The Practical Guide to Humanitarian Law

« Calling things by the wrong name adds to the affliction of the world. » Albert Camus.


This is a method of warfare characterized by the encirclement of a locality or area, leading to its isolation and followed by attacks to crush its resistance. In the event of an attack on a besieged locality, medical units and cultural property must be spared. Pillage of the locality after its conquest is forbidden (GCI Art. 15, GCII Art. 18, and GCIV Art. 16).

The rights of the besieged populations (non-combatants) are as follows:

  • diplomatic agents and citizens of neutral States must be granted the right to leave, unless fighting is in progress;
  • regarding the general civilian population, the parties to the conflict must endeavor to conclude local agreements to remove wounded, sick, and infirm persons and pregnant women from besieged areas;
  • such agreements must also provide for the safe passage of medical and religious personnel and medical material within, and on their way to, such areas (GCI Art. 15, GCII Art. 18, and GCIV Art. 17).

Two additional provisions are specified in the case of internal armed conflict:

  • starvation of civilians as a method of combat is prohibited (APII Art. 14);
  • if the civilian population is suffering undue hardship because of a lack of supplies essential to its survival (such as foodstuffs and medical supplies), relief actions of an exclusively humanitarian and impartial nature can be undertaken for the civilian population (APII Art. 18.2).

BlockadeEvacuationFamineMethods (and means) of warfareProtected personsProtectingpowersRelief

For Additional Information: Dinstein, S. “Siege Warfare and the Starvation of Civilians.” In Humanitarian Law of Armed Conflict: Challenges Ahead; Essays in Honour of Fritz Kalshoven , edited by Astrid J. M. Delissen and Gerard J. Tanja, 145–52. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1991.

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