Practice Relating to Rule 7. The Principle of Distinction between Civilian Objects and Military Objectives
Section A. The principle of distinction
France’s LOAC Summary Note (1992) provides: “The civilian population and civilian objects must be preserved and distinguished in every circumstance from combatants and military objectives.”
France’s LOAC Teaching Note (2000) provides: “The actions of both the commander and the combatant must be guided by the respect of the fundamental principles of … distinction between military objectives and civilian objects, regarding the nature of the target.”
France’s LOAC Manual (2001) provides:
The principle of discrimination, also known as the principle of precaution, requires belligerents to distinguish military objectives that may be attacked, from civilian objects and populations that must not be the object of any wilful voluntary attack.
The instructions given to the French armed forces for the conduct of Opération Mistral (1995), simulating a military operation under the right of self-defence or a mandate of the UN Security Council, state: “All parties must at all times make a distinction between the civilian population and military objectives in order to spare the civilian population.”
In 2008, the Minister of Defence of France stated:
[France] is a party to the 1977 Additional Protocol I to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which defines the major fundamental principles of protection of the civilian population against the effects of hostilities, in particular the prohibition of superfluous injury and the principle of discrimination … France considers this document to be a fundamental pillar of international humanitarian law and wishes it to become universal as soon as possible, in order to allow for the requirements of humanity during armed conflicts to be better respected.
[D]uring hostilities in Gaza last summer, civilians, including children, bore the brunt of the suffering … hospitals and schools were severely damaged or destroyed, including UN facilities. …
These facts … are utterly disturbing and raise serious concern about the observance of the rules of international humanitarian law, including the [principle] of distinction … and respect for international human rights law.
In 2009, the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of France stated:
[O]ne of the essential principles of international humanitarian law is that a distinction must be made at all times and in all circumstances between … military targets and civilian targets, the latter to be protected. There are few conflicts in which that principle is fully respected.
While the core challenges in the protection of civilians identified in the previous reports of the Secretary-General still need our sustained attention, the new report also identifies several protection policy priorities that need to be explored. In particular the following “emerging” issues would benefit from our attention, and the Group of Friends stands ready to act as a platform to advance them. …
… [O]n the issue of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), the Group is of the view that further discussions are needed and it welcomes the fact that the issue will be examined in Geneva in May 2014, in the framework of the CCW [Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons]. The Group hopes that such discussions will also examine the issue with due consideration to the protection of civilians as part of a comprehensive debate including legal, military operational, technological and ethical perspectives. In time discussion should focus on the relevance of such systems to the protection of civilians, in particular in the context of IHL and with regard to the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality.