United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 47. Attacks against Persons Hors de Combat
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states: “A person who is recognized or who, in the circumstances, should be recognized to be hors de combat
shall not be made the object of attack.”
In its chapter on enforcement of the law of armed conflict, the manual notes:
Additional Protocol I extends the definition of grave breaches to include the following:
b. any of the following acts, when committed wilfully, in violation of the relevant provisions of the protocol, and causing death or serious injury to body or health:
(5) making a person the object of attack in the knowledge that he is hors de combat
The UK Geneva Conventions Act (1957), as amended in 1995, punishes
any person, whatever his nationality, who, whether in or outside the United Kingdom, commits, or aids, abets or procures the commission by any other person of, a grave breach of … [the 1977 Additional Protocol I].
In 2010, in its closing submissions to the public inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Baha Mousa and the treatment of those detained with him by UK armed forces in Iraq in 2003, the UK Ministry of Defence stated:
12. The treaties setting out rules of IHL are supplemented by rules of customary international law (CIL), i.e. rules which are recognized as binding by States, even though they do not appear in treaty texts. … [I]n relation to the rules described below the Government accepts that they reflect CIL. It is suggested that the rules which are of most relevance to this inquiry are:
12.1. … Attacking persons who are recognised as hors de combat is prohibited. A person hors de combat is: (a) anyone who is in the power of an adverse party; ... provided he or she abstains from any hostile act and does not attempt to escape.
12.2. Thus, as persons in the power of UK forces the detainees all fell within the definition of persons hors de combat
and could not be attacked provided that they abstained from any hostile act and did not try to escape.
The Ministry of Defence also stated regarding common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions more generally: “On its face this protection is restricted to armed conflicts not of an international character. However, it is understood to apply in all forms of armed conflict as part of customary international law to set out the irreducible minimum standard.”