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“Safe areas”: The international legal framework

  • Emanuela-Chiara Gillard
Abstract

In recent years there have been repeated calls for the establishment of so-called “safe areas” to protect civilians from the effects of hostilities in a number of contexts. The present article presents the international law framework relevant to the establishment and operation of such areas: the provisions of international humanitarian law on protected zones; the rules regulating resort to armed force, Security Council authorization and mandates for the establishment of such areas by multinational forces in the absence of agreement between belligerents; and the refugee and international human rights issues raised by such zones. Using the example of the “protection of civilians sites” in South Sudan, the article then highlights some of the operational challenges raised by safe areas. It concludes with some reflections on how to enhance the likelihood that belligerents will establish such protected zones in the future.

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The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) and ERC Grant Agreement No. 340956. A first draft of this article was presented at a workshop on “Safe Areas as a Response to Humanitarian Crises?” hosted by the Freie Universität Berlin and funded by the Thyssen Foundation in October 2015. The author would like to express her gratitude to the workshop participants for their feedback, as well as to the peer reviewers.

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1 League of Arab States, Res. 2360, “Outcome of the Council Meeting at the Ministerial Level”, 12 March 2011.

2 See, for example, Patrick Wintour, “Syria: Former UK Development Secretaries Appeal for Safe Havens”, The Guardian, 1 February 2016; “Drawing in the Neighbours”, The Economist, 2 July 2015; Erin Cunningham, “U.S., Turkey Aim to Create Buffer Zone on Syrian Border. Nobody Knows How”, Washington Post, 12 August 2015.

3 See, for example, Bill Frelick, “Blocking Syrian Refugees Isn't the Way”, The New York Times, 24 April 2013.

4 Memorandum on the Creation of De-Escalation Areas in the Syrian Arab Republic, 14 September 2017, available at: https://syria.liveuamap.com/en/2017/4-may-heres-the-full-text-of-the-syria-deescalation-zone (all internet references were accessed in November 2018).

5 Hashem Osserian, “How De-Escalation Zones in Syria Became a War Management Strategy”, News Deeply, 6 February 2018, available at: www.newsdeeply.com/syria/articles/2018/02/06/how-de-escalation-zones-in-syria-became-a-war-management-strategy. See also Nada Homsi and Anne Barnard, “Marked for De-escalation, Syrian Towns Endure Surge of Attacks”, The New York Times, 18 November 2017.

6 Jean Pictet (ed.), Commentary on the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, Vol. 4: Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, ICRC, Geneva, 1958 (ICRC Commentary on GC IV), p. 127.

7 ICRC, Commentary on the First Geneva Convention: Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, 2nd ed., Geneva, 2016 (2016 Commentary on GC I), para. 1893.

8 Article 23 of GC I refers to “hospital and safety zones”, and Article 14 of GC IV refers to “hospital and safety zones and localities”.

9 The “wounded and sick” also includes the related persons referred to in Article 13 of GC I.

10 AP I, Art. 8.

11 ICRC Commentary on GC IV, above note 6, pp. 125–126; GC IV, Art. 13.

12 The Geneva Conventions of 1906 and 1929, and more recently, Article 12 of GC I, require belligerents to respect and protect wounded and sick members of the armed forces. Similarly, the Geneva Conventions of 1864, 1906 and 1929, and more recently, Articles 24–26 of GC I, require belligerents to respect and protect those providing medical care to wounded and sick members of the armed forces. Article 27 of the 1907 Hague Regulations requires parties, in the conduct of hostilities, to spare as much as possible hospitals and places where the wounded and sick are collected. This protection was reiterated and strengthened in Article 19 of GC I, which provides that medical establishments for members of the armed forces may in no circumstances be the object of attack and must be respected and protected at all times.

13 GC IV, Arts 16, 18, 20.

14 See, for example, Gillard, Emanuela-Chiara, “Protection of Civilians in the Conduct of Hostilities”, in Liivoja, Rain and McCormack, Tim (eds), Routledge Handbook on the Law of Armed Conflict, Routledge, New York, 2016.

15 2016 Commentary on GC I, above note 7, para. 1905.

16 See, for example, Pictet, Jean (ed.), The Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949: Commentary, Vol. 1: Geneva Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field, ICRC, Geneva, 1952, pp. 418, 421.

17 These include the neutralized zones established in Jerusalem in 1948 and in Nicosia in 1974, and some hospitals in the Dubrovnik area in 1991. See Sandoz, Yves, “The Establishment of Safety Zones for Persons Displaced within their Country of Origin”, in Al-Nuaimi, Najeeb and Meese, Richard (eds), International Legal Issues Arising under the United Nations Decade of International Law, Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague and London, 1995, p. 800.

18 AP I also foresees the possibility of establishing “non-defended localities” in Article 59. While these can also enhance the safety of civilians, they are different in nature to the other types of protected zones outlined in this article, and there have not been calls to establish them in recent years, so they will not be discussed further.

19 Sandoz, Yves, Swinarski, Christophe and Zimmermann, Bruno (eds), Commentary on the Additional Protocols, ICRC, Geneva, 1987 (ICRC Commentary on APs), para. 2260. The expression “demilitarized zones” has been employed to refer to a number of different arrangements, including areas established as buffer zones between warring parties as part of armistices, or imposed upon defeated parties by peace treaties. In this article the expression is used to refer exclusively to demilitarized zones established for the humanitarian purpose of protecting the civilian population residing there. Ibid., paras 2299–2301.

20 See discussion in ibid., paras 2304–2306.

21 AP I, Art. 60(3).

22 Ibid., Art. 60(2).

23 Ibid., Art. 60(1).

24 Ibid., Art. 60(7).

25 Y. Sandoz, above note 17, p. 920.

26 GC I, Art. 23(3); GC IV, Art. 14(3).

27 See Y. Sandoz, above note 17; Lavoyer, Jean-Philippe, “International Humanitarian Law, Protected Zones and the Use of Force”, in Biermann, Wolfgang and Vadset, Martin (eds), UN Peacekeeping in Trouble: Lessons Learned from the Former Yugoslavia: Peacekeepers' Views on the Limits and Possibilities of the United Nations in a Civil War-like Conflict, Ashgate, Aldershot, 2000, p. 262.

28 In relation to demilitarized zones, Article 60(2) of AP I notes that the agreement could be oral or in writing. The provisions on other protected zones do not address this issue.

29 For example, the ICRC ran the neutralized zones in Jerusalem in 1948 and the Osijek protected zone established in Croatia in 1991. See Y. Sandoz, above note 17, p. 906; J.-P. Lavoyer, above note 27, pp. 268 ff.

30 See, for example, Trevor Keck, “What You Need to Know About ‘Safe Zones’”, Intercross Blog, 27 February 2017, available at: http://intercrossblog.icrc.org/blog/what-you-need-to-know-about-safe-zones. Keck notes that “[t]he ICRC would not administer any zone secured or enforced by military force as it would compromise our neutrality and independence”.

31 This is an issue that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) frequently has to grapple with. See, for example, Long, Katy, “In Search of Sanctuary: Border Closures, ‘Safe’ Zones and Refugee Protection”, Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 26, No. 3, 2013. The dilemma may be particularly stark for UNHCR in view of its mandate to promote principles of refugee law and protection in addition to assisting displaced persons, but it is pertinent to all humanitarian actors.

32 For examples of zones of refuge set up before 1949, see Y. Sandoz, above note 17, pp. 904–907.

33 ICRC Commentary on APs, above note 19, para. 2261; Y. Sandoz, above note 17, pp. 909–911.

34 Y. Sandoz, above note 17, pp. 915–916.

35 J.-P. Lavoyer, above note 27, pp. 266–270.

36 Report of the Secretary-General's Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, 31 March 2011, paras 80–89, 100–102, 115–123. See also Human Rights Watch, War on the Displaced: Sri Lankan Army and LTTE Abuses against Civilians in the Vanni, February 2009, available at: www.hrw.org/report/2009/02/19/war-displaced/sri-lankan-army-and-ltte-abuses-against-civilians-vanni.

37 ICRC, “Safety Zones: Questions and Answers with Alain Aeschlimann, Head of the ICRC in Ukraine”, 10 July 2017, available at: http://ua.icrc.org/2017/07/10/safety-zones-questions-answers-alain-aeschlimann-head-icrc-ukraine/.

38 AP I, Arts 10, 48; Additional Protocol II (AP II), Arts 7, 13.

39 AP I, Arts 51(2), 52; AP II, Arts 13(2); Henckaerts, Jean-Marie and Doswald-Beck, Louise (eds), Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. 1: Rules, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005 (ICRC Customary Law Study), Rules 1, 7.

40 GC I, Art. 19; GC IV, Art. 18; AP I, Art. 12; AP II, Art. 11; ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 39, Rule 28.

41 AP I, Art. 51; ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 39, Rules 11–13.

42 Geneva Convention III, Art. 23; GC IV, Art. 28; AP I, Art. 51(7); ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 39, Rule 97.

43 AP I, Art. 58; ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 39, Rule 23.

44 AP I, Arts 57, 58; ICRC Customary Law Study, above note 39, Rules 15–24.

45 See, for example, Landgren, Karin, “Safety Zones and International Protection: A Dark Grey Area”, International Journal of Refugee Law, Vol. 7, No. 3, 1995, pp. 442451.

46 See, for example, McQueen, Carol, Humanitarian Intervention and Safety Zones: Iraq, Bosnia and Rwanda, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2005; and, more recently, Recchia, Stefano, “The Paradox of Safe Areas in Ethnic Civil Wars”, Global Responsibility to Protect, Vol. 10, No. 3, 2018.

47 UN Charter, Art. 51.

48 Ibid., Art. 42.

49 Some have suggested that the establishment of the “safe havens” in northern Iraq in 1991 was an instance of humanitarian intervention. See, for example, Harrington, Michael E., “Operation Provide Comfort: A Perspective in International Law”, Connecticut Journal of International Law, Vol. 8, No. 2, 1993. Despite considerable debate in recent years, at present the majority view remains that “humanitarian intervention” is not an additional exception to the prohibition on the use of force. See, for example, Vaughan Lowe and Antonios Tzanakopoulos, “Humanitarian Intervention”, in Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, May 2011.

50 UNSC Res. 688, 5 April 1991, op. paras 3, 6.

51 See, for example, Airforce Historical Studies Office, “Operation Provide Comfort and Northern Watch”, available at: www.afhistory.af.mil/FAQs/Fact-Sheets/Article/458953/operation-provide-comfort-and-northern-watch/; “Operation Provide Comfort”, GlobalSecurity.org, available at: www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/provide_comfort.htm.

52 K. Landgren, above note 45, p. 443; Schindler, Dietrich, “Humanitarian Assistance, Humanitarian Interference and International Law”, in Macdonald, Ronald St John, Essays in Honour of Wang Tieya, Martinus Nijhoff, Dordrecht, 1993, p. 699.

53 Letter dated 21 April 1991 from the Permanent Representative of Iraq to the United Nations addressed to the Secretary-General, UN Doc. S/22513, 22 April 1991.

54 See, for example, Malanczuk, Peter, “The Kurdish Crisis and Allied Intervention in the Aftermath of the Second Gulf War”, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 2, No. 2, 1991.

55 The question of safe zones was not put to the Security Council after the adoption of Resolution 688 because it was considered unlikely that all permanent members would have supported the zones. See, for example, Schachter, Oscar, “United Nations Law in the Gulf Conflict”, American Journal of International Law, Vol. 85, No. 3, 1991, p. 469; P. Malanczuk, above note 54.

56 See S. Recchia, above note 46.

57 UNSC Res. 743, 21 February 1992.

58 UNSC Res. 758, 8 June 1992.

59 UNSC Res. 819, 16 April 1993, op. para. 1.

60 UNSC Res. 824, 6 May 1993, op. para. 3.

61 UNSC Res. 819, 16 April 1993, op. para. 4.

62 UNSC Res. 824, 6 May 1993, op. para. 6.

63 UNSC Res. 836, 4 June 1994, op. para. 5, stating that the Security Council “[d]ecides to extend to that end the mandate of UNPROFOR in order to enable it, in the safe areas referred to in resolution 824 (1993), to deter attacks against the safe areas, to monitor the cease-fire, to promote the withdrawal of military or paramilitary units other than those of the Government of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina and to occupy some key points on the ground, in addition to participating in the delivery of humanitarian relief to the population as provided for in resolution 776 (1992) of 14 September 1992”.

64 See K. Landgren, above note 45, p. 445.

65 Numerous other aspects of the dynamics of the international community's response to the conflict also contributed to the outcome. See S. Recchia, above note 46, and references cited therein.

66 UNSC Res. 872, 5 October 1993, op. para. 2.

67 In Resolution 912, adopted a fortnight after the start of the genocide, the Security Council reduced UNAMIR's troop numbers from 2,548 to 270 as it considered that the conductions in Rwanda were no longer permissive to supporting a peace process – the mandated purpose of UNAMIR.

68 UNSC Res. 929, 22 June 1994, op. para. 2.

69 Ibid., op. para. 3.

70 K. Landgren, above note 45, pp. 449 ff.

71 For a discussion of whether peacekeeping forces have an implicit mandate to establish safe areas absent a Security Council mandate to this effect, see Oswald, Bruce, “The Creation and Control of Places of Protection during United Nations Peace Operations”, International Review of the Red Cross, Vol. 83, No. 844, 2001.

72 See, for example, Jenna Stern, Establishing Safety and Security at Protection of Civilians Sites: Lessons Learned from the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan, Civilians in Conflict Policy Brief No. 2, September 2015, p. 5; Jan Egeland, “Foreword”, in Caelin Briggs and Lisa Monaghan, Protection of Civilian Sites: Lessons Learned from South Sudan for Future Operations, Norwegian Refugee Council, 31 May 2017, available at: www.nrc.no/globalassets/pdf/reports/poc-sites_lessons-from-south-sudan-copy.pdf.

73 As of March 2018, over 200,000 civilians were living in six PoC sites. UNMISS, “PoC Update”, 12 March 2018, available at: https://tinyurl.com/y82a3do5. Population figures have been at this number since late 2015. See Sharland, Lisa and Gorur, Aditi, Revising the UN Peacekeeping Mandate in South Sudan: Maintaining Focus on the Protection of Civilians, Stimson Center and Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Washington, DC, December 2015, p. 14.

74 Civilians had sought shelter in the proximity of UNMISS bases on a number of occasions before the escalation of violence in December 2013, but they had done so in relatively small numbers and only for short periods of time. In April 2013 UNMISS had developed guidelines to address such situations based on the premise that civilians would remain for a maximum of seventy-two hours. Although valuable, the guidelines were intended for a very different scenario to that which unfolded after December 2013. UNMISS, Guidelines: Civilians Seeking Protection at UNMISS Bases, 30 April 2013. Civilians have sought refuge within or in close proximity to the bases of peacekeeping forces in other contexts as well: see the examples in C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, pp. 17–18.

75 The UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) acknowledged as much. DPKO, “Practice Note on Civilians Seeking Protections at UN Facilities”, 2015.

76 For a comprehensive analysis see C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72.

77 UNSC Res. 1996, 8 July 2011, op. paras 1, 3, 4.

78 UNSC Res. 2155, 27 May 2104, op. para. 4(a)(i), 4(a)(iv).

79 L. Sharland and A. Gorur, above note 73, pp. 14–17; International Organization for Migration (IOM) South Sudan, If We Leave We are Killed: Lessons Learned from South Sudan Protection of Civilians Sites 2013–2016, 2016.

80 IOM South Sudan, above note 79, p. 24.

81 C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, Chapters 4–10; IOM South Sudan, above note 79, pp. 24–26; L. Sharland and A. Gorur, above note 73, p. 17; J. Stern, above note 72, p. 7.

82 UNMISS, Responsibilities in UNMISS POC Sites for Planning and Budgetary Purposes, 19 September 2014.

83 C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, Chaps 6–8; J. Stern, above note 72, p. 10.

84 C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, Chaps 6–8; J. Stern, above note 72, p. 10.

85 UNMISS, “Supplemental Guidance No. 3 to the UNMISS Guidelines on Civilians Seeking Protection at UNMISS Bases (2013)”, 2015.

86 IOM South Sudan, above note 79, p. 58.

87 See, for example, Matt Wells, “The Mixed Record of UN Peacekeeping in South Sudan”, Humanitarian Exchange, No. 68, January 2017, p. 14; C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, p. 65.

88 C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, Chap. 3.

89 Status of Forces Agreement between the United Nations and the Government of the Republic of South Sudan concerning the United Nations Mission in South Sudan, 8 August 2011, Section 16.

90 C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, pp. 22–25.

91 On executive mandates see for example, DPKO and DFS, “United Nations Police in Peacekeeping Operations and Special Political Missions”, 1 February 2014, paras 58 ff., available at: https://trainingforpeace.org/publications/united-nations-police-in-peacekeeping-operations-and-special-political-missions/.

92 J. Stern, above note 72. See also C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, Chap. 8.

93 C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, pp. 76–81.

94 Ibid.

95 Ibid., pp. 78–81. See also Flora McCrone, Justice Displaced: Field Notes on Criminality and Insecurity in South Sudan's UN Protection of Civilian Sites, Justice Africa Report, Spring 2016, available at: http://justiceafrica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Justice-displaced-EDITED.pdf; IOM Sudan, above note 79, pp. 51–52; J. Stern, above note 72.

96 See the examples in K. Long, above note 31, including Turkey's closure of its border to Kurdish refugees from Iraq in 1990. See also Frelick, Bill, “Unsafe Havens: Reassessing Security in Refugee Crises”, Harvard International Review, Vol. 19, No. 2, 1997. More recently, in relation to Syria, see, for example, B. Frelick, above note 3; Bill Frelick, “Safe Zones in Name Only”, Huffington Post, August 2015, available at: www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-frelick/safe-zones-in-name-only_b_8021010.html; Norwegian Refugee Council et al., Dangerous Ground: Syria's Refugees Face an Uncertain Future, February 2018.

97 This was expressly recognized by the UNHCR Working Group on International Protection already in 1992, in its discussion of “prevention”, an umbrella term covering activities to attenuate causes of departure and to reduce or contain cross-border movements. The Working Group expressly noted that “[p]revention is not, however, a substitute for asylum; the right to asylum, therefore, must continue to be upheld”. UN General Assembly, “Note on International Protection (Submitted by the High Commissioner)”, UN Doc. A/AC.96/799, 25 August 1992, p. 8.

98 See, most recently, K. Long, above note 31. See also Hyndman, Jennifer, “Preventive, Palliative or Punitive? Safe Spaces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Somalia and Sri Lanka”, Journal of Refugee Studies, Vol. 16, No. 2, 2003; K. Landgren, above note 45.

99 Belligerents that operate safe areas will also have IHL obligations towards people under their effective control, including the requirement to treat them in accordance with the minimum standards laid down in Article 75 of AP I and common Article 3.

100 This control may arise as a consequence of lawful or unlawful military action. European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), Al-Skeini and Others v. UK, Appl. No. 55721/07, Judgment, 7 July 2011, para. 136. On the scope of extraterritorial application of human rights see, most recently, Murray, Daragh, Wilmshurst, Elizabeth, Hampson, Françoise, Garraway, Charles, Lubell, Noam and Akande, Dapo (eds), Practitioners’ Guide to Human Rights Law in Armed Conflict, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2016, Chap. 3 and paras 3.39–3.58 in particular, and references therein.

101 See D. Murray et al. (eds), above note 100. See also Milanovic, Marko, Extraterritorial Application of Human Rights Treaties: Law, Principles, and Policy, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2011, esp. Part IV; Milanovic, Marko, “Al Skeini and Al Jedda in Strasbourg”, European Journal of International Law, Vol. 23, No. 1, 2012; Wilde, Ralph, “The Extraterritorial Application of International Human Rights Law on Civil and Political Rights”, in Sheeran, Scott and Rodley, Nigel (eds), Routledge Handbook of International Human Rights Law, Routledge, London, 2013.

102 D. Murray et al. (eds), above note 100, para. 3.59 and references therein.

103 The UN Human Rights Committee, for example, has expressly noted that States must respect and ensure the rights under the ICCPR to “those within the power or effective control of the forces of a State Party acting outside its territory, regardless of the circumstances in which such power or effective control was obtained, such as forces constituting a national contingent of a State Party assigned to an international peace-keeping or peace-enforcement operation”. Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 31, “The Nature of the General Legal Obligation Imposed on States Parties to the Covenant”, UN Doc. CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add. 13, 26 May 2004, para. 10. While to date the Human Rights Committee has not considered a complaint relating to alleged violations committed by multinational forces, in its concluding observations to periodic State reports it has frequently held that the ICCPR remains applicable when a State's forces participate in such operations. See Larsen, Kijetl Mujezinovic, The Human Rights Treaty Obligations of Peacekeepers, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2012, pp. 181 ff. and references therein. See also D. Murray et al. (eds), above note 100, paras 16.07 ff.

104 Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, 213 UNTS 222, 1950.

105 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 999 UNTS 171, 1966.

106 Supreme Court of the Netherlands, The State of the Netherlands v. Hasan Nuhanovic and The State of the Netherlands v. Mehida Mustafic-Mujic et al., 6 September 2013; Tom Dannenbaum, “Dutch Supreme Court Affirms that Dutchbat Acted Unlawfully in Srebrenica”, EJIL: Talk!, 8 September 2013, available at: www.ejiltalk.org/dutch-supreme-court-affirms-that-dutchbat-acted-unlawfully-in-srebrenica/.

107 See, for example the ECtHR in Al-Skeini, which held that when a State through its agents exercises control or authority over an individual extraterritorially, it must secure to that person the rights “that are relevant to the situation of that individual. In this sense, therefore, the Convention rights can be ‘divided and tailored’.” ECtHR, Al-Skeini, above note 100, para. 137. See also the analysis in D. Murray et al. (eds), above note 100, paras 3.19 ff.

108 D. Murray et al. (eds), above note 100. Milanovic refines the analysis further by drawing a distinction between States’ negative obligations to respect human rights, which have a broader and territorially unlimited scope of application, and States’ positive duty to secure or ensure human rights, or prevent violations thereof, which, in extraterritorial situations, is limited to areas under the State's effective overall control. M. Milanovic, above note 101, Part IV.4. Mujezinovic Larsen also adopts this approach and analyzes its application in practice by multinational forces: see K. Mujezinovic Larsen, above note 103, Chap. 9.

109 See K. Mujezinovic Larsen, above note 103, Chap. 4.

110 This was recognized inter alia by the UN under-secretary-general for legal affairs. UN Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and Legal Counsel, Statement to the International Law Commission, 14 May 2014, p. 11, available at: http://legal.un.org/ola/media/info_from_lc/mss/speeches/MSS_ILC_statement-14-May-2014.pdf.

111 C. Briggs and L. Monaghan, above note 72, Chap. 8.

112 J. Stern, above note 72, p. 11; Statement of the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, above note 110.

113 The report of the UN Secretary-General on the fall of Srebrenica reaches a similar conclusion, noting that “[p]rotected zones and safe areas can have a role in protecting civilians in armed conflict, but it is clear that either they must be demilitarized and established by the agreement of the belligerents, as in the case of the ‘protected zones’ and ‘safe havens’ recognized by international humanitarian law, or they must be truly safe areas, fully defended by a credible military deterrent. The two concepts are absolutely distinct and must not be confused.” Report of the Secretary–General Pursuant to General Assembly Resolution 53/35: The Fall of Srebrenica, UN Doc. A/54/549, 15 November 1999, para. 499.

* The research leading to these results has received funding from the European Research Council under the European Union's Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013) and ERC Grant Agreement No. 340956. A first draft of this article was presented at a workshop on “Safe Areas as a Response to Humanitarian Crises?” hosted by the Freie Universität Berlin and funded by the Thyssen Foundation in October 2015. The author would like to express her gratitude to the workshop participants for their feedback, as well as to the peer reviewers.

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