Practice Relating to Rule 11. Indiscriminate Attacks
South Africa’s LOAC Manual (1996) states: “Attacks which do not discriminate between military and civilian targets are forbidden.”
The manual also provides that “launching an indiscriminate attack which affects the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause loss of life, injury to civilians and damage to certain civilian objects” is a grave breach.
South Africa’s Revised Civic Education Manual (2004) states: “Attacks which do not discriminate between military and civilian targets are forbidden.”
The manual also provides that an “[i]ndiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such an attack will cause excessive civilian casualties and damage” is a grave breach of the law of armed conflict and a war crime.
In its five-volume report on “gross violations of human rights” committed between 1960 and 1993, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted that the killing of more than 600 people in a 1978 attack by the South Africa Defence Force (SADF) on the South Western Africa People’s Organisation (SWAPO) base/refugee camp at Kassinga in Angola constituted a breach of IHL. It stated:
There is little evidence that the SADF took sufficient precautions to spare those civilians whom they knew were resident at Kassinga in large numbers. The fact that the operational orders for Reindeer
included the instruction that “women and children must, where possible, not be shot” is evidence of the SADF’s prior knowledge of the presence of civilians. However, this apparent intention to spare their lives was rendered meaningless by the SADF’s decision to use fragmentation bombs in the initial air assault as such weapons kill and maim indiscriminately. Their use, therefore, in the face of knowledge of the presence of civilians, amounts to an indiscriminate and illegitimate use of force and a violation of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The foreseeable killing of civilians at Kassinga was therefore a breach of humanitarian law.