PROTECTION OF CIVILIAN POPULATIONS AGAINST BOMBING FROM THE AIR IN CASE OF WAR
Unanimous resolution of the League of Nations Assembly,
September 30, 1938.
Considering that on numerous occasions public opinion has expressed through the most authoritative channels its horror of the bombing of civilian populations;
Considering that this practice, for which there is no military necessity and which, as experience shows, only causes needless suffering, is condemned under the recognised principles of international law;
Considering further that, though this principle ought to be respected by all States and does not require further reaffirmation, it urgently needs to be made the subject of regulations specially adapted to air warfare and taking account of the lessons of experience;
Considering that the solution of this problem, which is of concern to all States, whether Members of the League of Nations or not, calls for technical investigation and thorough consideration;
Considering that the Bureau of the Conference for the Reduction and Limitation of Armaments is to meet in the near future and that it is for the Bureau to consider practical means of undertaking the necessary work under conditions most likely to lead to as general an agreement as possible:
I. Recognizes the following principles as a necessary basis for any subsequent regulations:
1) The intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal;
2) Objectives aimed at from the air must be legitimate military objectives and must be identifiable;
3) Any attack on legitimate military objectives must be carried out in such a way that civilian populations in the neighbourhood are not bombed through negligence;
The ruthless bombing from the air of civilians in unfortified centers of population during the course of the hostilities which have raged in various quarters of the earth during the past few years, which has resulted in the maiming and in the death of thousands of defenseless men, women, and children, has sickened the hearts of every civilized man and woman, and has profoundly shocked the conscience of humanity.
If resort is had to this form of inhuman barbarism during the period of the tragic conflagration with which the world is now confronted, hundreds of thousands of innocent human beings who have no responsibility for, and who are not even remotely participating in, the hostilities which have now broken out, will lose their lives. I am therefore addressing this urgent appeal to every government which may be engaged in hostilities publicly to affirm its determination that its armed forces shall in no event, and under no circumstances, undertake the bombardment from the air of civilian populations or of unfortified cities, upon the understanding that these same rules of warfare will be scrupulously observed by all of their opponents. I request an immediate reply.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
That speech made by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on Aerial Bombardment of Civilian Populations, September 1, 1939 did not stop the wholesale slaughter of civilians in their own homes during WWII. However, it was that speech which was remembered in the aftermath and which, along with the devastation of war led to the Nuremberg Principles in 1945
Nuremberg Principles, August 8, 1945
CHARTER OF THE INTERNATIONAL MILITARY TRIBUNAL
AUGUST 8, 1945
[Signatories: USA, USSR, Britain, France]
The following acts, or any of them, are crimes coming within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal for which there shall be individual responsibility:
(a) Crimes against peace: namely, planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing;
(b) War Crimes: namely, violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, ill-treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose of civilian population of or in occupied territory, murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, killing of hostages, plunder of public or private property, destruction of cities, towns, or villages, or devastation not justified by military necessity;
(c) Crimes against humanity: namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian populations, before or during the war; or prosecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated.
Leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the foregoing crimes are responsible for all acts performed by any persons in execution of such plan.
The official position of defendants, whether as Heads of States or responsible officials in Government Departments, shall not be considered as freeing them from responsibility or mitigating punishment.
The fact that the Defendant acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior shall not free him from responsibility, but may be considered in mitigation of punishment if the Tribunal determines that justice so requires.
If it isn't illegal to bomb urban areas, does that mean that the IRA bombs in London were LEGAL?
Were the bombs on the London tube LEGAL?
No. They were not.
And as you can see, even the planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression is illegal. And so it should be.
Wartime atrocities not prohibited under the Geneva Conventions or Additional Protocol I may nonetheless be war crimes under the customary law rubric of “violations of the laws and customs of war” (the same phrase as in the Nuremberg Charter). For interstate conflicts, states agree that such war crimes include certain violations of the 1907 Hague Convention and Regulations, such as use of poisonous weapons, wanton destruction of cities not justified by military necessity, attacks on undefended localities, attacks on religious and cultural institutions, and plunder of public and private property. The Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) lists as war crimes for international conflicts not only the grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, but some twenty-six serious violations of the laws and customs of war, most of which have been considered by States as crimes since at least World War II.
Olga - you can read here a list of what is deemed 'legitimate military targets'