United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Practice Relating to Rule 11. Indiscriminate Attacks
The UK LOAC Pamphlet (1981) provides that it is forbidden “to carry out indiscriminate attacks.”
The UK LOAC Manual (2004) states: “Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited.”
With regard to internal armed conflict, the manual states:
15.15. Attacks that are not directed against military targets are prohibited.
15.15.1. There is no specific rule on indiscriminate attacks under customary law but the principle of distinction prohibits attacks that are not aimed at a specific target.
The UK Geneva Conventions Act (1957), as amended in 1995, punishes “any person, whatever his nationality, who, whether in or outside the United Kingdom, commits, or aids, abets or procures the commission by any other person of, a grave breach of … [the 1977 Additional Protocol I]”.
On 21 January 1991, in the context of the Gulf War, the UK Minister of Foreign Affairs summoned the Iraqi Ambassador to discuss Iraq’s obligations under international law. According to a statement by a spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office after the meeting, the Minister had “expressed concern at the indiscriminate targeting of civilian sites by Iraqi SCUD missiles”.
In 1991, in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on operations in the Gulf War, the United Kingdom accused Iraq of having had “no compunction about launching indiscriminate missile attacks directed at civilians”.
In 1991, during a debate in the UN Security Council concerning the Gulf War, the United Kingdom reiterated its condemnation of the indiscriminate firing of missiles at civilian population centres.
In 2004, in a written ministerial statement, the UK Foreign Secretary stated:
The basic obligations under international humanitarian law as regards civilian casualties in an armed conflict are set out in additional protocol I to the Geneva conventions, which also reflects customary international law. In particular, indiscriminate attacks are prohibited, and this includes any,
“attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”.
This obligation under international humanitarian law has been fully complied with by the United Kingdom in respect of all military operations in Iraq.
The UK Government Strategy on the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict (2010) states:
Protection of civilians in armed conflict matters from a legal perspective
, because the UK has specific obligations concerning the protection of civilians in situations where it is involved in military action. International humanitarian law (IHL) … prohibits attacks that are indiscriminate.
[emphasis in original]