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British Opinion, 1907.
passé. · Un de nos plus éminents professeurs de droit international en Angleterre a même soutenu que les textes des jurisprudences de certains pays impliquaient l'existence de ce droit, mais une étude de ces textes nous a permis de constater qu'il avait fait erreur et que ceux-ci, quoique ne mentionnant les prises qu'en termes généraux et n'excluant pas expressément les prises neutres, visaient surtout les prises ennemies, au sujet desquelles il ne saurait y avoir aucun doute, puisque le droit de les couler dans certains cas a été reconnu depuis longtemps aux belligérants. Mais, même si l'intention du législateur dans ces pays avait été de concéder ce droit par rapport aux prises neutres, le fait n'aurait eu aucune valeur au point de vue international, puisqu'un État ne peut pas introduire des éléments nouveaux dans le droit international sans le concours des autres États et c'est précisement ce concours qui manque dans l'espèce. (Ibid., p. 907.)
The British delegate also maintains that it is evident that the principle of release of a neutral vessel which can not be sent to a prize court is generally accepted, and says:
L'adoption d'un nouveau principe donnant aux belligérants le droit de couler bas les prises neutres conduirait fatalement à des abus et exposerait tout navire neutre a être coulé chaque fois qu'il rencontrerait un navire de guerre belligérant, dont le capitaine ne manquerait pas d'user de son droit comme bon lui semblerait, nonobstant les ordres qu'il pourrait avoir reçus de n'agir qu'avec circonspection. Le navire neutre se trouverait donc dans le même cas que le navire ennemi, et sa situation serait même pire, puisque son gouvernement n'aurait aucun moyen de redresser le tort commis, à moins de déclarer lui-même la guerre au belligérant capteur.
Le Gouvernement britannique est donc d'avis que l'usage établi ne permet pas la destruction de la prise neutre et il pense qu'il n'est pas du tout désirable de modifier en quoi que ce soit cet état des choses. (Ibid., p. 903.)
Count Tornielli, of Italy, thought that difficulties which had arisen upon the question of destruction might be reconciled by the introduction of the right of sequestration in a neutral port pending adjudication by a prize court. (Ibid., p. 903.)
Dr. Kriege, the German delegate, said: La Délégation allemande partage entièrement la manière de voir de la Délégation russe en ce qui regarde la destruction des navires neutres. Elle est d'avis que la destruction est permise
par le droit international actuel, qu'elle est indispensable au point de vue militaire et qu'elle ne comporte pas de rigueurs excessives à l'encontre du propriétaire du navire.
Il me sera permis, enfin, de dire quelques mots sur les appréhensions des propriétaires des navires neutres coulés. Il n'y a que deux cas possibles : la capture du navire est justifiée ou elle ne l'est pas. Dans la première hypothèse, la juridiction des prises devra confirmer la prise, le propriétaire perdra son navire qu'il soit amené dans le port ou qu'il soit détruit. Le propriétaire ne serait donc pas fondé à se plaindre de la destruction. Dans le second cas, il n'y a aucun doute que l'État capteur doit répondre des actes du croiseur et dédommager le propriétaire de la perte qui en est résultée. Si la prise a été détruite, il sera donc tenu de lui payer la valeur entière du bâtiment et de sa cargaison. Le tribunal des prises en prononcant la non-validité de la capture sera appelé à fixer le montant de cette indemnité. Si nous parvenons, comme nous pouvons espérer, à établir une jurisdiction des prises internationales, les intérêts du propriétaire du navire et des marchandises, détruits à tort, seraient désormais entièrement sauvegardés.
Ce sont les raisons, Messieurs, qui nous conduisent à appuyer la proposition russe. (Ibid., pp. 992, 993.)
The subsequent discussion of the subject of destruction of neutral merchant vessels became closely joined with the discussion of the proposition to permit sequestration of vessels which had been seized and had not yet been adjudicated upon by a prize court.
The General Report of the Fourth Commission which had the question of destruction of neutral prizes under consideration stated that the commission had not been able to reach an agreement, saying:
Tel est le résultat de ces délibérations, qu'on peut résumer, senible-t-il, comme il suit: Le libre accès des ports neutres pour les prises des belligérants est l'objet d'une faible majorité l'interdiction de détruire, plus ou moins subordonnée par la plupart à ce libre accès, est l'objet d'une majorité un peu plus marquée-enfin, en toute hypothèse, le droit de détruire est l'objet lui-même d'une faible majorité et de nombreuses abstentions et dans ces conditions il a semblé qu'une entente était actuellement difficile. (Ibid., p. 264.)
The United States and other powers have reserved their assent to article 23 of the Convention concerning the Rights and Duties of Neutral Powers in case of Maritime War, which allows sequestration of prizes in neutral ports pending adjudication which would have had more justiQuestion at Naval Conference, 1908–9.
69 fication had the destruction of neutral prizes been prohibited. The question of destruction of neutral prize would become an important one in case of the establishment of the proposed international prize court. This therefore became an important topic in the program of the International Naval Conference of 1908–9.
Question of destruction of prize at International Naval Conference. In the call issued by Great Britain for the International Naval Conference in 1908 the fourth topic on the program for discussion was, " The legality of the destruction of neutral vessels prior to their condemnation by a prize court." The British Government gave to its delegates to this conference more extended instructions upon this topic than upon any other except contraband. As the British position represented one of the extreme views, the instructions may be given at length:
27. It is recognized by the universally acknowledged principles of international law that all prizes ought, if possible, to be brought into a prize court, and ought not, generally speaking, to be destroyed or otherwise dealt with prior to condemnation. It is, however, generally admitted that in cases in which the captor finds himself unable, without compromising his own safety or affecting the success of the military operation on which he is engaged, or owing to his distance from any home port, to bring an enemy merchant vessel in, he may destroy her after removing the passengers, crew, and papers, and that if it be established that she is in fact an enemy vessel, such destruction involves the captor in no liability. Even in such cases, His Majesty's Government have some doubt whether there is a right to destroy neutral cargoes on board without compensation, a doubt which the terms of the Declaration of Paris, under which neutral goods in enemy ships not being contraband are not liable to seizure, tend to confirm. Primarily, an enemy ship should be brought in, and if she is, before adjudication, destroyed for the convenience of the captor the neutral owner of cargo should not suffer thereby.
28. Some of the powers do not consider this right of destruction in special circunıstances to be limited to enemy ships, but seek to extend it to neutral merchant vessels suspected to be carriers of contraband of war. They declare that although it is contrary to principle to destroy a neutral merchant vessel instead of bringing her in, such a course may nevertheless be justifiable in exceptional cases, where she can not so be brought in without danger to the captor or without substantial interference with the success of his military operations; and it has been contended both by writers on international law and in discussion at the Second Peace Conference that this right would extend to a case in which the captor was merely unable to spare a prize crew to take the vessel into one of his own ports without unduly diminishing his fighting force. Great Britain, on her part, has always held that in case of a neutral ship or in case of doubt as to nationality, if the prize can not be brought in, she should be dismissed, and that no military necessity can justify to the neutral owner the destruction of his ship without due process of a prize court. In the few recorded cases where in past times neutral prizes have been so destroyed by English captors the court decreed full compensation as due of right to the owners for the wrong done to them. At the Second Peace Conference Great Britain endeavored unsuccessfully to obtain general recognition for the rule that destruction of neutral prizes should in all circumstances be forbidden. The result of the discussions at that conference has been to show that there is practically no prospect of this contention being accepted in its entirety, and it must be admitted that while authority can be quoted in its support from textbooks and from British cases, there is a large body of opinion among writers on international law that although in principle a neutral ship should in every case be brought in or released, circumstances might arise in which its immediate destruction would be justified.
29. The matter is clearly one of much importance to neutral traders, and its importance is illustrated and accentuated by Russian action and Russian decisions during the recent RussoJapanese War, when, as it appeared to His Majesty's Government, neutral vessels were destroyed without justification, but the legitimacy of such destruction was sustained by the Russian prize courts. It is therefore very desirable that some agreement should, if possible, be come to at the forthcoming conference which would afford a real check on belligerents in this respect. The way to an agreement might perhaps be found by proceeding on the lines of an affirmation of the general principle that neutral prizes must not be destroyed before adjudication, followed by a precise statement of the conditions on which alone a departure from the principle could be allowed in exceptional circumstances. These conditions would have to be so framed as to safeguard the rights and interests of neutrals in as effective a manner as possible.
30. His Majesty's Government can not admit the contention that inability of the captor to spare a prize crew would suffice to justify destruction. Such an admission would probably be held to authorize the destruction of neutral prizes in the majority of cases where the captor had not a port of his own near to the place of capture. It is to be expected that the duty of intercepting merchant vessels for visit and examination will often be British Instructions, 1908.
intrusted to vessels of great speed and considerable offensive but small defensive powers, and unable conveniently to carry crews larger than requisite for the ordinary duties of the vessel. Such vessels would seldom be able to spare a sufficient number of men to form prize crews, and they would therefore frequently be in the position of not being able to send in a prize without weakening their fighting force, and thus, as it might be argued, affecting their safety and the success of their operations. No doubt this danger is to some extent qualified by the fact that it would be difficult for such vessels to accommodate the passengers and crew of the prize, and unless they were able to do this, their only course would be to take the prize into port under their guns, which would be almost impracticable if the port was at some distance from the place of capture. Clearly the crew and passengers on board a neutral vessel, which may perhaps include women and children, ought not to be exposed to the hardships and risks which would arise if they were to remain for any length of time on board a belligerent man-of-war. Such a ship might, while these persons were still on board, be in action with an enemy, and nothing short of an altogether imperative necessity could justify a belligerent in exposing them to such a peril.
31. The conditions which His Majesty's Government consider might fairly be attached to a recognition on their part of the right to sink neutral prizes would be that the emergency should be justified by an imperative military necessity of which the prize courts, and ultimately the international court, should be the judge, and that the crew and passengers must not, whilst on board a belligerent vessel, be exposed to the perils of a naval engagement. An effort should be made to secure the adoption by the conference of the view that inability to spare a prize crew, or the mere remoteness of a convenient national port, does not constitute a military necessity which would justify the sinking of a neutral prize. An agreement to this effect would gain enormously in value if it were also stipulated that in all cases where a neutral ship is sunk before adjudication in a prize court, the owners should be entitled to full compensation, altogether apart from the question of the character of the traffic in which the ship was engaged.
32. When this subject was debated at the Second Peace Conference various suggestions were put forward from different quarters with a view to provide an alternative to destruction in cases where a vessel could not be brought into a national port. It is not improbable that some of those suggestions may be renewed on the present occasion. The principal proposal in this direction was that the captor should be permitted, when a prize has been captured at a long distance from any of his ports, to take her into a neutral port within reach, where she would be sequestrated pending the adjudication of the prize court, to