction of the barrier in the occupied Palestinian territory.
In 2007, in a written answer in the House of Lords to a question concerning the situation in the occupied Palestinian territories, the UK Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote:
We also call on Israel to route the barrier on or behind the Green Line and freeze all settlement activity and dismantle all outposts built since 2001. The routing of the barrier and the construction of settlements on occupied land is illegal. We continue to raise these issues with the Israeli Government.
In 2007, in a written answer in the House of Commons to a question concerning plans by the Government of Israel to change the routing of the barrier in the occupied Palestinian territories, the UK Minister of State for the Middle East, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote:
We are concerned at reports that the Israeli government are considering changing the route of the barrier to incorporate two west bank settlements. We fully recognise Israel’s right to self-defence, but the barrier’s route should be on or behind the green line and not on occupied territory. Construction of the barrier on Palestinian land is illegal.
In 2007, during a debate in the House of Lords, the UK Government Spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office stated:
… the Government of Israel have a responsibility to ensure the security of their people. They have a right to self-defence. If they want to build a barrier … they are entitled to do so. But that barrier must be on or behind the green line. Any barrier on occupied land contravenes international law and must come down.
In 2010, in a written answer to a question in the House of Commons, the UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs stated that “with few exceptions, house demolitions in occupied territory, including in East Jerusalem, are in direct contravention of article 53 of the  fourth Geneva convention.”