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There are reports that Ukrainian civilians are poisoning Russian troops with pies. It may be worth noting that this tactic has a long history, and its use was honored by the Soviet Union when applied against Germans during WW2.

Assuming these reports are correct, and individuals who are not members of the national armed forces are using chemical agents to inflict harm on an occupying force via food products, is this tactic a breach of the Chemical Weapons Convention?

2 Answers 2

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The stated facts for the questions

  • Private Citizen of one country living in an area occupied by another country (Following: Occupied People) leave items that used to be food but are no longer after they have been made noxious by applying some sort of toxin (Following: PIE).
  • These private people are not affiliated with an armed force or organized militia, and they are not partisans.
  • Some members of the occupying force consume these PIEs and suffer the effects of the toxin.

Are the Occupied People combatants?

No. They are not engaging in combat under the Aditional Protocol of the Geneva Convention of 1949, because they are neither members of any (recognized or unrecognized) armed forces nor militia. They also don't spontaneously "take up arms to resist the invading forces, without having had time to form themselves into regular armed units".

They are also not unprivileged combatants, because they have not been combatants before, are not spies and are not mercenaries or child soldiers. They also are not taking a direct part in combat.

As a result, they are mere civilians and to be treated as such.

Under which circumstances what laws grip?

Civilians are not states and their militaries. Only states and military are bound by the CWC.

As a result, no breach of the CWC happens if one of the Occupied People leaves out these PIEs, which are then looted and consumed by the occupying forces. Only civilian charges are legal and retaliation against the Occupied People would be another war crime against them: Looting already is a war crime. What charges can come is dependant on how the PIEs were stored before:

  • Assuming the PIE is in a clearly marked container warning about the PIE being a PIE, then the Occupied People have not committed any crime.
  • Assuming the PIE is just left out on the table, accessible for everybody, it might be somewhere between reckless endangerment and manslaughter.

If the PIEs are instead given to the occupying forces knowing they are PIEs, the whole situation changes: suddenly we got a solid charge of [attempted] murder. This is a capital crime, and as a result, the occupying forces could prosecute. In case the occupied (NOT occupying!) country had the death sentence they could execute the perpetrator after a trial. Shooting the perpetrator on the spot, however, could be a war crime. But still, the CWC is not touched as the Occupied People did not become combatants: even when committing single acts, it takes active hostilities, which are defined as combat, to become a combatant. As they are not part of the military, not even organized militia, they can not be held up to the CWC, which by itself only binds the state and their military.

Only if the Occupied People would form a regulated militia, they would not be allowed to leave PIEs.

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No, poisoning is just like stabbing with a knife, strangling, shooting with a gun, and all would have been done by civilians acting in very justified self defence as several hundred brutally murdered civilians in the Ukraine would easily prove.

Also, putting seeds into the pockets of dead enemy soldiers so they can do something useful after their death doesn't count as biological weapons.

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  • From the CWC “Chemical Weapons” means: Toxic chemicals and their precursors. “Toxic Chemical” means Any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals. That seems to differentiate this from using a knife or gun.
    – User65535
    Apr 5, 2022 at 9:39
  • @User65535 Chemical weapons are Weapons first. A poisoned pie is just not edible food
    – Trish
    Apr 5, 2022 at 11:22
  • @Trish I do not see that distinction in the CWC. Would that distinction apply to a state distributing poisoned food?
    – User65535
    Apr 5, 2022 at 11:34
  • @gnasher729 can you cite a source that poisoning food does not come under the CWC? Apr 5, 2022 at 22:15

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