Too Difficult to Protect: A History of the 1934 Monaco Draft and the Problem of Territory for International Humanitarian Law

By Kleinfeld, Margo | Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, August 2015 | Go to article overview

Too Difficult to Protect: A History of the 1934 Monaco Draft and the Problem of Territory for International Humanitarian Law


Kleinfeld, Margo, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space


Abstract. 'Blurry', 'indeterminate', and 'elastic' are terms used to describe the spatial, legal, and categorical ambiguities that have characterized the war-law-space nexus since September 11th. I argue here that these same qualities were central to the lawmaking process eighty years ago in the case of the Monaco Draft, a draft convention that proposed rules to establish hospital and safety towns, zones, and localities in order to strengthen international humanitarian law. This paper reviews the Monaco Draft's spatial proposals from their conception in 1934 and their discussion at three expert consultations during the 1930s to their incorporation into the 1949 Geneva Conventions as non-binding recommendations. An analysis of the conversations among experts charged with examining the proposed rules reveals how the interplay of territorial ideology with the more contingent realities of the battlefield produced uncertainties that conditioned the law. This was further complicated by the law's customary basis, which makes untested legal measures especially risky. The broader significance of this research is that it presents a historical case showing the problematic nature of territory, uncertainty, and materializing norms as a continuing feature of humanitarian law.

Keywords: international humanitarian law, Geneva Conventions, Monaco Draft, humanitarian zone, territorialism

Introduction

At their Seventh Congress in Madrid in 1933, the Spanish and Swedish delegates of the International Committee of Military Medicine and Pharmacy (ICMMP), (1) an organization of military doctors, presented reports on the new 1929 Geneva Convention, arguing that more concrete measures were required to serve noncombatants (Bainbridge, 1934). The Congress identified three 'wishes' to address what they regarded as legal deficiencies: to develop laws that would make health localities and zones immune from attack; to make the Geneva Convention more practical; and to find ways to extend legal protections to civilians affected by war (Thomann, 1933, page 656).

The ICMMP delegate from Monaco, Dr Loiiet, described these wishes to Prince Louis II of Monaco, who was, reportedly, extremely enthusiastic about the project and decided to convene a meeting of military doctors, lawyers, and legal scholars at his residence for a week in February 1934 to study these questions (OIDMM, 1934). (2) Ten military doctors, two legal professors, and the Mayor of Monaco, also a lawyer, drafted a set of rules--the Monaco Draft--that they hoped would become the basis for a new humanitarian treaty (figure 1). (3) The main legal innovation developed by the group was establishing rules for the protection of hospital towns and localities for military noncombatants (4) and security towns for civilians. (5)

This paper traces the Monaco Draft's spatial proposals from their conception in 1934 until the 1949 Diplomatic Conference of Geneva, focusing on the interplay of territorial and legal questions raised during the review process. Using meeting minutes and reports accessed from the ICRC archives, (6) I examine conversations among the experts charged with revising and codifying the proposals, especially their views on the viability of spatial humanitarian protections. I identify two specific spatial conundrums facing the experts: how civilian and military noncombatants might occupy the same legally protected zone; and how protected zones could be established without creating impediments to military control. In both of these cases, the possibility that governmental and military actors might refuse to comply with the new spatial measures came to be seen as a threat to international humanitarian law (1HL). (7) IHL, whose purpose is to limit the effects of armed conflict (Gasser, 1993, page 3), is a delicate balance between military necessity and states' obligation to reduce human suffering (Dinstein, 1984, page 346; Schmitt, 2010). The Monaco case demonstrates how territory and legal factors, in combination, produced spatial indeterminacies that military, legal, and humanitarian experts were unwilling to accept. …

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