Demographic manipulation

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In the field of human settlements, the term “demographic manipulation” refers to changes induced in the ethnic or social composition of a community, population or region. “Manipulation,” in this case, implies a deliberate act, practice or policy that causes the change without the will and or free, prior and informed consent of the host (i.e., receiving) population or the introduced population. The purpose of such acts, practices or policies is generally understood to be the acquisition, annexation and/or effective control of territory.

The changes and the measures to achieve them are generally considered to be illegal and, therefore, subject to reversal and reparations, as a right to remedy, in favor of the affected population under applicable international law norms and the standards of human rights as developed.

Demographic manipulation is conceptually and functionally linked to population transfer as it is among the circumstances in which population transfer occurs. The demographic manipulation is, thus, unlawful and subject to international human rights, humanitarian and criminal law when the state or its agents adopt and implement conduct, practices or policies designed to alter the human composition of the relevant unit so as to affect the indigenous inhabitants’ exercise of self-determination. That may amounting to carence de souveraineté of an external self-determination unit, where the territory is so badly governed that it is alienated from the metropolitan state.[1] Alternatively, the acts, practices or policies may affect an internal self-determination unit, where the state does not have “a government representing the whole people belonging to the territory without distinction as to race, creed or color,”[2] or where a “people” is subjected to alien subjugation or domination such that revives the right of self-determination.

Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention relative to Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (29 August 1949) prohibits the transfer by an occupying power of its own civilian population in the area it occupies. It stipulates that the “Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” The Commentary on Article 49(6) clarifies that the provision is intended to prohibit the demographic manipulation by an occupying power that either actively transfers its own population into the occupied territory or allows them to settle there voluntarily.

A violation of Article 49 constitutes a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and carries penal sanction (Art.146, 147). Article 85 (4)(a) of the 1977 Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions considers the transfer by the occupying power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies as being a “grave breach” of the Convention.

Article 1, common to the four Geneva Conventions and Art.86 of Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions (1977), impose an obligation upon all High Contracting parties to implement its provisions.

In its Advisory Opinion in The Wall Case of 9 July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) resolved that Article 49(6) prohibits not only forced transfers “but also any measures taken by an occupying Power in order to organize or encourage transfers of parts of its own population into the occupied territory” (par. 120).

The same ICJ ruling provides that all High Contracting Parties to the Geneva Conventions are under a legal obligation to ensure the occupying Power’s compliance by with international humanitarian law as embodied in the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention (paras. 158–9).

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998), Article 8 (2) (b) (viii) cites the “transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies” as a “war crime.”

Article 7 (1) (d) defines deportation or forcible transfer of population as a “crime against humanity,” whereby “Deportation or forcible transfer of population” means forced displacement of the persons concerned by expulsion or other coercive acts from the area in which they are lawfully present, without grounds permitted under international law.”

As a crime against humanity, demographic manipulation that results in population transfer is not necessarily conduct that is part of a cross-border war, but could also involve prohibited acts having harmful effects on a domestic population.

In Resolutions 33/15 (1978), 24/30 (1979), 37/253 (1983), among others, the United Nations General Assembly deplored “all unilateral actions that change the demographic structure of Cyprus.” In its Resolution 4 (XXXII) (27/2/76) the Commission of Human Rights calls on parties to refrain from unilateral acts to change the demographic structure of Cyprus and in resolution 1987/50 (11 March 1987) the Commission on Human Rights expressed concern for the influx of settlers and calls for respect for the rights and freedoms of the population of Cyprus. The presence of the settlers impedes implementation of the right of the refugees to return to their homes contrary to numerous Security Council and General Assembly Resolutions.

Israeli professor and advisor to the Israeli military Moshe Ma’oz describes the policy of Israeli governments since 1967 as aimed at “maintain[ing] a unified Jerusalem; to Judaize or Israelize it, demographically and politically.”[3]These policies, which aim to change Jerusalem demographically, socially, culturally and politically, have intensified after the initiation of the Oslo peace process in 1993.[4]The United Nations has criticized Israel’s efforts to manipulate and alter the demographic composition of Jerusalem in several resolutions. All legislative and administrative measures taken by Israel, which have altered or aimed to alter the character, legal status and demographic composition of Jerusalem, are described by the UN as “null and void” and having “no validity whatsoever.”[5] Both the General Assembly and the Security Council, in several resolutions, have declared invalid the measures taken by Israel to change the status of Jerusalem. Security Council resolution 252 (1968), in particular, is explicit in this regard. An early resolution of the GA, the Assembly expressed “grave anxiety and concern” Israel measures designed to change the demographic composition of the City of Jerusalem.[6]

When Israel took steps to make annex Jerusalem its capital, the Security Council adopted resolution 476 (1980) on 30 June 1980, urgently calling on Israel, the occupying Power, to abide by this and previous Security Council resolutions and to desist forthwith from persisting in the policy and measures affecting the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem. After Israel’s noncompliance with that resolution, the Council adopted resolution 478 (1980) on 20 August to reiterate its position that all actions altering the status of the city were null and void, and call upon States that had established diplomatic missions in Jerusalem to withdraw them. It reaffirmed the continued invalidity of all actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, that have altered or purported to alter the character, legal status and demographic composition of Jerusalem.

[1]   James Crawford, The Creation of States in International Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979), pp. 67, 100, 116–18.

[2]  Declaration on Principles of International Law Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in Accordance with the Charter of the United Nations, GA/RES/2625 (XXV), 24 October 1970, at:

[3]   Moshe Ma’oz, “The Future of Jerusalem: Israeli Moshe Ma’oz and Sari Nusseibeh, eds., Jerusalem: Points of Friction and Beyond (The Hague: Kluwer Law International for the Truman Institute and the Palestine Consultancy Group, 2000), p. 2

[4]   Cheryl Rubenberg, The Palestinians in Search of a Just Peace (Bolder CO: Lynne Rienner, 2003), p. 194.

[5] S/RES/478, 20 August 1980, at:;  S/RES/2334, 23 December 2016, at:; “Report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs in the Occupied Territories,” A/RES/46/47, 9 December 1991,at:; “The Situation in the Middle East,” A/RES/46/82, 6 December 1991, at:; “The situation in the Middle East,” A/RES/48/59, 14 December 1993, at:; “Jerusalem,” A/RES?53/37, 15 January 1999, at:;  “Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” A/RES/E-10/6, 9 February 1999, at:; “Jerusalem,” A/RES/59/32, 1 December 2004, at:; 2005; “Jerusalem,” A/RES/60/41, 10 February 2006, at:; “Jerusalem,” A/RES/62/84, 23 January 2008, at:; “Jerusalem,” A/RES/64/20, 2 December 2009, at:; “Illegal Israeli actions in occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” A/RES/ES-10/2, 25 April 1997, at:; “Illegal Israeli actions in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory,” ES-10/14, 8 December 2003, at:; “Status of Jerusalem,” A/RES/ES-10/19; 21 December 2017, at:

[6]   “Recent illegal Israeli measures in the occupied Arab territories designed to change the legal status, geographical nature and demographic composition of those territories in contravention of the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, of Israel’s international obligations under the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and of United Nations resolutions, and obstruction of efforts aimed at achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East,” A/RES/32/5, 28 October 1977.