Practice Relating to Rule 1. The Principle of Distinction between Civilians and Combatants
Section C. Attacks against civilians
Norway’s Military Penal Code (1902), as amended in 1981, provides:
Anyone who contravenes or is accessory to the contravention of provisions relating to the protection of persons or property laid down in … the two additional protocols to [the 1949 Geneva] Conventions … is liable to imprisonment.
Norway’s Penal Code (1902), as amended in 2008, states: “Any person is liable to punishment for a war crime who in connection with an armed conflict … directs an attack against the civilian population as such or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.”
In 2008, in a statement before the Sixth Committee of the UN General Assembly on the status of the 1977 Additional Protocols, made on behalf of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden, the representative of Sweden stated: “We call upon all states and entities to respect the existing body of international humanitarian law, particularly with regard to the obligations to protect civilians.”
In 2009, in a statement before the UN General Assembly on Gaza, the permanent representative of Norway stated:
Hamas’ launching of rockets targeting civilians in Israel must stop.
Israel’s shelling of Gaza must stop.
International humanitarian law is crystal clear: civilians must be protected.
In 2010, in an opening address at a Workshop on International Humanitarian Law and the Protection of Civilians, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs stated:
The prime aim of international humanitarian law is precisely to protect civilians and all persons who do not, or no longer, take direct part in hostilities, from the risks associated with armed violence.
To reclaim the protection of civilians in armed conflict is therefore – first and foremost – a matter of reclaiming respect for international humanitarian law in practice.
The law of armed conflict offers a minimum of protection to civilians in times of emergency, while at the same time requiring that parties to conflict distinguish between members of the enemy’s armed opposition and civilians, although this may be hard at times.
We expect every civilian to be able to enjoy protection during armed conflict, regardless of the political motivation that lies behind a decision to resort to armed force.