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Chained to cannons or wearing targets on their T-shirts: human shields in international humanitarian law

31-12-2008 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 872, by Stéphanie Bouchié de Belle

This article examines the legal problems associated with human shields. The author begins by discussing the absolute nature of the prohibition on their use and goes on to consider the precautions to be observed by the party being attacked.

   

Stéphanie Bouchié de Belle is a diplomatic officer with the ICRC. 
 
Abstract 
This article examines the legal problems associated with human shields. The author begins by discussing the absolute nature of the prohibition on their use and goes on to consider the precautions to be observed by the party being attacked. A violation of the ban on use of human shields by the attacked party is not an act of perfidy and does not release the attacker from his obligations. Because human shields are civilians, they are not legitimate objects of attack, even where they are acting in a voluntary capacity, as they are not taking direct part in hostilities. Among the attacker’s obligations to take precautions, the proportionality principle applies in the classic way, even in the case of voluntary human shields.  


 
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