Practice Relating to Rule 15. The Principle of Precautions in Attack
Section A. Constant care to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects
Switzerland’s Regulation on Legal Bases for Conduct during an Engagement (2005) states: “The precautionary measures thus aim to spare as far as possible the population and civilian objects during acts of war.”
Switzerland’s ABC of International Humanitarian Law (2009) states:
Although military operations can be legitimately carried out against Military objectives
only, this does not prevent civilians or civilian objects from being harmed. In order to protect them, international humanitarian law requires that, in the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare civilians and civilian objects. This is what is called the principle of precaution.
In 2009, in a statement before the UN Security Council during an open debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the permanent representative of Switzerland stated:
The current situation in Gaza cries out to us the importance of the issue we are discussing today. The main victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are civilians. Switzerland is deeply shocked by the very high number of civilians that have been killed or wounded in this conflict, and in particular the high number of child victims. …
Switzerland therefore reiterates its call for … strict compliance with international law by all parties to the conflict. This includes in particular the obligation to respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution.
In 2010, in its Report on IHL and Current Armed Conflicts, Switzerland’s Federal Council stated:
Military responses to guerrilla tactics must be in conformity with the requirements of international humanitarian law. There is a consensus today that the majority of the provisions of [the 1977] Additional Protocol I apply equally to non-international armed conflicts, through customary law. … Even if combatants blend in with the civilian population and use it as a human shield in violation of the law, measures should be taken in order to carry out attacks in a targeted manner and to spare civilians as much as feasible (for example by warning them in advance).
[footnotes in original omitted]
In 2012, Switzerland’s Federal Department of Foreign Affairs issued a press release entitled “Official visit by the Palestinian President”, which stated:
During the meeting, the Head of the FDFA [Federal Department of Foreign Affairs] expressed his deep concern at the escalation of violence throughout the region. It is crucial that all measures of precaution be taken so as to spare the civilian population from the effects of the hostilities being conducted in one of the most densely populated zones in the world.
In 2013, in answer to an interpellation in Parliament regarding the use of drones, Switzerland’s Federal Council stated:
In armed conflicts, strikes carried out with armed drones must respect the rules of the conduct of hostilities as stipulated by international humanitarian law, including the principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution, and must therefore not be directed against civilians or civilian objects. For each strike, it is thus necessary to verify that these principles were respected.
In 2013, in a statement before the UN Security Council during a debate on the protection of civilians in armed conflict made on behalf of the group of friends on the protection of civilians, Switzerland’s chargé d’affaires a.i.
stated: “Parties to conflict too often fail to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law, which requires all parties to conflict to spare the civilian population from the effects of hostilities.”
In 2013, in a statement at the Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the 1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the permanent representative of Switzerland stated:
The community of States cannot remain indifferent to the human suffering caused by armed conflicts. It was in direct response to this fundamental concern that the CCW [1980 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons] and its protocols were adopted, with a view to prohibiting or limiting the use of certain specific types of weapons known to inflict superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering, or to strike indiscriminately.
In this regard, Switzerland is deeply concerned by the alleged use of weapons in Syria falling within the ambit of the CCW and its respective protocols, such as the alleged use of anti-personnel mines as well as the alleged use of incendiary weapons in populated areas causing severe human suffering. We call upon all parties to the conflict to comply with their obligations under international law, in particular the principles of distinction, precaution, and proportionality.