War crimes double standards

Check out this buried correction at the New York Times involving the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

An article yesterday about a statement released by Louise Arbour, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, in which she said that the killing of civilians in the Middle East conflict may constitute war crimes, omitted part of a quotation. The passage, with italics indicating the missing words, should have read: 'Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians. Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable.' (Go to Article)

"Alleged military significance"? Presumably, this means that Ms. Arbour would find no military sites.

Of course, Ms. Harbour ignroes the fact that placing military facilities in the midst of civilian areas is a war crime. Hezbollah places missiles into or next to civilians homes; they prevent civilians from leaving embattled areas; they located their forces among civilian areas.

Do these experts read the applicable law? From our friends at Soros—funded Human Rights Watch:

What does International Humanitarian Law say about attacks against civilians and hostage takings?

Attacks directed against civilians and civilian objects (such as houses, mosques, etc.) are serious violations of IHL.  However, civilian objects used for military purposes may become legitimate targets, as discussed below.

The taking or executing of hostages — that is, holding persons to deter an enemy attack or otherwise influence enemy actions — is prohibited.  Attacks against civilians and hostage—takings are war crimes. 

An occupying power is specifically prohibited from carrying out reprisals and collective penalties against persons or their property and from taking hostages. In general, no one can be punished for acts that he or she has not personally committed.

When are attacks affecting civilian areas permitted?

IHL permits attacks on military targets located in civilian areas, so long as the weapons used can discriminate between the military target and the civilian population, and the anticipated harm to civilians is not disproportionate to the expected definite military advantage gained from the attack. 

When do civilians become legitimate military targets and thus subject to attack?

Civilians become valid military targets if they are taking a direct part in the hostilities.  Thus armed insurgents taking part in a battle would be subject to attack, as would a civilian directing military forces and planning attacks.   Civilians otherwise directly assisting fighters during a battle, such as supplying ammunition to combatants, would become valid military targets. 

Civilians indirectly assisting an armed force, such as those providing meals or lodging to insurgents, would not be legitimate targets.   However, if such persons are harmed incidentally to an attack on fighters, the attack would not be unlawful so long as the civilian loss is not disproportionate to the military advantage to the attacker.  

Armed insurgents have a legal obligation not to place civilians at risk.  A defender who uses civilians as "human shields" to protect military targets from attack is in violation of IHL whether the civilians acted voluntarily or not.  However, should armed forces attack a military target being protected by "human shields" they must still ensure that the harm done to the civilians is not disproportionate to the military advantage gained

Ed Lasky   7 21 06

Check out this buried correction at the New York Times involving the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights:

An article yesterday about a statement released by Louise Arbour, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, in which she said that the killing of civilians in the Middle East conflict may constitute war crimes, omitted part of a quotation. The passage, with italics indicating the missing words, should have read: 'Indiscriminate shelling of cities constitutes a foreseeable and unacceptable targeting of civilians. Similarly, the bombardment of sites with alleged military significance, but resulting invariably in the killing of innocent civilians, is unjustifiable.' (Go to Article)

"Alleged military significance"? Presumably, this means that Ms. Arbour would find no military sites.

Of course, Ms. Harbour ignroes the fact that placing military facilities in the midst of civilian areas is a war crime. Hezbollah places missiles into or next to civilians homes; they prevent civilians from leaving embattled areas; they located their forces among civilian areas.

Do these experts read the applicable law? From our friends at Soros—funded Human Rights Watch:

What does International Humanitarian Law say about attacks against civilians and hostage takings?

Attacks directed against civilians and civilian objects (such as houses, mosques, etc.) are serious violations of IHL.  However, civilian objects used for military purposes may become legitimate targets, as discussed below.

The taking or executing of hostages — that is, holding persons to deter an enemy attack or otherwise influence enemy actions — is prohibited.  Attacks against civilians and hostage—takings are war crimes. 

An occupying power is specifically prohibited from carrying out reprisals and collective penalties against persons or their property and from taking hostages. In general, no one can be punished for acts that he or she has not personally committed.

When are attacks affecting civilian areas permitted?

IHL permits attacks on military targets located in civilian areas, so long as the weapons used can discriminate between the military target and the civilian population, and the anticipated harm to civilians is not disproportionate to the expected definite military advantage gained from the attack. 

When do civilians become legitimate military targets and thus subject to attack?

Civilians become valid military targets if they are taking a direct part in the hostilities.  Thus armed insurgents taking part in a battle would be subject to attack, as would a civilian directing military forces and planning attacks.   Civilians otherwise directly assisting fighters during a battle, such as supplying ammunition to combatants, would become valid military targets. 

Civilians indirectly assisting an armed force, such as those providing meals or lodging to insurgents, would not be legitimate targets.   However, if such persons are harmed incidentally to an attack on fighters, the attack would not be unlawful so long as the civilian loss is not disproportionate to the military advantage to the attacker.  

Armed insurgents have a legal obligation not to place civilians at risk.  A defender who uses civilians as "human shields" to protect military targets from attack is in violation of IHL whether the civilians acted voluntarily or not.  However, should armed forces attack a military target being protected by "human shields" they must still ensure that the harm done to the civilians is not disproportionate to the military advantage gained

Ed Lasky   7 21 06