Protecting civilians in urban areas: A military perspective on the application of international humanitarian law

Implementing the principles of international humanitarian law (IHL) represents a real challenge if the protection of civilians in today's urban armed conflicts remains a priority for armed forces. The application of the principle of distinction comes up against the difficulties of obtaining intelligence, in particular in the absence of troops on the ground. The minimalization of collateral damage requires putting in place very precise targeting procedures, and even the adoption of tactics designed to draw out traditional combat from cities. In terms of precautionary measures in attack or against the effects of an attack, these must be adapted to the context of urban combat. Nevertheless, IHL remains an essential instrument that must be analyzed and translated into action in a practical manner in order to conduct military operations that are at the same time effective and legally permissible.

About the author

Nathalie Durhin
French Joint Staff

At the time of writing, Lieutenant Colonel Nathalie Durhin was Head of the Operational Law Section of the French Joint Staff.