Practice Relating to Rule 1. The Principle of Distinction between Civilians and Combatants
Belgium’s Law of War Manual (1983) provides: “A distinction must always be made between the civilian population and those participating in hostilities: the latter may be attacked, the former may not.”
A report submitted to the Belgian Senate in 1991 noted that the principle of distinction remained the foundation of the law of armed conflict.
Belgium’s Teaching Manual for Soldiers states that only enemy combatants may be attacked.
Belgium’s Teaching Manual for Soldiers states that civilians must not be attacked.
Belgium’s Penal Code (1867), as amended in 2003, provides:
[N]o necessity of a … military … nature … can justify the offences defined in … [Article] 136 septies
[which include the war crime of directly attacking the civilian population or individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities], even when they have been committed by way of reprisal.
Belgium’s Law concerning the Repression of Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols (1993), as amended in 1999, provides that “making the civilian population or individual civilians the object of attack” constitutes a crime under international law.
Belgium’s Law relating to the Repression of Grave Breaches of International Humanitarian Law (1993), as amended in 2003, provides:
War crimes envisaged in the 1949 [Geneva] Conventions … and in the [1977 Additional Protocols I and II] … , as well as in Article 8(2)(f) of the  Statute of the International Criminal Court and listed below, … constitute crimes under international law and shall be punished in accordance with the provisions of the present title … :
11. intentionally directing attacks against the civilian population or against individual civilians not taking direct part in hostilities.
In 1969, during a debate in the UN General Assembly, Belgium referred to the conflict in Nigeria as non-international and, in this context, referred to “the reprobation and prohibition of everything leading to total war where civilian, non-combatant inhabitants, who often have nothing whatever to do with the conflict, become the victims of war through … being the victims of attacks”.
In an explanatory memorandum submitted to the Belgian parliament in 1985 in the context of the ratification procedure of the Additional Protocols, the Belgian Government stated:
Article 51 [of the 1977 Additional Protocol I] embodies the first statement in treaty law of the customary law principle of civilian immunity [from attack], whether against individual civilians or against the civilian population as a whole.
In 2007, during a debate in the UN Security Council on the situation in Africa, the representative of Belgium stated, with reference to Sudan:
The attacks against civilians, carried out as much by the Governmental forces as by the rebel forces and militias, are continuing, and serious violations of international law are increasing in number. Such violations are clearly unacceptable, and we cannot tolerate their continuation. While underscoring the chief responsibility of the Government of the Sudan, Belgium insists that all parties must ensure the protection of civilians. … My delegation is convinced that the protection of civilians … must be the absolute priority of the international community.