Despite the introduction and increasing use of ‘smart’ bombs, recent bombing campaigns in Iraq, Afghanistan and Serbia, formerly known as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (FRY), have resulted in what some commentators consider to be an unacceptably high level of civilian casualties, especially when compared with the low level of combatant casualties in the attacking force. This paper will focus on the law which applies during international armed conflicts to aerial bombardment or missiles launched from warships in the context of individual criminal responsibility for such bombardment. This necessitates a focus on the rules of aerial bombardment as set out in Additional Protocol I (API) which have been developed by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and by the definitions in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and in its Elements of Crime, although some comment will also be made as to the duties of non-state parties to API. In this context, first the principle of distinction between civilians and military and civilian objects and military objectives will be considered. Secondly, the principle of proportionality, that is, the duty not to cause excessive civilian casualties, will be examined and will look at questions such as whether long term collateral damage should be taken into account in the proportionality equation. Finally, the application of this law to non-international armed conflicts will be briefly assessed.
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