Practice Relating to Rule 15. The Principle of Precautions in Attack
In its consideration of the legality of the 1978 attack by the South African Defence Forces on the South Western Africa People’s Organisation’s (SWAPO) base/refugee camp at Kassinga in Angola, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission stated: “International humanitarian law stipulates that a distinction must at all times be made between persons taking part in hostilities and civilians, with the latter being spared as much as possible.”
Humanitarian law is based on a number of fundamental principles. They are apparent in current treaties and customary law and express the core of humanitarian law. They concern the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, the prohibition on causing superfluous damage and unnecessary suffering and the principle of non-discrimination as well as the so called Martens Clause.
South Africa’s Revised Civic Education Manual (2004) states: “During armed conflict, collateral damage to surrounding objects and people is unavoidable and unplanned. Collateral damage is excused by law.”