The law of human shields

[JURIST] Several reports out of Iraq since the outbreak of war have claimed that Iraqi forces have used civilians as involuntary "human shields" - see, for instance, this story from the Voice of America. Summing up the relevant law, a February 2003 briefing paper [text] by Human Rights Watch noted:

The use of civilians, including a state's own citizens, as human shields to protect military objectives from attack is a violation of international humanitarian law amounting to a war crime. The forcible use of civilians or other non-combatants as human shields also violates the prohibition on the taking of hostages. Customary humanitarian law and Protocol I [to the Geneva Conventions] prohibit encouraging or making use of volunteers as human shields.
Article 51(7) of the 1977 Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions [text] provides:
The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations.
Article 58 of the Protocol additionally obliges parties to a conflict to take all necessary precautions to protect civilians under their control against the dangers resulting from military operations, including by removing civilians from the vicinity of military objectives and avoiding locating military objectives within or near densely populated areas.


 

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