Civilians are protected from attack under the law of armed conflict but lose that protection "for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities". However, this phrase has never been defined in the law. In an effort to clarify its meaning, the ICRC and the Asser Institute convened a series of expert meetings from 2003 to 2008 to discuss how it should be interpreted in practice and, following those meetings, the ICRC adopted guidance, which was published in the International review of the Red Cross in December 2008. This article examines the problems that can arise in the absence of a generally accepted definition, provides insight into the expert process as seen by one of its participants and comments on the guidance that was finally produced.
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