Practice Relating to Rule 1. The Principle of Distinction between Civilians and Combatants
Section C. Attacks against civilians
The Military Manual (1993) of the Netherlands states: “Neither the civilian population, nor individual civilians may be made the target of an attack.”
The manual further states that “the carrying out of attacks against the civilian population or individual civilians” constitutes a grave breach according to Article 85(3) of the 1977 Additional Protocol I.
With respect to non-international armed conflicts in particular, the manual states: “The civilian population and individual civilians enjoy general protection against the dangers arising from military operations. They may not be made the object of attack.”
The Military Handbook (1995) of the Netherlands states: “it is prohibited to attack civilians”.
The Military Manual (2005) of the Netherlands states: “The belligerents must leave those who are outside the armed conflict out of reach of military operations, and refrain from deliberately attacking them.”
In its chapter on general terms and concepts, the manual states: “Attacks may be directed only against military targets. The civilian population and civilian property must not be the target of attack.”
In its chapter on methods and means of warfare, the manual states: “Operations may be directed only at combatants and military targets. Neither the civilian population nor individual civilians may form the target of an attack.”
In its chapter on behaviour in battle, the manual provides: “Neither the civilian population nor individual civilians may be the target of an attack.”
In the same chapter, the manual further states:
The prohibition on targeting the civilian population or individual civilians for attack has been construed and implemented in various ways. During the first Gulf War between Iraq and Iran (1980–88), the principle of not attacking the civilian population was repeatedly violated. The fact that neither country had ratified AP I [1977 Additional Protocol I], is less important here, since it is a rule of customary law. Neither the civilian population nor individual civilians may be attacked.
In its chapter on non-international armed conflict, the manual states: “The civilian population and individual civilians enjoy general protection against the danger deriving from military operations. They may not be made targets of attack.”
In this chapter, the manual further states: “Attacks must be directed against military objectives … The civilian population and civilian objects must be respected.”
Under the International Crimes Act (2003) of the Netherlands, it is a crime, during an international armed conflict, to commit “the following acts, when they are committed intentionally and in violation of the relevant provisions of Additional Protocol (I) and cause death or serious injury to body or health: … making the civilian population or individual citizens the object of attack”. Likewise, “intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities” is a crime, whether committed in an international or non-international armed conflict.
In 1994, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands described the attack on the marketplace in Sarajevo as a “horrific act” and stated that the civilian population in the safe areas of the former Yugoslavia should be granted more protection against attacks that served no military purpose and which could only be qualified as terror tactics. The Minister of Defence also vigorously condemned the attacks on the safe areas in Bosnia and Herzegovina as a very serious violation of fundamental human rights.
In its written statement submitted to the ICJ in the Nuclear Weapons case
in 1995, the Netherlands stated: “The general principles of international humanitarian law in armed conflict also apply to the use of nuclear weapons … in particular … the prohibition on making the civilian population as such the target of an attack.”