Unlawful appropriation of property during armed conflict
International humanitarian law has long prohibited the unlawful appropriation of public or private property during armed conflict—and with good reason. As demonstrated by the recent conflicts in, for example, Sierra Leone, Iraq, East Timor, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the unlawful appropriation of property, including the illegal exploitation of natural resources, has the capacity to (sometimes literally) fuel armed conflict and to exacerbate its effects.
In October 2010, the Open Society Foundations published a report written by James G. Stewart titled “Corporate War Crimes: Prosecuting Pillage of Natural Resources” and co-sponsored a conference on the topic in The Hague. Professor Stewart identifies bases in domestic and international law on which individuals—as well as, to a certain extent, corporate entities—may be subject to war crimes prosecutions for committing unlawful appropriate of public or private property during armed conflict. In doing so, the author notes some humanitarian concerns associated with the prohibition. For instance, he examines the legal concept of "usufruct," as well as the extent, if any, to which the law allows an occupying army to exploit non-renewable resources so long as the money from the sales is spent only on the local population’s humanitarian needs.
More information about the prohibition of unlawful appropriation of public or private property—whether it is referred to as “pillage,” “plunder,” “looting,” or “spoliation”—during armed conflict is available at the International Committee of the Red Cross’s Customary IHL Portal, which was recently updated to include additional state practice from 30 states.More on: Pillage War Crimes Usufruct Plunder Looting Spoliation ICRC Corporate Liability