The Difference Between Art. 49(6) of GC IV and Art. 8(2)(b)(viii) of the RS
I have no desire to get into an argument with Eugene Kontorovich about the ostensibly “landmark” decision of a French intermediate court — especially because, like him, I am far from fluent in French and the decision strikes me as quite legally complicated. But it is important to push back against claims like these (emphasis mine):
This is an extraordinarily important holding in light of the decades old-debate about the meaning of 49(6) in the context of Israeli civilian migration into the West Bank. It is in direct opposition to the political and international law position on settlements. In the standard narrative, any migration of Israeli Jews past the Green Line, or the expansion of their residences and communities once there, is a war crime. Thus when private citizens decides to buy or build a house across the Green Line, or even expand an existing one, it is a war crime.
Moreover, Israeli citizens who migrate to the West Bank are often said to be guilty of war crimes themselves as aiders-and-abettors. The Versailles decision would seem to reject such a position.
There are two significant problems here. First, despite emphasizing war crimes, Eugene’s post focuses solely on the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition on the transfer of civilians into occupied territory; it simply ignores the Rome Statute’s very different war crime of direct or indirect transfer. Here is Art. 49(6) of GC IV (emphasis mine):
The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.
And here is Article 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute (emphasis mine):
(viii) The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory.
To begin with, it’s worth noting that it is anything but self-evident that Art. 49(6) requires “actually organizing and moving population en masse (compare to individual transfers in 49.1),” as Eugene claims in the comments to his post. His analogy to the Nazis’ colonization of Poland and Ukraine — in which civilians “weren’t merely encouraged, but rounded up” — is misplaced, because unlike Art. 49(1), Art. 49(6) does not require the transfer of civilians to be forcible. Moreover, the war crime in question — Art. 8(2)(b)(viii) — even more clearly does not require “actually organizing and moving population en masse,” because it prohibits both direct and indirect transfer. Art. 8(2)(b)(viii) thus prohibits a much broader range of actions than Art. 46(1). And, of course, a violation of Art. 8(2)(b)(viii), unlike a violation of Art. 49(6), gives rise to individual criminal responsibility.
The second significant problem with Eugene’s post is that, in fact, the French intermediate court’s decision appears to say nothing at all about whether settlement activities qualify as war crimes. Given my French, I am loathe to conclude unequivocally that it does not. But the decision does not mention either the Statut de Rome or Art. 8(2)(b)(viii), nor does it mention crimes de guerre (war crimes) or transfert… indirect (indirect transfer) — two obviously critical expressions in the French version of the Rome Statute.
The French intermediate court’s decision may well be a landmark concerning corporate responsibility; I’m sure Eugene will tell us in his next post. But I think it is to safe to say that the decision tells us little, if anything, about whether Israel’s settlement activities qualify as the war crime of direct or indirect transfer of civilians into occupied territory.
Note: I have restructured the post for clarity.