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YOU ARE HERE > COMMUNITY > ETHICS > REFERENCE > WAR > LAWS OF WAR
The Laws of War...? > Terror Organisations > Terrorism Defined > UN 1441 > Wannsee
 
 
The Laws of War and the Protection of Civilians
The laws of war, also known as international humanitarian law, comprise the principles and rules that seek to mitigate the effects of war by limiting the means and methods of conducting military operations and by obliging the belligerents to spare those who do not or no longer participate in hostilities.

This briefing is focused on key provisions relating to the protection of civilians. Not all civilian deaths in wartime are unlawful. In the euphemistic terms of military spokespersons, "collateral damage", including civilian casualties, is to be expected in war.

But there are clear rules that set limits on the conduct of hostilities and in particular outlaw the use of certain means or methods of warfare. These rules are designed to protect -- to the maximum extent possible -- civilian lives and objects.

The rules include a prohibition on any direct attacks against civilians or civilian objects, including reprisals directed at such targets. But they also include prohibitions on attacks which do not attempt to distinguish between military targets and civilians or civilian objects and attacks which, although aimed at a legitimate military target, have a disproportionate impact on civilians or civilian objects.

Finally, the rules make clear the narrow circumstances in which civilians or civilian objects lose their protection -- for example, when a civilian object is used for military purposes.

The fullest statement of the rules governing the conduct of hostilities in international armed conflict is in Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 1949, relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I).

This Protocol, which was adopted in 1977, has been ratified by over 150 states. Among NATO members, the United States and Turkey are not parties to Protocol I.

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