If Greece had been militarily occupied

If, instead of being ‘bailed out’, Greece (or Ireland, Portugal… who’s next?) had been occupied by a foreign power, Greeks would be protected by 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, according to which a party to an international armed conflict cannot “attack, destroy, remove or render useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population, such as foodstuffs, agricultural areas for the production of foodstuffs, crops, livestock, drinking water installations and supplies and irrigation works, for the specific purpose of denying them for their sustenance value to the civilian population or to the adverse Party, whatever the motive, whether in order to starve out civilians, to cause them to move away or for any other motive” (art. 54.2). Objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population “shall not be made the object of reprisals” (art. 54.4).

These provisions, formally adopted 35 years ago, were not entirely new. The Diplomatic Conference of 1949 had already agreed upon the need to provide for aid in favour of the most vulnerable categories of the population (article 23 of the IV Geneva Convention), and to safeguard the necessities of life of civilians in occupied territories, such as private property, food and medical supplies (articles 53 and 55).

The use of starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare, and attacking, destroying, removing or rendering useless objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population are prohibited by Customary International Humanitarian Law (ICRC, Rules 53 and 54). The violation of the prohibition to use starvation as a method of warfare does not require starving a population to death; a violation occurs whenever a party to a conflict is deliberately “causing the population to suffer hunger, particularly by depriving it of its sources of food or of supplies” (ICRC, Commentary on the Additional Protocols, para. 2089).

As a way to pay off the debt and avoid bankruptcy, some have suggested that Greece should sell its islands, Acropolis and the Parthenon. Yet, if Greece had been occupied manu militari this wouldn´t be a problem, because the occupying power must prevent the illicit export of cultural property from occupied territory and must return illicitly exported property to the competent authorities of the occupied territory (ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Rule 41). Pillage is also prohibited (Rule 52).

As a response to the public unrest, Greece is being forced to suspend effectively many of the “individual and social rights” enshrined in the Part II of its Constitution. However, article 43 of the 1907 Hague Regulations states that the occupant “shall take all the measures in his power to restore, and ensure, as far as possible, public order and safety, while respecting, unless absolutely prevented, the laws in force in the country”.

A territory is considered occupied “when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army” (article 42 of the Hague Regulations). Not even as a joke I would suggest that being invaded by a foreign army can be better that being rescued by the troika, as scary as its men in black may look. But it strikes me as paradoxical that, while the population under military intervention is formally protected by international standards, the population under financial intervention is not protected at all.

Koldo Casla


Photo: The Nazis occupied Athens on 27 April 1941


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