Law of war

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"Jus in Bello" redirects here. For the Supernatural episode, see Jus in Bello (Supernatural).
The first-ever Geneva Convention governing the sick and wounded members of armed forces was signed in 1864.

The law of war is a legal term of art that refers to the aspect of public international law concerning acceptable justifications to engage in war (jus ad bellum) and the limits to acceptable wartime conduct (jus in bello or International humanitarian law).

Among other issues, modern laws of war address declarations of war, acceptance of surrender and the treatment of prisoners of war; military necessity, along with distinction and proportionality; and the prohibition of certain weapons that may cause unnecessary suffering.[1]

The law of war is considered distinct from other bodies of law—such as the domestic law of a particular belligerent to a conflict—that may provide additional legal limits to the conduct or justification of war.

Early sources and history[edit]

Attempts to define and regulate the conduct of individuals, nations, and other agents in war and to mitigate the worst effects of war have a long history. The earliest known instances are found in the Mahabharata and the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

In the Indian subcontinent, the Mahabharata describes a discussion between ruling brothers concerning what constitutes acceptable behavior on a battlefield:

One should not attack chariots with cavalry; chariot warriors should attack chariots. One should not assail someone in distress, neither to scare him nor to defeat him ... War should be waged for the sake of conquest; one should not be enraged toward an enemy who is not trying to kill him.

An example from the Deuteronomy 20:19–20 limits the amount of acceptable collateral and environmental damage:

When thou shalt besiege a city a long time, in making war against it to take it, thou shalt not destroy the trees thereof by forcing an axe against them: for thou mayest eat of them, and thou shalt not cut them down (for the tree of the field is man's life) to employ them in the siege: Only the trees which thou knowest that they be not trees for meat, thou shalt destroy and cut them down; and thou shalt build bulwarks against the city that maketh war with thee, until it be subdued.[2]

Also, Deuteronomy 20:10–12, requires the Israelites to make an offer of peace to the opposing party before laying siege to their city.

When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city.[3]

Similarly, Deuteronomy 21:10–14 requires that female captives who were forced to marry the victors of a war could not be sold as slaves.[4]

In the early 7th century, the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, whilst instructing his Muslim army, laid down the following rules concerning warfare:

Stop, O people, that I may give you ten rules for your guidance in the battlefield. Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies. Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone.[5][6]

Furthermore, Sura Al-Baqara 2:190-193 of the Koran requires that in combat Muslims are only allowed to strike back in self-defence against those who strike against them, but, on the other hand, once the enemies cease to attack, Muslims are then commanded to stop attacking.

In medieval Europe, the Roman Catholic Church also began promulgating teachings on just war, reflected to some extent in movements such as the Peace and Truce of God. The impulse to restrict the extent of warfare, and especially protect the lives and property of non-combatants continued with Hugo Grotius and his attempts to write laws of war.

One of the grievances enumerated in the American Declaration of Independence was that King George III "(...) has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions."

Modern sources[edit]

The signing of the first-ever Geneva Convention by some of the major European powers in 1864

The modern law of war is derived from three principal sources:[1]

Positive international humanitarian law consists of treaties (international agreements) which directly affect the laws of war by binding consenting nations and achieving widespread consent—see the section below called "International treaties on the laws of war".

The opposite of positive laws of war is customary laws of war,[1] many of which were explored at the Nuremberg War Trials. These laws define both the permissive rights of states as well as prohibitions on their conduct when dealing with irregular forces and non-signatories.

The Lieber Code, promulgated by the Union during the American Civil War, was critical in the development of the laws of land warfare.[7] Historian Geoffrey Best called the period from 1856 to 1909 the law of war’s “epoch of highest repute.”[8] The defining aspect of this period was the establishment, by states, of a positive legal or legislative foundation (i.e., written) superseding a regime based primarily on religion, chivalry, and customs.[9] It is during this “modern” era that the international conference became the forum for debate and agreement between states and the “multilateral treaty” served as the positive mechanism for codification.

In addition, the Nuremberg War Trial judgment on "The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity"[10] held, under the guidelines Nuremberg Principles, that treaties like the Hague Convention of 1907, having been widely accepted by "all civilised nations" for about half a century, were by then part of the customary laws of war and binding on all parties whether the party was a signatory to the specific treaty or not.

Interpretations of international humanitarian law change over time and this also affects the laws of war. For example Carla Del Ponte, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia pointed out in 2001 that although there is no specific treaty ban on the use of depleted uranium projectiles, there is a developing scientific debate and concern expressed regarding the effect of the use of such projectiles and it is possible that, in future, there may be a consensus view in international legal circles that use of such projectiles violate general principles of the law applicable to use of weapons in armed conflict.[11] This is because in the future it may be the consensus view that depleted uranium projectiles breaches one or more of the following treaties: The Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Charter of the United Nations; the Genocide Convention; the United Nations Convention Against Torture; the Geneva Conventions including Protocol I; the Convention on Conventional Weapons of 1980; the Chemical Weapons Convention; and the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material.[12]

Purposes of the laws[edit]

Some of the central principles underlying laws of war are:[citation needed]

  • Wars should be limited to achieving the political goals that started the war (e.g., territorial control) and should not include unnecessary destruction.
  • Wars should be brought to an end as quickly as possible.
  • People and property that do not contribute to the war effort should be protected against unnecessary destruction and hardship.

To this end, laws of war are intended to mitigate the hardships of war by:

Principles of the laws of war[edit]

Military necessity, along with distinction, and proportionality, are three important principles of international humanitarian law governing the legal use of force in an armed conflict.

Military necessity is governed by several constraints: an attack or action must be intended to help in the military defeat of the enemy; it must be an attack on a military objective,[13] and the harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated.[14]

Distinction is a principle under international humanitarian law governing the legal use of force in an armed conflict, whereby belligerents must distinguish between combatants and civilians.[a][15]

Proportionality is a principle under international humanitarian law governing the legal use of force in an armed conflict, whereby belligerents must make sure that the harm caused to civilians or civilian property is not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated by an attack on a military objective.[14]

Example substantive laws of war[edit]

To fulfill the purposes noted above, the laws of war place substantive limits on the lawful exercise of a belligerent’s power. Generally speaking, the laws require that belligerents refrain from employing violence that is not reasonably necessary for military purposes and that belligerents conduct hostilities with regard for the principles of humanity and chivalry.

However, because the laws of war are based on consensus, the content and interpretation of such laws are extensive, contested, and ever-changing.[16] The following are particular examples of some of the substance of the laws of war, as those laws are interpreted today.

Declaration of war[edit]

Main article: Declaration of war

Section III of the Hague Convention of 1907 required hostilities to be preceded by a reasoned declaration of war or by an ultimatum with a conditional declaration of war.

Some treaties, notably the United Nations Charter (1945) Article 2, and other articles in the Charter, seek to curtail the right of member states to declare war; as does the older Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 for those nations who ratified it.[citation needed]

Lawful conduct of belligerent actors[edit]

Modern laws of war regarding conduct during war (jus in bello), such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, provide that it is unlawful for belligerents to engage in combat without meeting certain requirements, such as wearing distinctive uniform or other distinctive signs visible at a distance, carrying weapons openly, and conducting operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. Impersonating enemy combatants by wearing the enemy’s uniform is allowed, though fighting in that uniform is unlawful perfidy, as is the taking of hostages.

Combatants also must be commanded by a responsible officer. That is, a commander can be held liable in a court of law for the improper actions of his or her subordinates. There is an exception to this if the war came on so suddenly that there was no time to organize a resistance, e.g. as a result of a foreign occupation.[citation needed]

Persons parachuting from an aircraft in distress[edit]

Modern laws of war, specifically within Protocol I additional to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, prohibits attacking persons parachuting from an aircraft in distress regardless of what territory they are over. Once they land in territory controlled by the enemy, they must be given an opportunity to surrender before being attacked unless it is apparent that they are engaging in a hostile act or attempting to escape. This prohibition does not apply to the dropping of airborne troops, special forces, commandos, spies, saboteurs, liaison officers, and intelligence agents. Thus, such personnel descending by parachutes are legitimate targets and, therefore, may be attacked, even if their aircraft is in distress.

Red Cross, Red Crescent, and the white flag[edit]

Modern laws of war, such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, also include prohibitions on attacking doctors, ambulances or hospital ships displaying a Red Cross, a Red Crescent, the Red Crystal, or other emblem related to the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It is also prohibited to fire at a person or vehicle bearing a white flag, since that indicates an intent to surrender or a desire to communicate.[citation needed]

In either case, persons protected by the Red Cross/Crescent or white flag are expected to maintain neutrality, and may not engage in warlike acts. In fact, engaging in war activities under a protected symbol is itself a violation of the laws of war known as perfidy. Failure to follow these requirements can result in the loss of protected status and make the individual violating the requirements a lawful target.[citation needed]

Applicability to states and individuals[edit]

The law of war is binding not only upon States as such but also upon individuals and, in particular, the members of their armed forces. Parties are bound by the laws of war to the extent that such compliance does not interfere with achieving legitimate military goals. For example, they are obliged to make every effort to avoid damaging people and property not involved in combat or the war effort, but they are not guilty of a war crime if a bomb mistakenly or incidentally hits a residential area.

By the same token, combatants that intentionally use protected people or property as human shields or camouflage are guilty of violations of the laws of war and are responsible for damage to those that should be protected.

Remedies for violations[edit]

During conflict, punishment for violating the laws of war may consist of a specific, deliberate and limited violation of the laws of war in reprisal.

After a conflict has ended, persons who have committed or ordered any breach of the laws of war, especially atrocities, may be held individually accountable for war crimes through process of law. Also, nations which signed the Geneva Conventions are required to search for, then try and punish, anyone who has committed or ordered certain "grave breaches" of the laws of war. (See GC III, Art. 129 and Art. 130.)

Combatants who break specific provisions of the laws of war are termed unlawful combatants. Unlawful combatants who have been captured may lose the status and protections that would otherwise be afforded to them as prisoners of war, but only after a "competent tribunal" has determined that they are not eligible for POW status (See, e.g., GC III Art 5.) At that point, an unlawful combatant may be interrogated, tried, imprisoned, and even executed for their violation of the laws of war pursuant to the domestic law of their captor, but they are still entitled to certain additional protections, including that they be "treated with humanity and, in case of trial, shall not be deprived of the rights of fair and regular trial." (GC IV Art 5.)

For example in 1976, foreign soldiers fighting for the National Liberation Front of Angola (FNLA) were captured by the People's Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the civil war that broke out when Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975. In the Luanda Trial, after "a regularly constituted court" found them guilty of being unlawful mercenaries, three Britons and an American were shot by a firing squad on July 10, 1976. Nine others were imprisoned for terms of 16 to 30 years.

International treaties on the laws of war[edit]

see also List of international declarations

List of declarations, conventions, treaties and judgments, and on the laws of war:[17][18][19]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Civilian in this instance means civilians who are non-combatants. Article 51.3 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions explains that "Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities".
  1. ^ a b c d The Program for Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research at Harvard University, "IHL PRIMER SERIES | Issue #1" Accessed at http://www3.nd.edu/~cpence/eewt/IHLRI2009.pdf
  2. ^ "Deuteronomy, from The holy Bible, King James version". Etext.virginia.edu. Retrieved 2013-07-06. 
  3. ^ "Deuteronomy 20:10-12 NIV - When you march up to attack a city". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2013-07-06. 
  4. ^ "Deuteronomy, from The holy Bible, King James version". Etext.virginia.edu. Retrieved 2013-07-06. 
  5. ^ Al-Muwatta; Book 21, Number 21.3.10.
  6. ^ Aboul-Enein, H. Yousuf and Zuhur, Sherifa, Islamic Rulings on Warfare, p. 22, Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, Diane Publishing Co., Darby PA, ISBN 1-4289-1039-5
  7. ^ See, e.g., Doty, Grant R. (1998). "THE UNITED STATES AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE LAWS OF LAND WARFARE". Military Law Review 156: 224. 
  8. ^ GEOFFREY BEST, HUMANITY IN WARFARE 129 (1980).
  9. ^ 2 L. OPPENHEIM, INTERNATIONAL LAW §§ 67–69 (H. Lauterpacht ed., 7th ed. 1952).
  10. ^ Judgement : The Law Relating to War Crimes and Crimes Against Humanity contained in the Avalon Project archive at Yale Law School.
  11. ^ "The Final Report to the Prosecutor by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign Against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia: Use of Depleted Uranium Projectiles". Un.org. 2007-03-05. Retrieved 2013-07-06. 
  12. ^ E/CN.4/Sub.2/2002/38 Human rights and weapons of mass destruction, or with indiscriminate effect, or of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering (backup)
  13. ^ Article 52 of Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions provides a widely-accepted definition of military objective: "In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives are limited to those objects which by their nature, location, purpose or use make an effective contribution to military action and whose total or partial destruction, capture or neutralization, in the circumstances ruling at the time, offers a definite military advantage" (Source: Moreno-Ocampo 2006, page 5, footnote 11).
  14. ^ a b Moreno-Ocampo 2006, See section "Allegations concerning War Crimes" Pages 4,5.
  15. ^ Greenberg 2011, Illegal Targeting of Civilians.
  16. ^ Jefferson D. Reynolds. "Collateral Damage on the 21st century battlefield: Enemy exploitation of the law of armed conflict, and the struggle for a moral high ground". Air Force Law Review Volume 56, 2005(PDF) Page 57/58 "if international law is not enforced, persistent violations can conceivably be adopted as customary practice, permitting conduct that was once prohibited"
  17. ^ Roberts & Guelff 2000.
  18. ^ ICRC Treaties & Documents by date
  19. ^ Joan T. Phillips. List of documents and web links relating to the law of armed conflict in air and space operations, May 2006. Bibliographer, Muir S. Fairchild Research Information Center Maxwell (United States) Air Force Base, Alabama.
  20. ^ Convention for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded in Armies in the Field. Geneva, 22 August 1864
  21. ^ Project of an International Declaration concerning the Laws and Customs of War. Brussels, 27 August 1874
  22. ^ Brussels Conference of 1874 – International Declaration Concerning Laws and Customs of War Stockholm International Peace Research Institute Project on Chemical and Biological Warfare
  23. ^ a b Brussels Conference of 1874 ICRC cites D.Schindler and J.Toman, The Laws of Armed Conflicts, Martinus Nihjoff Publisher, 1988, pp. 22–34.
  24. ^ The Hague Rules of Air Warfare, 1922-12 to 1923-02, this convention was never adopted (backup site)
  25. ^ Protocol for the Prohibition of the Use of Asphyxiating, Poisonous or Other Gases, and of Bacteriological Methods of Warfare. Geneva, 17 June 1925
  26. ^ Draft Convention for the Protection of Civilian Populations Against New Engines of War. Amsterdam The meetings of forum were from 29.08.1938 until 02.09.1938 in Amsterdam
  27. ^ Protection of Civilian Populations Against Bombing From the Air in Case of War, Unanimous resolution of the League of Nations Assembly, 30 September 1938
  28. ^ Explosive remnants of war and international humanitarian law on the website of the International Committee of the Red Cross
  29. ^ by Louise Doswald-Beck San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflict at Sea 31 December 1995 International Review of the Red Cross no 309, pp. 583–594
  30. ^ Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions on the Protection of the Environment in Times of Armed Conflict 30 April 1996 International Review of the Red Cross no 311, pp. 230–237
  31. ^ "Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel". Un.org. 1995-12-31. Retrieved 2013-07-06. 

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Witt, John Fabian. Lincoln's Code: The Laws of War in American History (Free Press; 2012) 498 pages; on the evolution and legacy of a code commissioned by President Lincoln in the Civil War

External links[edit]