Lachin corridor between Armenia and Artsakh. Photo @Wikimedia Commons

Dangers of misusing humanitarian corridor in conflict zones

Samuel Zewdie Hagos

Samuel Zewdie Hagos

Samuel is a PhD candidate at the Centre for Economic and Cultural Geography at Leibnitz University in Hannover and a research associate at the DeZIM Institute. His studies concentrate on refugee agency roles, geopolitics of forced migration, refugee mobilisation and resistance, and forced migration.

In conflict zones, the misuse of the term “humanitarian corridor” has led to the targeting of civilians and civilian property. This article discusses the misuse of the term and calls for the observance of international humanitarian law.
The term “humanitarian corridor” refers to a temporary demilitarised path or zone formed to ensure the safe delivery of aid to affected communities and the safe evacuation of individuals, especially refugees, from areas of conflict or crisis. The term, which was originally intended to provide safe passage for civilians, has been misused and abused, leading to the normalisation of assaults on civilian objects including homes and infrastructure essential to the survival of the civilian population.

Historically, civilian protection practices existed before the formal adoption of the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols. Various customary laws and practices sought to safeguard civilians and limit the effects of warfare on innocent populations throughout history (1). The historic codification of the international standard for the protection of civilians in warfare can be traced back to the Fourth Geneva Convention. All of the first three conventions focused primarily on combatants rather than civilians, prior to the 1949 Geneva Convention (IV) on civilians. Later, the Additional Protocols expanded the protection of civilians in connection with non-international armed conflicts. In this regard, the Bosnian War (1992-1995) underscored the emphasis placed by the international community on protecting civilians, introducing the concept of temporary demilitarized zones for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the safe evacuation of civilians (2).

However, the term has been abused in war zones around the globe, resulting in attacks against civilian targets. Frequently, belligerent groups disregard the principles enshrined in the Geneva Accords and Additional Protocols, such as the distinction between civilians and combatants and between civilian and military objects.

Lachin corridor between Armenia and Artsakh. Photo @Wikimedia Commons

In the 2011 Syrian conflict, government forces commanded by President Bashar al-Assad clashed with opposition forces, resulting in a protracted civil war. The term was used to justify the bombardment of civilian objects (following forced displacement of the majority of civilians from their residential areas), leading to a humanitarian crisis. After effectively besieging the population, Syrian government forces-initiated discussions with various actors regarding humanitarian corridors. Later, the Humanitarian Corridor Agreement facilitated the temporary cessation of hostilities to facilitate the relocation of civilians from rebel-held to government-held territory (designated by the Syrian regime as safe zones) (3). In 2015, civilians faced government-imposed sieges before being forcibly evicted from areas under humanitarian corridor schemes including Homs and Idlib. With Russian involvement, the Syrian government then tightened control, leading to indiscriminate bombing and devastation of major cities such as Aleppo and Homs, reducing them to ruins (4).

Like the Syrian crisis, the Ethiopian civil war between the government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began in November 2020, resulting in the destruction of civilian infrastructure and the deaths of thousands. Prior to the November 2022 ceasefire agreement, the Ethiopian government only permitted humanitarian access to areas under its control (4). Once more, the term “humanitarian corridor” has been misappropriated to provide access for humanitarian aid only in areas under government control, while civilians and essential civilian objects in areas under rebel control have been targeted for destruction.

Similar problems have plagued Ukraine since 24th February 2022, when Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine employed sieges as a military tactic, compelling civilians to evacuate through humanitarian corridors. After the accord on the humanitarian corridor, Russia’s assault reduced Mariupol, an industrial port city, to rubble. The city has been subjected to a heavy bombardment by Russian artillery and missiles, resulting in damage to homes and vital civilian infrastructure, such as hospitals and schools. The reckless bombing of residential areas by Russian forces has created a humanitarian crisis, forcing thousands of people to flee their homes in search of safety. In addition to having a devastating effect on the civilian population, the devastation of critical infrastructure such as power plants and water treatment facilities has deprived people of access to basic necessities, such as electricity and clean water (UN, 2022).

Furthermore, due to political disputes within the transitional government, armed factions, the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), clashed in April 2023 in Sudan. In this regard, the current conflict dynamics in Sudan appear to be following the same path of violating international humanitarian law with impunity. This conflict has led to the targeting of residential areas and medical facilities, resulting in civilian casualties. In response to the situation in Sudan, the international community, including the UN Security Council, has started discussing the possibility of safe corridors, echoing previous conversations about other conflicts, as seen in their April 2023 meeting.

Therefore, the international community should emphasize respect for international humanitarian law, and put pressure on the warring parties to refrain from attacking civilians and civilian objects at all times, instead of creating a situation where civilians are forcibly evicted from their neighborhoods and allowing the warring factions to reduce their neighborhoods to rubble. The normalisation of atrocities against civilians and the use of the term “Humanitarian Corridor” must cease, and the principles of the Geneva Conventions and their additional protocols must be implemented.

Samuel Zewdie Hagos



  1. Henckaerts, J., “Study on customary international humanitarian law: A contribution to the understanding and respect for the rule of law in armed conflict.” International Review of the Red Cross, 2005.
  2. Roberts, A., “The role of humanitarian issues in international politics in the 1990s.” International Review of the Red Cross, 1999.
  3. Meininghaus, E. & Kühn, M, “Syria: Humanitarian access dilemmas.” Welthungerhilfe Policy Brief, 2018.
  4. Osmandzikovic, E., “Forced demographic change as a geopolitical tool in post-war Syria. ” Dubai: Trends Research & Advisory, Wars & Demographic Changes, 2020.
  5. Miller, S, “Nowhere to Run: Eritrean Refugees in Tigray.” Refugees International Issue Brief. Washington: Refugees International, 2022.
Received: 21.04.23, Ready: 18.05.23,. Editors: Sandrine Uwase Ndahiro and Robert Ganley

The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Culturico, its editorial team and of the editors who revised the article.

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