Practice Relating to Rule 37. Open Towns and Non-Defended Localities
Section C. Attacks on open towns and non-defended localities
The Military Manual (1993) of the Netherlands states: “Parties to a conflict may not attack undefended areas and this is a result of the ‘open town doctrine’.”
The manual further states that “attacking … undefended areas” in violation of IHL constitutes a grave breach.
The Military Handbook (1995) of the Netherlands prohibits attacks on “undefended cities, villages and buildings”.
The Military Manual (2005) of the Netherlands states:
Parties to a conflict are prohibited from attacking undefended localities. This is a development of the older “open city” doctrine …
During the Second World War, cities were several times declared “open”. In June 1940, for example, the French Government declared Paris and Bordeaux, among other places, open cities. In 1945 the Allies declared Rome an open city after landing in Italy.
In its chapter on non-international armed conflict, the manual states: “It is prohibited to attack or bomb undefended cities, towns, villages, places or buildings.”
In its chapter on peace operations, the manual states: “Terms such as undefended places, demilitarized zones and neutralized territory … are sometimes described in peace operations, as safe havens or safe areas.”
Under the Definition of War Crimes Decree (1946) of the Netherlands, the “deliberate bombardment of undefended places” constitutes a war crime.
Under the International Crimes Act (2003) of the Netherlands, it is a crime, during an international armed conflict, to commit “the following acts, when they are committed intentionally and in violation of the relevant provisions of Additional Protocol (I) and cause death or serious injury to body or health: … making non-defended localities … the object of attack”.
Likewise, under the Act, “attacking or bombarding, by whatever means, towns, villages, dwellings or buildings which are undefended and which are not military objectives” constitutes a crime, when committed in time of international armed conflict.