Human shield is a military and political term describing the deliberate placement of non-combatants in or around combat targets to deter the enemy from attacking these targets. It may also refer to the use of persons to literally shield combatants during attacks, by forcing them to march in front of the soldiers. A third meaning is when a combatant holds another person in front of them to shield them from projectiles (usually bullets), often by holding then in a headlock or nelson hold.
- 1 20th century
- 2 21st century
- 2.1 War in Afghanistan
- 2.2 Israeli-Palestinian conflict
- 2.3 Iraq War
- 2.4 Lebanon War
- 2.5 Siege of Lal Masjid
- 2.6 Sri Lanka
- 2.7 Libyan Civil War
- 2.8 Syrian Civil War
- 2.9 Crimean crisis
- 3 Use by anti-war activists
- 4 See also
- 5 References
World War II
After World War II, it was claimed by German SS general Gottlob Berger that there was a plan, proposed by the Luftwaffe and approved by Adolf Hitler, to set up special POW camps for captured airmen of the Royal Air Force and the United States Army Air Forces in large German cities, to act as human shields against their bombing raids. Berger realized that this would contravene the 1929 Geneva Convention and argued that there was not enough barbed wire—as a result, this plan was not implemented.
At the Wola massacre in Poland on 7 August 1944, the Nazis forced civilian women onto the armored vehicles as human shields to enhance their effectiveness. In Belgium in May 1940, at least 86 civilians were killed by the German Wehrmacht known as the Vinkt Massacre, when the Germans took 140 civilians and used them as shields to cross a bridge while under fire.
During the Battle of Okinawa, Japanese soldiers often used civilians as human shields against American troops.
When the Japanese were concerned about the incoming Allied air raids on their home islands as they were losing their controlled Pacific islands one by one to the Allies in the Pacific War, they scattered major military installations and factories throughout urban areas, therefore, historians argued that Japan was using its civilians as human shields to protect their legitimate military targets against Allied bombardment. As a result, the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) was unable to strike purely military targets due to jet streams, the limitations of their bombsight, the mixing of military installations and factories with urban areas, and the widespread of cottage industry in Japan's cities. This led the USAAF in early 1945 to switch from precision bombing to carpetbombing which destroyed 67 Japanese cities with incendiary bombs and the use of atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Persian Gulf War
One of the most famous uses of human shields occurred in Iraq in 1990, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait that precipitated the Gulf War of 1990-1991. Saddam Hussein's government detained hundreds of citizens of Western countries who were in Iraq for use as human shields in an attempt to deter nations from participating in military operations against the country. A number of these hostages were filmed meeting Hussein, and kept with him to deter any targeted attacks, whilst others were held in or near military and industrial targets.
In 1991, during the operations in the Gulf War, the U.S. submitted a report to the UN Security Council denouncing Iraq for having “intentionally placed civilians at risk through its behaviour”. The report cited the following examples of such behaviour:
- (a) The Iraqi Government moved significant amounts of military weapons and equipment into civilian areas with the deliberate purpose of using innocent civilians and their homes as shields against attacks on legitimate military targets;
- (b) Iraqi fighter and bomber aircraft were dispersed into villages near the military airfields where they were parked between civilian houses and even placed immediately adjacent to important archaeological sites and historic treasures;
- (c) Coalition aircraft were fired upon by anti-aircraft weapons in residential neighbourhoods in various cities. In Baghdad, anti-aircraft sites were located on hotel roofs;
- (d) In one case, military engineering equipment used to traverse rivers, including mobile bridge sections, was located in several villages near an important crossing point. The Iraqis parked each vehicle adjacent to a civilian house.
War in Afghanistan
According to various accounts—including that of the American ambassador to the U.N., the Taliban used women and children from their own population as human shields against coalition forces in 2006, and 2007, and when the British attacked during August 2008 during the war in Afghanistan.
Prior to 2008-2009 Gaza War
The IDF admitted it had used Palestinians as 'human shields', in limited capacities; it acknowledged using human shields 1,500 times during the Second Intifada.; the practice subsequently banned by Israel's High Court of Justice. The Israeli Defense Ministry appealed this decision. Specifically, while acknowledging and defending the "use of Palestinians to deliver warnings to wanted men about impending arrest operations", the IDF denied reports of "using Palestinians as human shields against attacks on IDF forces", claiming it had already forbidden this practice.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the Israel Defense Forces used Palestinian civilians as human shields during the 2002 Battle of Jenin. The Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said that "for a long period of time following the outbreak of the second intifada, particularly during Operation Defensive Shield, in April 2002, the IDF systematically used Palestinian civilians as human shields, forcing them to carry out military actions which threatened their lives". Al Mezan reported the systematic use of "human shields" during the invasion of Beit Hanoun in 2004.
The practice was outlawed by the Supreme Court of Israel in 2005 but human rights groups say the IDF continues to use it, although they say the number of instances has dropped sharply. In 2006, the IDF again used civilians as human shields in Beit Hanun. In February 2007, Associated Press Television News released footage of an incident involving Sameh Amira, a 24-year-old Palestinian. The video appears to show the West Bank resident serving as a human shield for a group of Israeli soldiers. The Israeli Army launched a criminal investigation into the incident. In April 2007, the Israeli army suspended a commander after the unit he was leading was accused of using Palestinians as human shields in a West Bank raid.
During the 2008-2009 Gaza War
During the 2008-2009 Gaza War known as Operation Cast Lead, Israeli military forces were accused of continuing to use civilians as human shields by Amnesty International and former Israeli soldiers (see Breaking the Silence). According to testimonies, Israeli forces used unarmed Palestinians including children to protect military positions, walk in front of armed soldiers; go into buildings to check for booby traps or gunmen; and inspect suspicious objects for explosives. Amnesty International claimed that the Israeli military used human shields during the Gaza War of 2008-2009, stating that it found cases in which "Israeli troops forced Palestinians to stay in one room of their home while turning the rest of the house into a base and sniper position, effectively using the families, both adults and children, as human shields and putting them at risk. The UN Human Rights Council also accused Israel of using human shields during 2008-2009 Gaza Conflict.
The Guardian compiled three videos and testimony from civilians about alleged war crimes committed by Israeli soldiers during the 2008-2009 Gaza War, including the use of Palestinian children as human shields. In the videos three teenage brothers from the al-Attar family claimed that they were forced at gunpoint to kneel in front of tanks to deter Hamas fighters from firing at them and that they were used to "clear" houses for the Israeli soldiers.
An Israeli military official responded to these allegations: "The IDF operated in accordance with the rules of war and did the utmost to minimise harm to civilians uninvolved in combat. The IDF's use of weapons conforms to international law." An Israeli embassy spokesperson considers these allegations suspect because of Hamas pressure, adding: "Anyone who understands the realities of Gaza will know that these people are not free to speak the truth. Those that wish to speak out cannot for fear of beatings, torture or execution at the hands of Hamas."
On March 12, 2010, the Israel Defense Forces prosecution filed indictments against two staff sergeants of the Givati Brigade for allegedly forcing a 9-year-old Palestinian boy to open a number of bags they thought might contain explosives in January 2009. The boy told he was hit by the soldiers and forced to work for them at gunpoint. The IDF said it opened the investigation after the incident was brought to its attention by the United Nations. On October 3, 2010, a conviction in this matter was handed down by the military court against both defendants, though neither soldier was jailed. The boy's mother criticized the light punishment, saying "This is a scandal that just encourages others to continue in this behaviour which sends a negative message to both the victims and the soldiers." The sentence was also criticized by Human Rights Watch, whose Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, called the sentence "slap on the wrist" and "unjustifiably lenient". HRW noticed that the only soldier involved in the operation who was served time in prison was one who committed the lesser crime of stealing a credit card.
The UN has compiled evidence that Israeli soldiers used Palestinian children as human shields fourteen times between early 2010 and early 2013. It says all soldiers involved in the incident have gone unpunished.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2014)|
Whether or not Palestinians use human shields is a controversial with the Israeli government claiming Palestine uses human shields, while Amnesty International and United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict claim they do not. The Israeli Government claims that, during the Second Intifada (2000–2005) Palestinian gunmen used civilians and children as human shield, by surrounding themselves with children while shooting on IDF forces. An Amnesty International report in 2009 criticized Hamas for human rights violations, but "found no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants, or prevented them from leaving commandeered buildings". The United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict found no evidence of Palestinian armed groups placing civilians in areas where attacks were being launched; of engaging in combat in civilian dress; or of using a mosque for military purposes or to shield military activities.
In remarks related to the Al-Fakhura school incident during the Gaza War of January 2009, a Hamas spokesman stated that no attacks were launched from the school though Israel claimed that they had come from the school. 43 Palestinians were reported killed when a street outside the school was hit by return fire. Israel accused Hamas of "cynically" using civilians as human shields. A report from the IDF brigade responsible for the attack stated that militants had launched a rocket into Israel from a yard adjacent to the UN building and the paratroop brigade had fired three rounds of mortars at the position. An IDF mortar hit the UN building. An IDF report claims that this was caused by a GPS error.
The Israeli Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center accused Hamas and other armed groups of making extensive use of human shields as integral part of their war doctrine, in order to prevent the IDF to target them, during the Gaza War (2008-2009). According to the ITIC, tactics used by Hamas that qualify as using human shields include hiding military infrastructure in civilian buildings - including "mosques, hospitals and educational institutions", firing rockets and mortar shells from civilian population centers, "summoning civilians to come to operatives’ houses to serve as human shields for terrorist operatives in danger of being attacked by the IDF" and using children as human shield by "surrounding operatives with children to facilitate their escape from combat zones". The IDF released a video accusing an alleged Hamas member of using civilians as human shield for allegedly walking away with children after an attack during the Gaza War (2008-2009). However, it is not clear if anyone in the video is a Palestinian or combatant.
Rockets have been stored in UNRWA's schools Israel attacks hospitals that it claims stores rockets, although it has no evidence for its claims. The IDF released a video showing flashes of light from the Waffa hospital, there is audio of IDF warning calls and checks that the hospital was evacuated, and finally the airstrike which triggered secondary explosions from weapons cached inside the hospital. However, it has been noted that building in the IDF video is not El-Waffa Hospital as the IDF claims, but is actually Right to Life Society. The European Union condemned Hamas, and in particular condemned "calls on the civilian population of Gaza to provide themselves as human shields."
During the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, a group of people chose to travel to Iraq to act as human shields. Their purpose was to prevent American-led coalition forces from bombing certain locations. Of about 200 to 500 human shields who traveled to Iraq before hostilities, at least eighty stayed. Of the human shields who stayed throughout the war, none were killed or injured and none of the sites where they were residing were destroyed.
Australian journalist Chris Link reported and photographed incidents during the 2006 Lebanon War in which Hezbollah used Lebanese civilians as human shields to dissuade the IDF from firing at gunmen and rocket launchers, although Human Rights Watch then conducted its own investigation and reported that Hezbollah did not "deliberately" use civilians as a deterrent from IDF attack. HRW did however conclude Hezbollah stored weapons "in or near civilian homes" and fighters launched rockets within populated areas and near UN observers. HRW also accused Hezbollah of using Lebanese homes as sites for rocket launchers, usually without the homeowner's knowledge or permission, putting large numbers of civilians at risk.
On July 25, 2006, Israeli forces attacked and destroyed an UN observer post in southern Lebanon, resulting in four deaths. One of the fatalities, Canadian Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener, had sent an e‑mail to his former commander, retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie, several days before his death in which he described the Israeli bombardment, writing "The closest artillery has landed within two meters of our position and the closest 1,000 lb aerial bomb has landed 100 meters from our patrol base. This has not been deliberate targeting, but rather due to tactical necessity". MacKenzie interpreted this language for a reporter: "What that means is, in plain English, 'We've got Hezbollah fighters running around in our positions, taking our positions here and then using us for shields and then engaging the (Israeli Defence Forces).'"
Siege of Lal Masjid
According to a Human Rights Watch report published on February 19, 2009, the LTTE had been preventing Tamil civilians from fleeing out of rebel held area and using them as human shields against a Sri Lankan Army offensive.
Libyan Civil War
Syrian Civil War
During the Syrian civil war, the Syrian Armed Forces and loyalists were accused by Human Rights Watch of using residents of towns as human shields when advancing on opposition held areas, forcing them to march in front of the army. Witness from different towns across the country said that the army had kidnapped people and forced them to march in front of them when attacking towns and villages. The purpose of this was to protect the army from attack. HRW said "The Syrian army should immediately stop this abhorrent practice." Witnesses stated that the army forcibly used children and elderly people as well to deter anyone from firing on the soldiers.
Use by anti-war activists
In recent years civilian volunteers have attempted to use themselves as human shields to prevent military conflict. In January 2003, anti-war activists organised Human Shield Action to Iraq in advance of the March 2003 invasion. Ultimately, Human Shield Action brought 200 people to Iraq. Many of them left as they ran out of money and the likelihood of war became greater. Several of these human shields had to be rescued by U.S. Marines after Iraqis threatened them for opposing the invasion of their country.
Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, Western International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers in the Palestinian territories, who died in 2003 and 2004 respectively have been described as human shields campaigning against house demolition. ISM, however, strongly objects to the use of the term human shield to describe their work, preferring it be used only to refer to when the military uses civilians as shields.
- Human wave attack
- Falling on a grenade
- Civilian casualties
- Close Quarters Battle
- Human rights in Israel
- Human rights in the Palestinian National Authority
- Urban warfare
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