Rules of War

Reena Sudan and Lily Burdick

Why are there rules of war?

The rules of war exist to "restrain the destructive force of war, while recognizing its inexorable necessities." (Baron Jomini). There are certain principles of justice that are manifested by general customs which must be upheld even during a time of war.

- Washburn University Archive of Foreign and International Treaties

How were the rules of war codified?

According to Dr Schindler and J. Toman, the Institute of International Law, at its session in Geneva, appointed a committee to study the Brussels Declaration, which was a draft of an international agreement concerning the laws of war. The Brussels Declaration was drafted in 1874, and the committee submitted supplementary proposals, that led to the adoption of the Manual of the Laws and Customs of War at Oxford in 1880.

--The Laws of Armed Conflicts

Examples of Articles in the Rules of War:

Application of General Principles

Essentially, Article I of the rules of war says that the armed forces are forbidden to maltreat inoffensive populations (i.e. civilians). The struggle of war must be honorable as needless severity should be avoided (Article 4).

Specific Provisions

Art. 8. It is forbidden:

(a) To make use of poison, in any form whatever;

(b) To make treacherous attempts upon the life of an enemy; as, for example, by keeping assassins in pay or by feigning to surrender;

(c) To attack an enemy while concealing the distinctive signs of an armed force;

(d) To make improper use of the national flag, military insignia or uniform of the enemy, of the flag of truce and of the protective signs prescribed by the ' Geneva Convention ' (Articles 17 and 40).

Art. 9. It is forbidden:

(a) To employ arms, projectiles, or materials of any kind calculated to cause superfluous suffering, or to aggravate wounds - notably projectiles of less weight than four hundred grams which are explosive or are charged with fulminating or inflammable substances ' (Declaration of St. Petersburg); '

(b) To injure or kill an enemy who has surrendered at discretion or is disabled, and to declare in advance that quarter will not be given, even by those who do not ask it for themselves.

Article 19. It is forbidden:

to rob or mutilate the dead lying on the field of battle.

Art. 32. It is forbidden:

(a) To pillage, even towns taken by assault;

(b) To destroy public or private property, if this destruction is not demanded by an imperative necessity of war;

(c) To attack and to bombard undefended places.

' If it is incontestable that belligerents have the right to resort to bombardment against fortresses and other places in which the enemy is intrenched, considerations of humanity require that this means of coercion be surrounded with certain modifying influences which will restrict as far as possible the effects to the hostile armed force and its means of defense. This is why '

Art. 33.

The commander of an attacking force, save in cases of open assault, shall, before undertaking a bombardment, make every due effort to give notice thereof to the local authorities.

Art. 34.

In case of bombardment all necessary steps must be taken to spare, if it can be done, buildings dedicated to religion, art, science and charitable purposes, hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are gathered on the condition that they are not being utilized at the time, directly or indirectly, for defense.

It is the duty of the besieged to indicate the presence of such buildings by visible signs notified to the assailant beforehand.

-- Oxford Laws of War on Land cited by the Washburn University Archive of Foreign and International Treaties