Proportionality in the Conduct of Hostilities: The Incidental Harm Side of the Assessment

Clarification of international humanitarian law is important in ensuring compliance with the rule of proportionality, but a culture of compliance within armed forces and groups is also crucial.

Military operations are taking place with increasing frequency in densely populated areas.  In order to protect civilians, it is imperative that armed forces and groups comply with the rules of international humanitarian law on the conduct of hostilities, including the rule of proportionality.

Proportionality assessments before or during an attack must determine whether the expected harm will be caused by the attack, and whether that harm could be expected (that is, was it reasonably foreseeable).

Belligerents should develop methodologies so that those planning and deciding attacks are provided with all necessary information on expected incidental harm, and to assist them in assigning weight to the incidental harm to be considered.

If it becomes apparent that the rule of proportionality will be contravened, the attack in question must be cancelled or suspended. Clarification of the law is important in ensuring compliance with the rule of proportionality, but a culture of compliance within armed forces and groups, inculcated by their leaders, is also crucial.

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2018

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