n Comparative and International Law Journal of Southern Africa - Targeting decisions involving voluntary human shields in international armed conflicts in light of the notion of direct participation in hostilities

Volume 46, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 0010-4051



The ever-changing theatre of war is placing greater demands on commanding officers to make targeting decisions in instances where international humanitarian law (IHL) cannot provide a clear directive. The recent emergence of the voluntary human shield (VHS) as a new actor in international armed conflicts, has highlighted another lacuna in the laws of war, which have to date only considered the plight of the involuntary human shield. Existing IHL does little other than presume that VHSs retain their civilian status until a competent tribunal dictates otherwise. Unlike regular civilians, these VHSs play a role in attempting to frustrate the targeting decisions of the belligerent parties. However, unless their actions amount to direct participation in hostilities, VHSs at any location retain their civilian status, and are not themselves legitimate military targets. The actions of VHSs must satisfy the test for direct participation in hostilities (proposed by the ICRC), before they forfeit their civilian immunity from direct attack, and face potential prosecution upon capture.

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