Practice Relating to Rule 1. The Principle of Distinction between Civilians and Combatants
Section A. The principle of distinction
Norway’s Military Penal Code (1902), as amended in 1981, provides:
Anyone who contravenes or is accessory to the contravention of provisions relating to the protection of persons or property laid down in … the two additional protocols to [the 1949 Geneva] Conventions … is liable to imprisonment.
In 2009, in a statement on “Cluster Munitions and the Oslo Process” at a NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Norway’s Deputy Minister of Defence (State Secretary) stated:
[A]ll States in all conflicts and operations have an obligation under international humanitarian law to separate between civilians on the one hand and combatants on the other, the first being entitled to protection and respect in situations of armed conflict. This is one of the most fundamental principles of the Law of Armed Conflict or International Humanitarian Law.
In 2009, in a statement at the Second Review Conference of the Ottawa Convention on Anti-Personnel Mines, Norway’s Minister of Foreign Affairs stated: “The principle of distinction is a cornerstone of all international humanitarian law instruments.”
While the core challenges in the protection of civilians identified in the previous reports of the Secretary-General still need our sustained attention, the new report also identifies several protection policy priorities that need to be explored. In particular the following “emerging” issues would benefit from our attention, and the Group of Friends stands ready to act as a platform to advance them. …
… [O]n the issue of lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS), the Group is of the view that further discussions are needed and it welcomes the fact that the issue will be examined in Geneva in May 2014, in the framework of the CCW [Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons]. The Group hopes that such discussions will also examine the issue with due consideration to the protection of civilians as part of a comprehensive debate including legal, military operational, technological and ethical perspectives. In time discussion should focus on the relevance of such systems to the protection of civilians, in particular in the context of IHL and with regard to the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality.
The annual report of the Secretary-General paints a gloomy picture of the situation around the world for children in armed conflict. ISIL has been listed as violating all triggers of violence against children, a result of their appalling atrocities. In Syria, the systematic use of indiscriminate aerial weapons, such as barrel bombs, account for the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties, including children. This cannot be allowed to continue. And during hostilities in Gaza last summer, civilians, including children, bore the brunt of the suffering. At least 540 Palestinian children were killed … The scale of the impact on children was unprecedented and unacceptable.
These facts … are utterly disturbing and raise serious concern about the observance of the rules of international humanitarian law, including the [principle] of distinction … and respect for international human rights law.