Protecting Deceased Individuals and Their Remains

Presented by Alexia Kapsampeli

International humanitarian law has established important principles about dead and missing in armed conflict. These principles protecting dead persons are based on fundamental human values.
The requirements that the dead be treated with respect and dignity existed long before there were any attempts to identify and codify the legislation.¹ In Homer’s Iliad, horror and concern about the dead becoming “prey to dogs and vultures” exist.² According to the Greek Heroic Age standards, when Homer wrote the Iliad, “it is recognised custom for the victor after stripping his dead enemy to throw the body to the dogs and vultures”.³ Similarly, in the Classical period, Sophocles’ Antigone discusses the treatment of Polynice’s dead body. As the first Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oxford, Edward B. Tylor, emphasised in his book “Primitive Culture, ii”: “In classic antiquity… it was the most sacred of duties to give the body its funeral rites”.

The government of Israel claims that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to the occupied Palestinian territories. However, human rights law is still applied even in an armed conflict, as a part of international humanitarian law, according to the International Court of Justice and the United Nations Human Rights Committee 19. As for Hamas, it is not a party to the international conventions, but the customary rules of international humanitarian law apply to all parties in an armed conflict. On the other hand, Israel’s actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories are limited by international humanitarian law and by the customary rules of human rights law.

In a July 2020 report, the United Nations rapporteur on human rights, Michael Lynk, of withholding bodies of killed Palestinians. According to the report, “UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon observed in 2016 that the withholding of bodies amounts to collective punishment and is also inconsistent with Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention”. It is said collective punishment is a tool of control and domination that is antithetical to the modern rule of law and prohibited by all legal systems across the globe.¹³


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Featured Image “Jerusalem, located on a plateau in the Judean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, is one of the oldest cities in the world. ” by Northern Adventures on Flickr.

¹ Last Rights The Dead, the Missing and the Bereaved at Europe’s International Borders 2 Proposal for a Statement of the International legal obligations of States May 2017 Last accessed on January 17, 2024
² Hrvoje Cvijanović “Death and the City: Political corpses and the specters of Antigone” University of Zagreb, 2019, Last accessed on January 19, 2024
³ Basset Samuel Elliot “Achilles’ Treatment of Hector’s Body” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association, p 41-65, 1933
⁴ Hrvoje Cvijanović “Death and the City: Political corpses and the specters of Antigone” University of Zagreb, 2019, Last accessed on January 19, 2024
⁵ Frank Tarbell “Greek Ideas as to the Effect of Burial on the Future of the Soul” Transactions of the American Philological Association (1869-1896) Vol 15, pp (36-45) Last accessed on January 19, 2024

¹³ Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967,, 2020, Last accessed on January 21, 2024

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