Practice Relating to Rule 15. The Principle of Precautions in Attack
Section A. Constant care to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects
The Military Manual (1993) of the Netherlands states: “In the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects.”
The Military Handbook (1995) of the Netherlands states: “The civilian population which does not participate in hostilities must be spared.”
The Military Manual (2005) of the Netherlands states: “Belligerents must take every precaution in their actions against military targets to minimize victims among non-combatants (primarily civilians).”
In its chapter on behaviour in battle, the manual states that “the civilian population of one’s own, as well as the adversary’s, side must be spared and protected”.
The manual further states: “In combat operations, everything practically possible should be done to make sure that the objectives to be attacked are not cultural property.”
In addition, the manual provides:
A distinction must be made between precautions when attacking and precautions against the consequences of attacks (therefore “attacks” mean combat actions as a whole). In general, the rule is that, when carrying out military operations, constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian objects.
According to the Government of the Netherlands, commanders have to take all the precautionary measures required by Article 57 of the 1977 Additional Protocol I when carrying out an attack.
In 2006, in reply to a written question from the Parliament concerning measures taken to prevent civilian casualties when attacking targets from the air, the Minister of Defence of the Netherlands stated: “In practice, Dutch fighter pilots will not commence with the attack on a target, if the possibility exists that civilians are in the vicinity of that target.”
In 2007, in reply to a written question from the Parliament regarding civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the Ministers of Defence and Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands stated:
The Netherlands takes every measure to prevent civilian casualties. Every time the Dutch air force supports OEF-units, the Dutch Rules of Engagement apply. These Rules state that the crews of F-16’s, before commencing with the attack, at all times need to positively identify the designated target, identify whether unarmed civilians are in the vicinity of the target and collateral damage can be avoided. If these preconditions cannot be met, then the mission should be aborted. Until now, this has occurred a number of times.
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.