Addressing the Use of Human Shields

Addressing the Use of Human Shields Strategic Security Analysis Vestner Image

Addressing the Use of Human Shields

By Tobias Vestner, Head of Research and Policy Advice & Head of Security and Law at the GCSP

Key Points

  • Human shields are increasingly used in modern conflicts, exposing civilians and other protected persons to high risk of death and injuries.
  • Using human shields is a violation of international humanitarian law (IHL) and a war crime under the 1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and customary international law.
  • Armed forces confronted with human shields are faced with the dilemma between causing civil casualties that may undermine the legitimacy of their operations and refraining from attack which results in military disadvantages.
  • To address the use of human shields, the respective normative framework and the enforcement of the prohibition could be strengthened. Strategic communication could also be deployed to delegitimize the use of human shields. Thematic engagement among states and with armed non-state actors could further prevent the use of human shields. Operational and tactical measures to circumvent human shields could further support states engaged in military operations and prevent incidental harm to civilians.
  • Any action to address the use of human shields should be coordinated among states and international organizations.

Tobias Vestner leads GCSP’s Research and Policy Advice Department as well as the Security and Law Programme. He oversees and manages GCSP’s analysis and advice activities as well as researches and teaches on the intersection between security policy and international law. Tobias Vestner regularly advises governments, international organizations, and private firms on global security and legal issues. He has published several books and papers (see below) and provided insights to various media outlets, including the U.S. National Public Radio, NBC News, Neue Zürcher Zeitung, and RTS Geopolitis.