Chapter 4: Direct attacks on civilians and indiscriminate attacks as war crimes
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The principle of distinction between civilians and combatants is at the heart of IHL. This ‘cardinal’ principle as it was described by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) is ingrained in the rules regulating international armed conflict in Part IV of Additional Protocol I (AP I), devoted to the protection of the ‘civilian population’, particularly Arts48–58, which require belligerents to respect and protect civilians during the conduct of hostilities. The dichotomy between ‘the civilian population’ (extraneous to the conflict) and the ‘military’ (who participate in the conflict) underlies the principle of distinction: ‘the Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives’. Two clear prohibitions are derived from the principle of distinction. The first is against making the civilian population or individual civilians, ‘the object of an attack’.

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