International Humanitarian Law and the Protection of Civilians from the Effects of Explosive Weapons

Chapter in Caroline Harvey, James Summers and Nigel White (Eds.), The Laws of War: Fit For Purpose? Essays in Honour of Professor Peter Rowe, Cambridge University Press (2014 Forthcoming)

29 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2014

See all articles by Maya Brehm

Maya Brehm

Article 36; Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights

Date Written: July 1, 2013

Abstract

Explosive violence (the use of explosive weapons) has a devastating humanitarian impact. Data indicates that the overwhelming majority of casualties directly resulting from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas are civilians – people who enjoy 'general protection against dangers arising from military operations' under international humanitarian law (IHL). Explosive weapons, such as grenades, rockets, mortar rounds, artillery shells, air-dropped bombs, or IEDs, share the common characteristic that they affect an area around the point of detonation with blast and fragmentation. Due to these effects, the use of explosive weapons in a populated area exposes the civilian population and infrastructure to a very high risk of incidental harm. Against the background of data on the pattern of harm associated with the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, this paper provides an overview of how explosive weapons are regulated under international law. It shows how harm from explosive weapons became formally recognised as part of the 'necessities of war' and evaluates the contribution of expert discussions on 'blast and fragmentation weapons' held in the 1970s to the regulation of explosive weapons.

Considering that the protection of civilians against the effects of hostilities is a cornerstone of IHL, the documented pattern of harm to civilians from the use of explosive weapons in populated areas puts the adequacy and effectiveness of IHL into question. The paper critically examines how IHL rules governing the conduct of hostilities place constraints on the use of explosive weapons in populated areas, with focus on the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, and presents operational measures and scholarly suggestions that have the potential to reduce harm to civilians from explosive weapons, thereby strengthening IHL as a relevant legal framework for protecting civilians in situations of armed conflict.

Keywords: armed conflict, artillery, civilian protection, distinction, explosive weapons, gotovina, international humanitarian law, superfluous injury, war

Suggested Citation

Brehm, Maya, International Humanitarian Law and the Protection of Civilians from the Effects of Explosive Weapons (July 1, 2013). Chapter in Caroline Harvey, James Summers and Nigel White (Eds.), The Laws of War: Fit For Purpose? Essays in Honour of Professor Peter Rowe, Cambridge University Press (2014 Forthcoming), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2373680

Maya Brehm (Contact Author)

Article 36 ( email )

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