January 6, 2012 17:00 Age: 2 yrs

Distinguishing Civilians on Both Sides Crucial in Age of Terrorism, Blank says

The law of armed conflict is clear: civilians shouldn’t be targeted in war, and combatants should take extreme care to prevent innocent casualties. But what about terrorists who put their own people at risk by using them as human shields and posing as civilians themselves?

A paper by Laurie Blank, director of Emory’s International Humanitarian Law Clinic was cited in a recent article as a clear evaluation of how civilians can be at risk from both sides in nonconventional warfare.

“If using civilians as human shields deters and prevents an attack, the terrorist lives to fight another day. On the other hand, if there is an attack resulting in civilian casualties, the terrorist has acquired a valuable propaganda opportunity,” writes attorney Paul Kujawsky, in article published Jan. 3 in the LA Middle Eastern Policy Examiner.

Civilians “are trapped—literally and figuratively—in the conflict zone by fighters using them as cover for their perfidious tactics; and second, they become the unintentional and tragic targets of soldiers who mistake them for legitimate targets when unable to distinguish between fighters and civilians,” Kujawsky continues.

Some say the “civilianization” of war makes distinction an antiquated concept. Blank disagrees.

“The nature of contemporary conflicts demands that we take distinction to the next level and hold non-state actors and others accountable for the failure to distinguish themselves from innocent civilians,” Blank wrote in the paper “Taking Distinction to the Next Level: Accountability for Fighters’ Failure to Distinguish Themselves from Civilians.” The article was published in September 2011 in Emory’s Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series and the Valparaiso Law Review

“Indeed, without a deep and unwavering commitment to distinction and its central place in the law of war, the horrors and atrocities of armed conflict in the past century may well become just a prelude,” Blank wrote.

Related links:

Read Blank’s paper

Read the Examiner article

Laurie Blank’s profile


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