Section B. Pillage committed by civilians
Uganda’s Operational Code of Conduct (1986) provides that “stealing civilian property or food” is an “offence undermining relationship with the civilian population”. According to the manual, although this offence may be committed by soldiers, “any civilian aiding and abetting any National Resistance Army member to commit any of the above offences [including stealing] will be charged with the same offences”.
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
The UK Military Manual (1958) states:
A special class of war crime is that sometimes known as “marauding”. This consists of ranging over battlefields and following advancing or retreating armies in quest of loot, robbing … stragglers and wounded and plundering the dead – all acts done not as a means of carrying on the war but for private gain. Nevertheless, such acts are treated as violations of the law of war. Those who commit them, whether civilians who have never been lawful combatants, or persons who have belonged to a military unit, an organised resistance movement or a levée en masse
, and have deserted and so ceased to be lawful combatants, are liable to be punished as war criminals. They may be tried and sentenced by the courts of either belligerent.
Under Algeria’s Code of Military Justice (1971), it is a punishable offence for a military or civilian person to steal from wounded, sick, shipwrecked or dead persons in the area of operation.
Burkina Faso’s Code (1994) of Military Justice provides that plunder of a wounded, sick, shipwrecked or dead person, in the area of military operations of military units, is a punishable offence that can be committed by “any individual, whether military or not”.
Chile’s Code of Military Justice (1925) punishes any “civilian … who plunders dead soldiers or auxiliary personnel on the battlefield of their money, jewellery or other objects, in order to appropriate them”.
The Czech Republic’s Criminal Code (1961), as amended in 1999, in an article entitled “Plunder in a Theatre of War”, punishes:
Whoever in a theatre of war, on the battlefield or in places affected by military operations:
(a) seizes another person’s belongings, taking advantage of such person’s distress;
(b) arbitrarily destroys another person’s property or takes it under the pretext of military necessity; or
(c) robs the fallen.
Under France’s Ordinance on Repression of War Crimes (1944), “the removal or export by any means from French territory of goods of any nature, including movable property and money” is likened to pillage. It is applicable to any perpetrator of the offence.
Under Germany’s Penal Code (1998), pillage by civilians would be covered under the provisions relative to theft.
Under Indonesia’s Penal Code (1946), theft committed on the occasion of “riots, insurgencies or war” is a punishable offence.
Israel’s Military Justice Law (1955), which prohibits looting, applies to soldiers but also to “a person employed in the service of the Army, or a person employed in an undertaking which serves the Army and which the Minister of Defence has defined, by order, as a military service, … a person employed on a mission on behalf of the Army”, “even though they may not be soldiers”.
Under the International Crimes Act (2003) of the Netherlands, “anyone” who pillages a town or place, even when taken by assault, commits a crime, whether in time of international or non-international armed conflict.
Republic of Moldova
Under the Republic of Moldova’s Penal Code (2002), civilians may engage their criminal responsibility for having committed the crime of robbery of the population in the area of military operations.
Under Rwanda’s Penal Code (1977), pillage by civilians is a punishable offence.
Spain’s Penal Code (1995) states that anyone who commits pillage is guilty of a punishable offence.
Switzerland’s Military Criminal Code (1927), as amended, prohibits pillage and is applicable to civilians in time of war.
Switzerland’s Military Criminal Code (1927), as amended in 2007, states: “In times of war, the following persons are subject to military criminal law … : Civilians who are guilty of … pillage.”
The Code also states:
Any person who, in times of war … , has committed an act of pillage, in particular any person who, profiting from the alarm caused by the war, has taken other people’s property, has compelled another person to hand such property over to him or her, or has committed acts of violence against other people’s property, is to be punished with deprivation of liberty or a monetary penalty.
The Code further provides:
The following are subject to military criminal law:
8. Foreign civilians … for acts mentioned in Articles 115 to 179a
[that includes the previously cited provision] which they commit while employed by the armed forces or the military administration or as delegates while working with the troops.
Switzerland’s Military Criminal Code (1927), taking into account amendments entered into force up to 2011, states:
1 The following are subject to military criminal law:
8. Civilians or foreign military persons for acts mentioned in Articles 115 to 179 which they commit while employed or mandated by the armed forces or the military administration while working with the troops.
1 In times of war, in addition to the persons mentioned in art. 3 and 4, the following are subject to military criminal law:
1. Civilians who make themselves culpable of one of the following offences:
d. … war crimes (Part 2, chapter 6bis and art. 139);
Chapter 6bis – War crimes
1 The penalty shall be a custodial sentence of not less than three years for any person who, in the context of an armed conflict:
c. as a method of warfare, pillages or otherwise unlawfully appropriates property[.]
Chapter 8 – Felonies or misdemeanours against property
1 The penalty shall be a custodial sentence or a fine of not less than 60 daily rates for any person who, in time of war or while in active duty, commits an act of pillage, unlawfully appropriates property in any other way, or exercises violence against someone else’s property.
2 The penalty shall be a custodial sentence of not less than five years for any person who pillages by using violence against a person, threatens the person with immediate danger to life or bodily integrity or in any other way makes the person incapable of resistance.
Yugoslavia, Socialist Federal Republic of
The commentary on the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia’s Penal Code (1976), as amended in 2001, states that the act of unlawfully seizing belongings from the killed or the wounded in a theatre of war “can be committed … by any
In the Bommer case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1947, the parents of a German family were charged with, and convicted of, theft and receiving stolen goods belonging to French citizens. Two of the daughters were charged with, and convicted of, the second count of the indictment only. The Tribunal considered the offences of theft under Article 379 of the French Penal Code – referred to therein as “fraudulent removal of property” – and receiving stolen goods under Article 460 of the Code – referred to as “knowingly receiving things taken, misappropriated or obtained by means of a crime or delict” – as war crimes.
In the Lingenfelder case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1947, the accused, a German settler in France, was charged with pillage for the removal of horses and vehicles belonging to the owner of a French farm. Without giving reasons for such finding, the Tribunal came to the conclusion that it did not amount to pillage.
In the Baus case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1947, the accused, a land superintendent in occupied France, was found guilty of a war crime for theft under the terms of the French Penal Code and for pillage under the 1944 Ordinance on Repression of War Crimes. He took with him during the retreat to Germany the property of the owners of the farms that he was managing.
In the Benz case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1947, the accused, a couple of German settlers, were found guilty of theft and receiving stolen goods, which the Tribunal considered to be war crimes. On their return to Germany at the end of the Second World War, they took with them movable property belonging to French inhabitants.
In the Neber case
before a French Military Tribunal in 1948, the accused, a German settler in France (Lorraine), was found guilty of a war crime for having received crockery stolen by her nephew from a French woman, which she took with her when returning to Germany towards the end of the war.
In its judgment in the Roechling case
in 1948, the General Tribunal at Rastadt of the Military Government for the French Zone of Occupation in Germany held that the accused, the proprietor of a German industrial trust and Reich Commissioner for the iron industry of the departments of Moselle and Meurthe-et-Moselle, was guilty of war crimes, inter alia
, for participation in the economic pillage of occupied countries.
In the Greiser case
before Poland’s Supreme National Tribunal in 1946, the accused, a governor and gauleiter
of the Nazi party for provinces incorporated in the German Reich, was charged with war crimes for having taken part in “widespread robberies and thefts … of the movables of Polish citizens, and of all public property”.
United States of America
In the Flick case
before the US Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1947, the accused, the principal proprietor of a large group of German industrial enterprises (and four officials of the same group), which included coal and iron mines and steel producing plants, was charged with war crimes, inter alia
, for the plunder of public and private property, and spoliation, in the countries and territories occupied by Germany. Flick was found guilty of this count of indictment. The Tribunal stated that “no defendant is shown by the evidence to have been responsible for any act of pillage as that word is commonly understood”, but it, however, quoted Article 47 of the 1907 Hague Regulations as one of the articles relevant in casu
United States of America
In the Krupp case before the US Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1948, six of the accused, officials of the Krupp industrial enterprises occupying high positions in political, financial, industrial and economic circles in Germany, were found guilty of war crimes for, inter alia, the plunder and spoliation of public and private property in the territories occupied by Germany. The Tribunal quoted Article 47 of the 1907 Hague Regulations as pertinent in casu. It also stated that it “fully concurs with the Judgement of the I.M.T. that the [1907 Hague Convention (IV)], to which Germany was a party, had by 1939 become customary law and was, therefore, binding on Germany not only as Treaty Law but also as Customary Law”. The Tribunal further stated:
Spoliation of private property … is forbidden under two aspects; firstly, the individual private owner of property must not be deprived of it; secondly, the economic subsistence of the belligerently occupied territory must not be taken over by the occupant or put to the service of his war effort – always with the proviso that there are exemptions from this rule which are strictly limited to the needs of the army of occupation in so far as such needs do not exceed the economic strength of the occupied territory.
United States of America
In the Krauch case (The I.G. Farben Trial) before the US Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1948, the accused, officials of I.G. Farben Industrie A.G., were charged, inter alia, with war crimes for unlawfully, wilfully and knowingly ordering, abetting and taking a consenting part in the plunder of public and private property, exploitation and spoliation of property in countries and territories which came under the belligerent occupation of Germany. The charges were regarded as violations of Articles 46 to 56 of the 1907 Hague Regulations. Some of the accused were convicted on this count. The Tribunal held that “the offence of plunder of public and private property must be considered a well-recognised crime under international law”. It added:
The Hague Regulations do not specifically employ the term “spoliation”, but we do not consider this matter to be one of legal significance. As employed in the Indictment, the term is used interchangeably with the words “plunder” and “exploitation”. It may therefore be properly considered that the term “spoliation”, which has been admittedly adopted as a term of convenience by the Prosecution, applies to the widespread and systematised acts of dispossession and acquisition of property in violation of the rights of the owners which took place in territories under the belligerent occupation or control of Nazi Germany during World War II. We consider that “spoliation” is synonymous with the word “plunder” as employed in Control Council Law No. 10, and that it embraces offences against property in violation of the laws and customs of war of the general type charged in the Indictment.
[I]t is illustrative of the view that offences against property of the character described in the [1943 Inter-Allied Declaration against Acts of Dispossession] were considered by the signatory powers to constitute action in violation of existing international law.
In our view, the offences against property defined in the Hague Regulations are broad in their phraseology and do not admit of any distinction between “plunder” in the restricted sense of acquisition of physical properties, which are the subject matter of the crime, the plunder or spoliation resulting from acquisition of intangible property such as is involved in the acquisition of stock ownership, or of acquisition of ownership or control through any other means, even though apparently legal in form.
According to the Report on the Practice of India, acts of pillage committed by a civilian in relation to a foreign national may amount to extortion or robbery and are, as such, “punishable under the law of the land”.
According to the Report on the Practice of Jordan, the prohibition of pillage is also applicable to civilians.
UN Commission on Human Rights (Special Rapporteur)
In 1992, in a report on the situation of human rights in Kuwait under Iraqi occupation, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights, in a section entitled “Prohibition of the destruction, dismantling and pillaging of infrastructure and private property”, reported cases of pillage of private property by the civilian population residing in Kuwait. The legal framework considered applicable by the Rapporteur included Article 33 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV.
UN Commission on Human Rights (Special Rapporteur)
In 1995, in a report on the situation of human rights in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, the Special Rapporteur of the UN Commission on Human Rights noted that, after the fall and evacuation of Srebrenica, “there were a number of reports of widespread looting of Muslim homes by Bosnian Serb forces and Serb civilians following the evacuation. People reportedly came from nearby towns and villages to take goods and livestock.”
UN Commission of Experts Established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992)
In 1994, in its final report on grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and other violations of IHL committed in the former Yugoslavia, the UN Commission of Experts Established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 780 (1992) placed “looting, theft and robbery of personal property” within the practices of “ethnic cleansing” and as part of a systematic and planned general policy. It noted that acts of pillage were committed by persons from all segments of the Serb population, including civilians.
International Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in Rwanda
In 1993, the International Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights Violations in Rwanda, mandated by four non-governmental organizations, reported that the Rwandan authorities had encouraged civilians to commit acts of pillage.