"Thou shall not kill" : the use of lethal force in non-international armed conflicts
David Kretzmer, Aviad Ben-Yehuda and Meirav Furth
Host item entries:
Israel law review, Vol. 47, issue 2, July 2014, p. 191-224
The assumption of this article is that when a state is involved in an international armed conflict it may employ lethal force against combatants of the enemy unless they are hors de combat. Hence, even when it would be feasible to do so, it has no duty to apprehend enemy combatants rather than use force against them. Does this same norm apply in non-international armed conflicts occurring in the territory of a single state (internal conflicts)? The writers argue that the answer is in the negative. Despite the attempt in recent years to narrow the differences between the norms that apply in non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) and international armed conflicts (IACs), there are still significant differences between the two types of armed conflict, which justify the application of different norms in this context. Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions refers only to humanitarian norms and does not imply that the norms relating to the conduct of hostilities in IACs apply also in NIACs. While customary international law may allow states to use lethal force in a NIAC in the actual conduct of hostilities, there is no basis for assuming that the norm that ostensibly applies in IACs relating to use of such force outside the context of hostilities applies in NIACs too. The jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which is the main source for the arguments on closing the gap between IACs and NIACs, relates only to humanitarian norms and has never addressed extending the permissive IAC norms of the law of armed conflict (LOAC) to NIACs. Finally, in an internal armed conflict the state has a dual capacity: it must respect and ensure the human rights of all persons subject to its jurisdiction, and it is a party in an armed conflict with some of those persons. In such a situation, the only context in which the state may deviate from regular norms of law enforcement is the actual context of hostilities, in which application of such norms is not feasible. In other contexts, its human rights obligations prevail.