Status of person principles
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Status of Person Principles. What Makes a Combatant. Combatants = Uniformed? Open Arms? Organized? Follows LOAC? Does this apply to Armies, or just militia and other armed groups?. Geneva Conventions Today. Unlawful Combatant: Purely descriptive term Not an official status

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What makes a combatant
What Makes a Combatant

Combatants =

  • Uniformed?

  • Open Arms?

  • Organized?

  • Follows LOAC?

    Does this apply to Armies, or just militia and other armed groups?

Geneva conventions today
Geneva Conventions Today

  • Unlawful Combatant:

    • Purely descriptive term

    • Not an official status

    • Carries no special protections

    • We sometimes treat them like POWs under API 44.4 “protections equivalent in all respects to those accorded POWs,” but it doesn’t make them one.

Categories on an iac battlefield
Categories on an IAC Battlefield

Civilians who engage in direct participation in hostilities at the time and place an activity takes place = not protected for duration of ….(depends on status) = Unprivileged belligerents


Status of person principles



International Internal Not a LOW Issue

CA2;* CA3

GC, Part II (general pop.)



Part III GC, Part II Only

Section I


Conflict Occupied

Part III, Section II Part III, Section III

Interned Interned

Part III, Section IV Part III, Section IV

GCIV (GC) Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War

* The ICJ held CA3 applies serves as “minimum yardstick” in all conflicts; the ICTY extended CA3 to “any armed conflict”. The U.S. Supreme Court concluded CA3 applies to conflicts “not of an international character” (between two high contracting parties). Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 126 S. Ct. 2749, 2796 (U.S. 2006). DoDD 2310.01E (5 SEP 06) states that all DoD detainees shall be treated “humanely.”

** Per GC, Art. 4, “protected persons” are those who find themselves, in a conflict or occupation, in the hands of a party to the conflict or occupying power of which they are not nationals. These do not include those who are: (1) Nationals of a State not bound by GCs; (2) Nationals of a neutral state finding themselves in belligerent state (non-occupied state) if the State of which they are nationals has normal diplomatic relations with the belligerent State in which they find themselves; consequently, nationals of a neutral state become protected persons in an occupied state; (3) Nationals of co-belligerent (ally) State while State of which they are nationals has normal diplomatic representation in the State whose hands they are; consequently, the whole population of an occupied territory are protected persons except nationals of occupying power; (4) Persons protected by other GCs (i.e, lawful combatants, contractors accompanying the force (see GPW, Art. 4).

Civilians in international armed conflicts
Civilians in International Armed Conflicts

  • For purposes of principle of distinction in IAC, all persons who are neither members of the armed forces of a party to the conflict nor participants in a levee en masseare civilians, and entitled to protection from attack, unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. ICRC. p.20.

Civilians in non international armed conflicts
Civilians in Non-International Armed Conflicts

  • For purposes of principle of distinction in NIAC, all persons who are not members of State armed forcesor organized armed groups of a party to the conflict are civilians and entitled to protection against attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. ICRC, p. 27.

Api 50
API - 50

“Civilians shall enjoy the protection afforded by this section unless and for such timeasthey take a direct part in hostilities”

The concept of civilians
The Concept of Civilians

Those conducting hostilities face the difficult task of distinguishing between

  • civilians who are not engaged in DPH

  • civilians who are engaged in a specific hostile act (DPH), and

  • Members of organized armed groups (continuous combat function)

Precautions and presumption in situations of doubt
Precautions and Presumption in Situations of Doubt

  • All feasible precautions must be taken in determining whether a person is a civilian and, if so, whether that person is directly participating in hostilities.

  • In case of doubt, person must be presumed to be protected against attack. ICRC, p. 74. (Art. 50 of AP I)

Definition of dph
Definition of DPH?

  • “A clear and uniform definition of direct participation in hostilities has not been developed in State practice.”

  • Commentary, Rule 6, ICRC Customary International Law Study

Concept of direct participation in hostilities
Concept of Direct Participation in Hostilities

  • Notion of Direct Participation in Hostilities refers to specific, hostile acts carried out by individuals as part of conduct of hostilities between parties to armed conflict.

  • Interpreted synonymously in IAC and NIAC. ICRC, p. 45.

3 elements of dph
3 Elements of DPH

  • 1. Act must cause (or intend) harm to military operations or military capacity of party to Armed Conflict, or to persons or objects protected against attack (threshold of harm).

  • 2. A direct causal link between the act and the expected harm (direct causation).

  • 3. A belligerent nexus between the act and hostilities conducted between the parties to AC (belligerent nexus).

Element 1 threshold of harm
Element 1 - Threshold of Harm

  • Direct Participant reaches threshold either by causing harm of specifically military nature or by inflicting death, injury, or destruction on persons or objects protected against direct attack.

  • Harm does not need to materialize; what’s important is the objective likelihood that act will result in such harm. ICRC, p.47.

Element 1 harm of a specifically military nature
Element 1 - “Harm of a Specifically Military Nature”

  • Death, injury, destruction of military personnel and objects and “any consequence adversely affecting the military operations or military capacity of a party to the conflict.” ICRC, p. 47.

  • Computer attacks?

Element 1 no direct participation by omission
Element 1 - No Direct Participation by Omission

  • Refusal of a civilian to collaborate with one party to AC will not reach the required threshold of harm. ICRC, p. 49.

But note direct participation absent military harm
BUT NOTE: Direct Participation Absent Military Harm

  • Acts of violence directed against persons or objects protected against attack qualify as direct participation in hostilities regardless of military harm to opposing party to conflict. ICRC, pp. 49-50.

  • Example – sites of worship, hospitals, schools, etc.

Element 2 direct causation
Element 2 -Direct Causation

  • Must be a direct causal link between specific act and harm likely to result from it, or from a coordinated military operation of which that act constitutes an integral part. ICRC, p. 51.

  • “The harm in question must be brought about in one causal step.” ICRC, p. 53.

  • Human shields?

Element 2 problem
Element #2 - Problem

  • “One Causal Step” Requirement would exclude all persons who assemble IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan from category of “direct participation.”

  • Is Production of weapons “case-specific” “Rosie the Riveter” v. IED maker.

General war effort and war sustaining activities
General War Effort and War-Sustaining Activities

  • Both general war effort and war-sustaining activities may ultimately result in harm reaching threshold required for qualification as direct participation in hostilities.

  • But general war effort and war sustaining activities also include activities that merely maintain or build up capacity to cause such harm: excluded from “Direct Participation in Hostilities,” ICRC, pp. 52 - 53.

General war effort and war sustaining activities1
General War Effort and War-Sustaining Activities

What about

  • Mechanics?

  • Design of weapons and equipment?

  • Recruiters? Recruiting activists?

Direct causation in collective operations
Direct Causation in Collective Operations

Where specific act does not on its own directly cause the required threshold of harm,

  • Requirement of direct causation can still be fulfilled where act constitutes integral part of concrete and coordinated tactical operation that directly causes such harm. ICRC, pp. 54 -55.

    Ex. Identification and marking of targets, transmission of tactical intel to attacking forces.

Element 3 belligerent nexus
Element 3 - Belligerent Nexus

  • “Direct Participation in Hostilities” is restricted to specific acts that are so closely related to the hostilities conducted between parties to A.C. that they constitute integral part of conflict. ICRC, p. 58.

  • Act must be designed to directly cause the required threshold of harm in support of a party to the conflict and to the detriment of another. ICRC, p. 58. Objective Test, ICRC, p. 59.

Acts that lack belligerent nexus
Acts that Lack Belligerent Nexus

  • Acts in Defence against Violations of IHL

  • Violent Forms of Civil Unrest to express dissatisfaction with occupying or detaining authorities

  • Inter-civilian violence due to breakdown in law and order

  • Violent crime committed for reasons unrelated to armed conflict.

  • Stealing of military equipment for private use.

Temporal scope of loss of protection
Temporal Scope of Loss of Protection

Civilians lose protection against direct attack for the duration of each specific act amounting to direct participation in hostilities.

Civilians directly participating in hostilities do not cease to be part of civilian population, but their protection against attack is temporarily suspended. Protected status restored when engagement in hostile act ends. ICRC, pp. 70-71.


DPH includes acts preparatory to DPH:

- movement to and from objective

- preparing of intel and equipment

- loading of explosives, fueling of vehicles, etc.

“Constitutes a reasonably broad description of direct participation…” Yes or no?


  • Interpretive Guidance throws balance between military necessity and humanitarian considerations askew.

  • Asymmetrical Warfare (i.e. Iraq/Afghanistan) insurgents mount surprise attacks. IED or land mine attacks occur after insurgents leave area.

  • Best option to counter future attacks: target insurgents in their hideouts.

  • But ICRC says insurgents safe once they return to their hideouts.

Alternative approach quasi armed group
Alternative Approach – Quasi Armed Group?

  • Civilian who directly participates in hostilities may be attacked “between episodes of participation.”

  • Civilian remains valid military objective until he/she unambiguously opts out of hostilities through extended non-participation or affirmative act of withdrawal.

  • Q: Who is going to monitor this? How? What does “extended” mean?

Organized armed groups
Organized Armed Groups?

- Al Qaeda

- Viet Cong

- The Wolverines

Continuous combat function 2009
Continuous Combat Function (2009)

  • New idea - Does the person assume a continuous function for the group involving his or her direct participation in hostilities

  • “Continuous Combat Function” requires lasting integration into an organised armed group.

  • Resemble soldiers of regular armed forces, not by uniform or ID, but by function.

Problems with function criterion
Problems with “Function Criterion”

  • Members of group who have continuous combat function may be attacked at any time.

  • Those who lack “continuous combat function,” but who periodically take up arms, must be treated as civilians directly participating in hostilities – and may only be attacked while doing so. In practice, difficult to distinguish between two categories. Schmitt, Harvard National Security Journal, pp.21-24.

More problems
More Problems

  • Requirement of “continuous combat function” precludes attack on members of a known group of occasional combatants, even in face of absolute certainty as to membership. Arguably goes beyond Art. 1 of AP II.

  • In contrast, membership in state’s armed forces suffices, even if member isn’t “directly participating” in hostilities. E.g. Soviet Hockey Team circa 1980

Restraints on use of force in attack
Restraints on Use of Force in Attack

- In addition to restraints imposed by IHL on specific means and methods of warfare,

  • And without prejudice to further restrictions that may arise under other applicable branches of international law,

    The kind and degree of force permissible against unprotected persons,

  • Must not exceed what is actually necessary,

  • To accomplish legitimate military purpose in prevailing circumstances.

    In other words – If you can capture them – don’t kill them. ICRC, p. 77.

Don t defy basic notions of humanity
Don’t Defy Basic Notions of Humanity

While operating forces can hardly be required to take additional risks for themselves or civilians in order to capture armed enemy,

It would defy basic notions of humanity to kill enemy or refrain from giving him opportunity to surrender where there is “manifestly no necessity” for the use of lethal force. ICRC, p. 82.


1. What does this have to do with “Direct Participation in Hostilities?”

2. Principle of necessity prohibits infliction of suffering, injury or destruction not necessary for accomplishment of legitimate military purposes.

3. But under IHL, attacks are lawful if target is lawful military objective, proportionate, and all feasible precautions taken.

  • ICRC attempts to “squeeze a plainly human rights norm into a restraint on attacks against direct participants under guise of IHL.” Schmitt, p. 41. It imposes a law enforcement paradigm on AC situation. Disregards jurisprudence that, during AC, IHL is lexspecialis. Parks, p. 797

  • No “use of force” continuum in IHL. Would be unworkable and lead to more “war crimes.” Parks, pp. 815-818.

  • Depends on single, distinguishable case from Israel. Parks,, 829.

Members of organised armed groups
Members of Organised Armed Groups

  • Members of organized armed groups (OAG), belonging to a non-State party to a conflict, cease to be civilians for as long as they remain members of the OAG, due to their “continuous combat function.” ICRC, p. 71.

What is an organized armed group
What is an Organized Armed Group?

  • Militias

  • German volunteers in Spain

  • Al Qaeda?

Targeted killing
Targeted Killing

  • State of Armed Conflict

  • Specific Individual

  • Beyond Reasonable Possibility of Arrest

  • Senior Authority

    Military Necessity (proportionality)

    5. Direct Participation in Hostilities?