Past event

The Fate of Civilians in War Stephen Neff, Edinburgh University

The fundamental rule regarding civilians in armed conflict is the requirement at all times to distinguish civilian populations from combatants. Civilian populations may never, without exception, be deliberately targeted. But this seemingly clear rule is hedged about by a number of competing considerations. One is the problem of actually distinguishing a bona fide military objective from a purely civilian population. In addition, there are three important caveats that potentially play a major role in armed conflict: (1) the question of collateral damage to civilians (i.e., when the civilians are not the actual target of the attack; (2) the forfeiture of legal protection by civilians who directly participate in hostilities; and (3) the problem of civilians acting or being used as human shields (sometimes voluntarily and sometimes not).