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Advanced Introduction to International Humanitarian Law

Robert Kolb

This innovative book provides a thought-provoking introduction to international humanitarian law (IHL). Robert Kolb explores the field through questions which are at times challenging and controversial in order to get to the very essence of the subject and give a fresh perspective. The result is an exposition both of the law as it stands, through its written and unwritten rules, and also of the uncertainties, gaps, controversies and practical problems which have arisen. IHL is revealed as a living tool, an ever-adapting means to an ever-remaining need of protection during times of armed conflict.
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7  Targeting: a context-related legal set of rules

Robert Kolb


The targeting issues are situated in the heart of the principles of limitation1 and of distinction.2 It is one of the most central issues of modern IHL, and lies at the centre of the Hague Law.3 It is also one of the most interesting chapters of IHL, since it contains few hard and fast rules to be applied lock, stock and barrel. The matter is too open-ended and context-related to be limited by a series of strict provisions. Rather, the rules indicate general criteria which have to be assessed in the concrete contexts of circumstances. This imports a great degree of flexibility and purpose-orientation into the law. There is room for legal creativity and for juridical assessment, which makes the matter lively and always renewed. In this sense, the targeting issues are the opposite of the law of Geneva Convention I, where there are a series of technical rules on the organization of sanitary services and the care to be provided to protected persons.

The core provision in this context is contained in article 52 of AP I. Paragraph 1 of this article reads: “Civilian objects shall not be the object of attack or of reprisals. Civilian objects are all objects which are not military objectives as defined in paragraph 2”. Paragraph 2 adds the definition of the military objective, in other words, defines which objects may be attacked:

Attacks shall be limited strictly to military objectives. In so far as objects are concerned, military objectives...

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