Practice Relating to Rule 1. The Principle of Distinction between Civilians and Combatants
Section B. Attacks against combatants
Switzerland’s Basic Military Manual (1987) states that only military objectives may be attacked, including enemy armed forces.
Switzerland’s Aide-Memoire on the Ten Basic Rules of the Law of Armed Conflict (2005) states: “I exclusively engage combatants”.
Switzerland’s Regulation on Legal Bases for Conduct during an Engagement (2005) states:
10 General provisions
153 All harmful acts perpetrated against the adversary, in particular the killing of enemy units or combatants during hostilities, constitute neither an offence under international law nor a violation of national law (see para. 234 et seq.).
12.1 The principle of distinction
159 Hostilities must be directed exclusively against combatants and military objectives. …
are members of the armed forces of a party to the conflict, with the exception of medical and religious personnel
. In war, they may engage in harmful acts as long as they comply with the rules of the law of armed conflict. Any persons who engage in harmful acts or openly bear weapons may also be fought against.
The Regulation also explains that, in application of the principle of distinction, a wounded combatant who continues to shoot can be shot at because “he remains a combatant until he lays down his weapons”.
The Regulation further states: “Airborne troops – descending by parachute individually or in formation – are considered combatants. They can therefore be attacked even when they are still in the air.”