Practice Relating to Rule 47. Attacks against Persons Hors de Combat
Section B. Specific categories of persons hors de combat
Israel’s Manual on the Laws of War (1998) provides:
The laws of war do set clear bars to the possibility of harming combatants when the combatant is found “outside the frame of hostilities”, as when he asks to surrender, or when he is wounded in a way that does not allow him to take an active part in the fighting. In such situations, it is absolutely prohibited to harm the combatant.
When is a combatant regarded as leaving the sphere of hostilities? While storming at zero distance, must a combatant hold his fire against a combatant raising his hands, but still holding his weapon? This is a difficult question to answer, especially under combat conditions. At any rate, there are several criteria that can guide us: Does the combatant show clear intent to surrender using universally accepted signs, such as raising his hands? Is the soldier seeking to surrender liable to jeopardize our forces or is the range considered not dangerous? Did the surrenderer lay down his arms?
Israel’s Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) states:
The rules of warfare … include many customs that have become entrenched in warfare over the years, such as not attacking a prisoner-of-war who is asking to surrender or waving a white flag as a sign of surrender.
The manual further states that “it is forbidden to attack the enemy’s wounded”.
In addition, the manual states:
[T]he rules of war include a ban on attacking a combatant who is “hors de combat
”, for example while he is asking to surrender or if he is wounded in such a way that does not allow him to participate in combat actively. In situations such as these, it is absolutely forbidden in the strongest terms to attack such combatant.
The Manual on the Rules of Warfare (2006) is a second edition of the Manual on the Laws of War (1998).
The Report on the Practice of Israel comments:
It should nevertheless be understood that during combat operations, it is often impossible to ascertain exactly at which point an opposing soldier becomes incapacitated, as opposed to merely taking cover, hiding, or “playing dead” in order to open fire at a later stage. Therefore, the practical implementation of this rule requires the commanders in the field to make best-judgment decisions as to whether or not that person continues to pose a threat to friendly forces.