United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 97. Human Shields
The UK Military Manual (1958) provides: “It is forbidden to use the presence of protected persons to render certain points or areas immune from military operations.” It also states:
In the past prominent inhabitants were placed on engines of trains running on the lines of communication in occupied territories to ensure the safety of the trains. Such a measure exposed innocent inhabitants to the illegitimate acts of train wrecking by private enemy individuals, and also to the lawful operations of raiding parties of the armed forces of the belligerent. It now comes within the prohibition of the [1949 Geneva Convention IV].
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) states that civilians “may not be used to shield military operations”.
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states:
The presence or movements of the civilian population or individual civilians shall not be used to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations. The Parties to the conflict shall not direct the movement of the civilian population or individual civilians in order to attempt to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield military operations.
With regard to internal armed conflict, the manual states:
Recent armed conflicts have been blighted by the use of “human shields” to protect military installations from attack and by the practice known as “ethnic cleansing” when people of a certain racial origin or religious beliefs have been murdered or expelled from their homes, which have been destroyed. These practices violate the basic law of armed conflict principles of targeting, discrimination and humane treatment of those hors de combat
as well as the basic human rights law principles of non discrimination on racial or ethnic grounds and in freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. They are likely to be war crimes. Depending on the circumstances, these practices may also amount to crimes against humanity or even genocide.
Under the UK ICC Act (2001), it is a punishable offence to commit a war crime as defined in Article 8(2)(b)(xxiii) of the 1998 ICC Statute.
In its judgment in the Student case
in 1946, the UK Military Court at Lüneberg found the accused guilty of using six British prisoners of war as a screen for the advance of German troops, which resulted in the deaths of some of the prisoners.
Speaking in an emergency debate in the House of Commons at the time of the Gulf crisis in 1990, the UK Prime Minister declared: “Every norm of law, of diplomatic convention and of civilised behaviour has been offended by the way in which those citizens have been rounded up … and used as a human shield.”
In an emergency debate in the House of Lords at the time of the Gulf crisis in 1990, the UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, declared that he was shocked by the Iraqi Government’s decision to use human shields, such practice being “abhorrent and a further breach of humanitarian law”.
In 1990, during a debate in the UN Security Council, the United Kingdom described Iraq’s illegal practices of using human shields as “acts which outrage international law and international opinion”.
In January 1991, in a letter to the President of the UN Security Council, the United Kingdom recalled Article 13 of the 1949 Geneva Convention III and declared: “There had also been news agency reports that the Iraqi authorities were considering sending captured POWs to strategic sites in Iraq. This would be a serious breach of Iraq’s obligations under the Conventions.” It added: “Scrupulous compliance with the Convention was expected in respect to all British prisoners of war including British servicemen.”
On 21 January 1991, the UK Minister of Foreign Affairs summoned the Iraqi ambassador to discuss Iraq’s obligations under international law in the context of the Gulf War. After the meeting, the spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated that the Minister
had raised press reports concerning the detention of POWs at strategic sites [and] had made it clear that if Iraq did this it would be an outrageous breach of the Geneva Conventions. The British Government would take the gravest view of any such breach. He also reminded the Iraqi Ambassador of the personal liability of those individuals who broke the Convention in this way.
In 1991, during a debate in the House of Commons on the subject of the Gulf War, the UK Prime Minister stated:
There has been a reported threat to use captured airmen as human shields. Such action would be inhuman, illegal and totally contrary to the third Geneva convention. The convention expressly … prohibits the sending of a prisoner of war to an area where he may be exposed to fire, or his detention there, and forbids the use of the presence of prisoners of war to render points or areas immune from military operations. There is no doubt about Iraq’s obligations under the Geneva convention.
In 2008, during a debate in the House of Commons, a UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated regarding the situation in Sri Lanka: “The LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] … is reported to … break all norms of international humanitarian law by preventing civilians from leaving conflict areas, effectively holding them as human shield[s].”
In 2010, in a written answer to the House of Lords, a UK Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, stated in response to a question about the alleged use of Palestinian children as human shields by the Israeli military: “We condemn the use of civilians as human shields. This is strictly forbidden under Israeli law, in line with the  Fourth Geneva Convention’s proscription of the procedure.”