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Principles of International Humanitarian Law

Jonathan Crowe and Kylie Weston-Scheuber

This book provides a clear and concise explanation of the central principles of international humanitarian law (or the law of armed conflict) while situating them in a broader philosophical, ethical and legal context.
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Chapter 4: Protection of civilians

Jonathan Crowe and Kylie Weston-Scheuber


The previous chapter examined the principles of international humanitarian law regulating the means and methods of warfare. In this chapter and the next, we examine protections afforded by international humanitarian law to certain classes of person. This chapter examines how civilians are protected under humanitarian law, while in Chapter 5 we will consider the protections afforded to combatants placed hors de combat. As we shall see, the definitions of ‘combatant’ and ‘civilian’ are interrelated. There is also some overlap between the protections provided to persons of both categories. We begin this chapter with an examination of the key protections afforded to civilians and civilian property under international humanitarian law, focusing on the principles of distinction and humane treatment. We then consider the doctrine of military necessity, the related concept of proportionality and the obligation on both attacking and defending parties to take precautionary measures for the protection of civilians. We then look at the prohibition on reprisals, before examining the protections afforded to certain categories of civilian under humanitarian law, namely civilians in occupied territories, interned civilians, the sick and wounded, women, children and journalists.

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