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Civil Defence in International

Humanitarian Law
Civil defence reflects the desire of those who made international humanitarian law to mitigate the loss, damage and suffering
inflicted on civilians as a result of the dramatic development of the methods and means of warfare. This aim is also reflected
generally in the precautions for the protection of the civilian population in the event of attack, as set out in Protocol I additional of
1977 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (Protocol I). The Fourth Geneva Convention for the protection of civilian persons in
time of war already grants civil protection organizations and their personnel as it does for the National Red Cross and Red
Crescent Societies the right to pursue their activities under foreign occupation. Protocol I expands the protection for civil
defence organizations to cover all situations of international armed conflict. It guarantees their protection while they carry out
civil defence tasks and provides a distinctive sign to identify them. Though Protocol II of 1977 additional to the Geneva
Conventions of 1949 contains no direct reference to civil defence, the rules regarding that activity should also be complied with
during non-international armed conflict, as part of the general protection accorded to the civilian population against the dangers
resulting from military operations (Art. 13, para. 1). Civil protection represents an essential component of that protection.

What does civil defence consist of?  decontamination and similar and under its control. It provides this
protective measures; protection on condition that all the
Civil defence is defined in  provision of emergency adverse parties concerned are
international humanitarian law accommodation and supplies; notified of this fact (Art. 64). The
according to the tasks carried out  emergency assistance in the same applies to international
rather than the organizations that restoration and maintenance of organizations, such as the
carry out those tasks. order in distressed areas; International Civil defence
 emergency repair of Organization (ICDO), that coordinate
Thus, Protocol I (Art. 61) provides a indispensable public utilities; the civil defence work of the above-
list of "humanitarian tasks" to be  emergency disposal of the dead; mentioned organizations.
performed for the following purposes:  assistance in the preservation of
objects essential for survival; Members of the armed forces and
 to protect the civilian population  complementary activities needed military units may also carry out civil
against the dangers arising from to carry out any of the tasks defence tasks. However, they are
hostilities or other disasters; mentioned above. protected only if they are permanently
 to help it to recover from the and exclusively assigned to those
immediate effects of such events; Who carries out tasks and if they meet the
 to provide the conditions civil defence tasks? requirements set out below.
necessary for its survival.
The provisions of Protocol I cover the How are civilian civil defence
The list is limited to the 15 following civil defence organizations set up by personnel protected?
tasks: the State, their personnel and any
civilians called upon by the State to General protection
 warning; carry out civil defence tasks under its
 evacuation; control. Those individuals are Civilians engaged in civil defence
 management of shelters; protected to the extend that they are work must be respected and
 management of blackout assigned exclusively to one of the protected. They are entitled to carry
measures; above-mentioned "humanitarian out the civil defence tasks except in
 rescue; tasks", even if only temporarily. case of imperative military necessity
 medical services including first (Art. 62, para. 1). This supplements
aid and religious assistance; Protocol I also protects the personnel the general protection of the civilian
 fire-fighting; of civilian civil defence organizations population provided by Article 51 of
Protocol I, under which civilians may
 detection and marking of danger of neutral or other States not engaged
in the conflict who perform civil not be the object of attack.
defence tasks on the territory of a
warring party with the latter's consent

International Committee of the Red Cross

Buildings and matriel used for civil How are military civil defence This sign may be used only to identify
defence purposes and shelters personnel protected? civil defence organizations and their
provided for the civilian population personnel, buildings and matriel
may not be destroyed or diverted from Members of the armed forces and used exclusively for humanitarian
their proper use except by the State to military units assigned to civil defence tasks or for shelters provided for the
which they belong (Art. 62, para. 3). organizations must be respected and civilian population. The parties to a
This protection supplements the protected (Art. 67) provided that: conflict may also agree among
general protection of civilian objects themselves regarding the use of
provided by Article 52 of Protocol I.  they are permanently and distinctive signals (lights and sirens)
exclusively assigned to the for the identification of civil defence
Special protection in occupied territory performance of one or more of services.
the above-listed "humanitarian
Protocol I contains provisions that tasks"; With the consent of the State, the
supplement, in occupied territory, the  they carry out those tasks only on international distinctive sign of civil
general protection set out above. the territory of their State; defence may also be used to identify
These provisions also complete  they do not perform military those services in peacetime.
Article 63 of the Fourth Geneva duties during the conflict;
Convention.  they make themselves clearly National implementation
distinguishable from the other
Under Article 63 of Protocol I, civilian members of the armed forces by Beginning in peacetime, the States
constantly displaying the must take measures to implement the
civil defence organizations must
international distinctive sign of rules on civil defence.
receive from the authorities the
facilities necessary for the civil defence;
performance of their tasks, and their  they are equipped only with light Though States have no obligation to
individual weapons for the modify the structure of their civil
personnel must under no
purpose of maintaining order or defence in peacetime, they must
circumstances be compelled to
for self-defence; nevertheless ensure that such
perform activities that would interfere
 they do not take direct part in the structures are recognizable in
with these tasks. However, the
hostilities and do not commit, or wartime. Regulations must therefore
authorities may disarm civil defence
are not used to commit, acts be issued to ensure that the civilian
personnel for security reasons.
harmful to the enemy. and military structures meet the
requirements laid down by Protocol
Limits to protection
Failure to observe the last of the I. It is preferable if the States act
conditions listed above results not voluntarily to extend the applicability
The protection to which civilian civil
only in the loss of protection but of those regulations to cover non-
defence organizations, their
constitutes a breach of Protocol I, international armed conflicts.
personnel, buildings, matriel and the
shelters are entitled ceases if they which the Parties to the conflict are
obliged to suppress (Art. 85, para. 1) It is vital to ensure that armed forces
commit or are used to commit acts
and which may give rise to personnel are aware of their
harmful to the enemy (Art. 65).
disciplinary or penal punishment. obligations toward persons and
objects displaying the international
In order to prevent undue advantage
In the event of capture, a member of distinctive sign of civil defence. The
being taken of this provision, Protocol
the military assigned to perform civil States should also ensure that all
I lists acts which may not be viewed
defence tasks becomes a prisoner of those involved in civil defence know
as harmful to the enemy:
war and the provisions of the Third the rules of international humanitarian
Geneva Convention relating to the law, in particular those applicable to
 the fact that civil defence tasks their duties.
are carried out under the treatment of the prisoners of war are
direction or control of military applicable to him.
The States must supervise the use of
authorities; the international distinctive sign of civil
 the fact that civilian civil defence Military buildings and matriel
assigned to civil defence defence as a protective device and
personnel cooperate with military must prevent and repress any misuse
personnel in the performance of organizations must be clearly marked
with the international distinctive sign (Art. 66, para. 8), in particular by
civil defence tasks, or that some adopting the appropriate criminal
military personnel are attached to of civil defence. Objects assigned
exclusively and permanently to the legislation.
civilian civil defence
organizations; performance of civil defence tasks
which fall under the power of the For more information relating to civil
 the fact that the performance of defence, contact the International Civil
civil defence tasks may enemy are subject to the law of war.
However, they may not be diverted Defence Organization:
incidentally benefit military
victims, particularly those who are from their proper use as long as they
are needed for that purpose. 10-12 Chemin de Surville
no longer taking part in the 1213 Petit-Lancy
fighting; Switzerland
 the fact that civilian civil defence Tel.: +41 22 793 4433
personnel carry light individual Fax: +41 22 793 4428
The international distinctive sign of
weapons for the purpose of
civil defence set out in Protocol I
maintaining order or for self-
consists of an equilateral blue triangle
on an orange background (Art. 66 and
Annex I, Chapter V).

International Committee of the Red Cross