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Joint Blog Series: Sieges, Evacuations and Urban Warfare: Thoughts from the Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict

Published on January 17, 2019        Author: 
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Editor’s Note: This post is part of the joint series of posts hosted by the ICRC Humanitarian Law & Policy BlogEJIL Talk! and Lawfare, and arising out of the 6th Transatlantic Workshop on International Law and Armed Conflict held at the European University Institute in Florence in July.

Conflict in urban or populated areas poses an enormous danger to civilians and to the civilian infrastructure that sustains the civilian population. The law of armed conflict (LOAC) requires that parties to a conflict take constant care ‘to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.’ During the conduct of hostilities, the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions mandate rules for the identification of targets, minimization of incidental harm to civilians, and precautionary measures to avoid or minimize harm to civilians.

How to implement these principles and obligations is, of course, a significant challenge—but the questions of how to mitigate civilian risk and harm while carrying out the military mission go beyond the conduct of hostilities and are equally challenging and important. Our discussions at the Transatlantic Workshop highlighted and probed one particular set of concerns—how to balance different legal norms and operational considerations regarding evacuation and the corresponding prohibition of forced displacement, and sieges and the corresponding prohibition of starvation as a method of warfare.

Is evacuation of civilians an option? In what circumstances?

Imagine a military wants to evacuate civilians from an area—either within its own territory or in another State’s territory where the hostilities are expected or ongoing. The motivation is both humanitarian and based on military considerations: removing civilians from the area of hostilities protects them from harm and also frustrates the enemy’s attempts to use them as human shields or otherwise endanger them for tactical or strategic purposes. Read the rest of this entry…