Rule 89. Murder is prohibited.
State practice establishes this rule as a norm of customary international law applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.
The prohibition of murder of civilians was already recognized in the Lieber Code.[1] Murder of civilians and prisoners of war was included as a war crime in the Charter of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.[2] Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions prohibits “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds” of civilians and persons hors de combat.[3] All four Geneva Conventions list “wilful killing” of protected persons as a grave breach.[4] The prohibition of murder is recognized as a fundamental guarantee by Additional Protocols I and II.[5] Murder is also specified as a war crime under the Statute of the International Criminal Court with respect to both international and non-international armed conflicts and under the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda and of the Special Court for Sierra Leone.[6]
The prohibition on killing civilians and persons hors de combat is set forth in numerous military manuals.[7] It is also contained in the legislation of a large number of States.[8] This prohibition has been upheld extensively in national and international case-law.[9] Furthermore, it is supported by official statements and other practice.[10]
Alleged violations of this rule have consistently been condemned by States and international organizations, for example, by the UN Security Council, UN General Assembly and UN Commission on Human Rights with respect to the conflicts in Afghanistan, Burundi and the former Yugoslavia.[11] Allegations of such violations have also been denied by the States concerned, for example, during the Iran–Iraq War.[12]
The ICRC has on numerous occasions condemned the killing of civilians and persons hors de combat, stating that such behaviour is prohibited under international humanitarian law.[13]
Murder of civilians and persons hors de combat is also prohibited under international human rights law, albeit in different terms. Human rights treaties prohibit the “arbitrary deprivation of the right to life”.[14] This prohibition is non-derogable under these treaties and therefore applicable at all times.[15] In their statements before the International Court of Justice in the Nuclear Weapons case and Nuclear Weapons (WHO) case, several States which were not at the time party to the main human rights treaties stressed the elementary and non-derogable character of the right to life.[16]
The prohibition of “arbitrary deprivation of the right to life” under human rights law, however, also encompasses unlawful killing in the conduct of hostilities, i.e., the killing of civilians and persons hors de combat not in the power of a party to the conflict not justified under the rules on the conduct of hostilities. In its advisory opinion in the Nuclear Weapons case, the International Court of Justice stated that “the test of what is an arbitrary deprivation of life, however, then falls to be determined by the applicable lex specialis, namely, the law applicable in armed conflict which is designed to regulate the conduct of hostilities”.[17] As discussed in the chapters that deal with the conduct of hostilities, unlawful killings can result, for example, from a direct attack against a civilian (see Rule 1), from an indiscriminate attack (see Rule 11) or from an attack against military objectives causing excessive loss of civilian life (see Rule 14), all of which are prohibited by the rules on the conduct of hostilities.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has also used international humanitarian law as a method of interpreting the right to life during hostilities in situations amounting to armed conflict.[18] However, in other cases, human rights bodies have directly applied human rights law, without reference to international humanitarian law, in assessing whether there has been a violation of the right to life during hostilities.[19] In a number of cases relating to non-international armed conflicts or serious internal disturbances (including those involving the use of military force), the UN Human Rights Committee, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the European Court of Human Rights, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights have stressed the need for proper precautions to be taken, for limitation of the use of force to the degree strictly necessary and for investigations to be undertaken in the case of suspicious deaths in order to ensure that a loss of life is not “arbitrary”.[20]
[1] Lieber Code, Articles 23 and 44 (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 32, §§ 678–679).
[2] IMT Charter (Nuremberg), Article 6(b) (ibid., § 654).
[3] Geneva Conventions, common Article 3 (ibid., § 655).
[4] First Geneva Convention, Article 50 (ibid., § 662); Second Geneva Convention, Article 51 (ibid., § 662); Third Geneva Convention, Article 130 (ibid., § 662); Fourth Geneva Convention, Article 147 (ibid., § 662).
[5] Additional Protocol I, Article 75(2)(a) (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 669); Additional Protocol II, Article 4(2)(a) (adopted by consensus) (ibid., § 670).
[6] ICC Statute, Article 8(2)(a)(i) and (c)(i) (ibid., §§ 675–676); ICTY Statute, Article 2(a) (ibid., § 695); ICTR Statute, Article 4(a) (ibid., § 696); Statute of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Article 3(a) (ibid., § 677).
[7] See, e.g., the military manuals of Argentina (ibid., §§ 702–703), Australia (ibid., §§ 704–705), Belgium (ibid., § 706), Benin (ibid., § 707), Bosnia and Herzegovina (ibid., § 708), Burkina Faso (ibid., § 709), Cameroon (ibid., §§ 710–711), Canada (ibid., § 712), Colombia (ibid., §§ 713–715), Congo (ibid., § 716), Croatia (ibid., §§ 717–718), Ecuador (ibid., § 719), El Salvador (ibid., § 720), France (ibid., §§ 721–724), Germany (ibid., §§ 725–726), Hungary (ibid., § 727), Israel (ibid., § 728), Italy (ibid., § 729), Kenya (ibid., § 730), Republic of Korea (ibid., § 731), Madagascar (ibid., § 732), Mali (ibid., § 733), Morocco (ibid., § 734), Netherlands (ibid., § 735), New Zealand (ibid., § 736), Nicaragua (ibid., § 737), Nigeria (ibid., §§ 738–740), Peru (ibid., §§ 741–742), Philippines (ibid., § 743), Romania (ibid., § 744), Russian Federation (ibid., § 745), Senegal (ibid., §§ 746–747), South Africa (ibid., § 748), Spain (ibid., § 749), Switzerland (ibid., §§ 750–751), Togo (ibid., § 752), Uganda (ibid., § 753), United Kingdom (ibid., §§ 755–756) and United States (ibid., §§ 757–761).
[8] See, e.g., the legislation (ibid., §§ 762–853).
[9] See, e.g., Australia, Military Court at Rabaul, Ohashi case and Baba Masao case (ibid., § 854); Belgium, Court-Martial of Brussels, Sergeant W. case, (ibid., § 855); Chile, Appeal Court of Santiago, Videla case (ibid., § 856); China, War Crimes Military Tribunal of the Ministry of National Defence at Nanking, Takashi Sakai case (ibid., § 854); Colombia, Constitutional Court, Constitutional Case No. C-225/95 (ibid., § 857); Israel, District Court of Jerusalem and Supreme Court, Eichmann case (ibid., § 854); Netherlands, Temporary Court-Martial at Makassar, Motomura case (ibid., § 854); Netherlands, Temporary Court-Martial at Makassar, Notomi Sueo case (ibid., § 854); Netherlands, Temporary Court-Martial at Amboina, Motosuke case (ibid., § 854); Netherlands, Special Court of Cassation, Silbertanne murders case (ibid., § 854) and Burghof case (ibid., § 854); Netherlands, Special Court (War Criminals) at Arnhem, Enkelstroth case (ibid., § 854); Norway, Court of Appeal, Bruns case (ibid., § 854) and Hans case (ibid., § 854); United Kingdom, Military Court at Almelo, Sandrock case (ibid., § 854); United States, Military Commission at Rome, Dostler case (ibid., § 854); United States, Military Tribunal at Nuremberg, List (Hostages Trial) case (ibid., § 854); United States, Military Commission in the Far East, Jaluit Atoll case (ibid., § 858); United States, Court of Military Appeals, Schultz case (ibid., § 859); ICJ, Nicaragua case (Merits), Judgment (ibid., § 925); ICJ, Nuclear Weapons case, Advisory Opinion (ibid., § 926); ICTR, Ntakirutimana case, Amended Indictment (ibid., § 927); ICTY, Tadić case, Interlocutory Appeal, Second Amended Indictment and Judgment (ibid., §§ 928–930), Mrkšić case, Initial Indictment and Review of the Indictment (ibid., § 931), Erdemović case, Sentencing Judgment, Judgment on Appeal and Sentencing Judgment bis (ibid., § 932), Delalić case, Judgment (ibid., § 933), Jelisić case, Judgment (ibid., § 934), Kupreškić case, Judgment (ibid., § 935), Blaškić case, Judgment (ibid., § 936) and Kordić and Čerkez case, First Amended Indictment and Judgment (ibid., § 937); UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 6 (Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) (ibid., § 938); UN Human Rights Committee, Camargo v. Colombia (ibid., § 939); African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Civil Liberties Organisation v. Chad (ibid., § 940); European Commission of Human Rights, Dujardin and Others v. France (ibid., § 941); European Court of Human Rights, McCann and Others v. UK (ibid., § 942), Ergi v. Turkey (ibid., § 943), Yasa v. Turkey (ibid. , § 943), Kurt v. Turkey (ibid., § 944), Kaya v. Turkey (ibid., § 945), Avsar v. Turkey (ibid., § 946) and K.-H. W. v. Germany (ibid., § 947); Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Resolution adopted at the 1968 Session (ibid., § 948), Case 10.559 (Peru) (ibid., § 949), Case 6724 (El Salvador), Case 10.190 (El Salvador) and Case 10.284 (El Salvador) (ibid., § 950), Case 10.287 (El Salvador) (ibid., § 951), Report on the situation of human rights in Peru (ibid., § 952), Case 11.137 (Argentina) (ibid., § 953) and Case of the Ríofrío massacre (Colombia) (ibid., § 954); Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez case (ibid., § 955) and Neira Alegría and Others case (ibid., § 956).
[10] See, e.g., the statements of Botswana (ibid., § 860), Brazil (ibid., § 861), China (ibid., § 863), Colombia (ibid., §§ 864–865), Costa Rica (ibid., § 866), Egypt (ibid., § 867), Indonesia (ibid., § 870), Israel (ibid., § 871), Malaysia (ibid., § 872), Mexico (ibid., § 873), Nauru (ibid., § 874), Netherlands (ibid., § 875), Nigeria (ibid., § 877), Oman (ibid., § 878), Qatar (ibid., § 879), Russian Federation (ibid., § 880), Rwanda (ibid., § 882), South Africa (ibid., § 884) and United States (ibid., §§ 886–887 and 889), the practice of China (ibid., § 862), France (ibid., § 869) and Rwanda (ibid., § 883) and the reported practice of Nigeria (ibid., § 876) and United States (ibid., § 890).
[11] See, e.g., UN Security Council, Res. 827 (ibid., § 896), Res. 1019 (ibid., § 897) and Res. 1072 (ibid., § 898); UN General Assembly, Res. 50/193 (ibid., § 902); UN Commission on Human Rights, Res. 1989/67, 1990/53, 1991/78 and 1992/68 (ibid., § 904).
[12] See the reported practice of the Islamic Republic of Iran and Iraq (ibid., § 916).
[13] See, e.g., ICRC, Annual Report 1982 (ibid., § 958), Conflict between Iraq and the Islamic Republic of Iran: ICRC Appeal (ibid., § 959), Memorandum on the Applicability of International Humanitarian Law (ibid., § 961), Appeal in behalf of civilians in Yugoslavia (ibid., § 962), Communication to the Press No. 94/16 (ibid., § 964), Memorandum on Respect for International Humanitarian Law in Angola (ibid., § 965), Memorandum on Compliance with International Humanitarian Law by the Forces Participating in Opération Turquoise (ibid., § 966) and Communication to the Press No. 01/47 (ibid., § 969).
[14] See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 6(1) (ibid., § 666); American Convention on Human Rights, Article 4 (ibid., § 667); African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Article 4 (ibid., § 671). The European Convention on Human Rights, Article 2 (ibid., § 664), does not use the term “arbitrary” but specifies a general right to life and gives an exhaustive list of when a deprivation of the right to life may be lawful.
[15] See International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 4(2) (ibid., § 666); American Convention on Human Rights, Article 27(2) (ibid., § 667); European Convention on Human Rights, Article 15(2) (ibid., § 664). The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights does not provide for any derogation of its provisions in a state of emergency and Article 15 of the European Convention states that the right to life is non-derogable, except for “lawful acts of war” in a situation which amounts to armed conflict.
[16] See the statements before the ICJ in the Nuclear Weapons case and Nuclear Weapons (WHO) case of Indonesia (cited in Vol. II, Ch. 32, § 870), Malaysia (ibid., § 872), Mexico (ibid., § 873), Nauru (ibid., § 874) and Qatar (ibid., § 879).
[17] ICJ, Nuclear Weapons case, Advisory Opinion (ibid., § 926).
[18] See Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Case 11.137 (Argentina) (ibid., § 953) and Case of the Ríofrío massacre (Colombia) (ibid., § 954).
[19] See, e.g., African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Civil Liberties Organisation v. Chad (ibid., § 940); Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Case 6724 (El Salvador) (ibid., § 950), Case 10.190 (El Salvador) (ibid., § 950) and Case 10.284 (El Salvador) (ibid., § 950).
[20] See UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 6 (Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ibid., § 938) and Camargo v. Colombia (ibid., § 939); African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Civil Liberties Organisation v. Chad (ibid., § 940); European Court of Human Rights, McCann and Others v. UK (ibid., § 942), Ergi v. Turkey (ibid., § 943) and Yasa v. Turkey (ibid., § 943); Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Report on the situation of human rights in Peru (ibid., § 952); Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Neira Alegría and Others case (ibid., § 956). Judicial or quasi-judicial practice confirming the need to investigate suspicious deaths, including in armed conflict situations, includes: UN Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 6 (Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) (ibid., § 938); African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Civil Liberties Organisation v. Chad (ibid., § 940); European Court of Human Rights, Kaya v. Turkey (ibid., § 945) and Avsar v. Turkey (ibid., § 946); Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, Case 10.559 (Peru) (ibid., § 949); Inter-American Court of Human Rights, Velásquez Rodríguez case (ibid., § 955).