Human Dignity in Combat: The Duty to Spare Enemy Civilians

Israel Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 2, 2006

29 Pages Posted: 15 Aug 2006  

Eyal Benvenisti

University of Cambridge Faculty of Law


An army attacks a neighborhood where the enemy is hiding among civilians. To what extent is the army required to expose its combatants to life-threatening risks in order to spare enemy civilians? This Article seeks to interpret the pertinent standards and rules of international law from the perspective of the principle of human dignity. The human dignity principle informs the interpretation of the law on the conduct of hostilities and provides a built-in mechanism for improving armies' treatment of enemy civilians. It inspires additional remedial and institutional norms that could overcome armies' distrust of each other during the height of battle. The principle of human dignity recognizes a general duty to strive to reduce harm to enemy civilians as well as specific rules against using them as human shields, hostages, or objects for retaliation. This Article concludes that in general there is no requirement to risk combatants to reduce the risk to enemy civilians, although a number of the specific rules do entail the assumption of such risks.

Keywords: International armed conflict, international humanitarian law, human rights, human dignity

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Benvenisti, Eyal, Human Dignity in Combat: The Duty to Spare Enemy Civilians. Israel Law Review, Vol. 39, No. 2, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Eyal Benvenisti (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge Faculty of Law ( email )

Lauterpacht Centre for International Law
5 Cranmer Centre
Cambridge, CB3 9BL
United Kingdom

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