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 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 the Security and Law Programme. He teaches, researches, and organizes dialogue on the intersection between security policy and international law.

He heads the annual ‘Symposium for Senior NATO/PfP Legal Advisors’. Tobias Vestner also leads and teaches in the executive education courses ‘Air and Missile Warfare: Navigating the Legal Dimension (Advanced AMPLE)’, ‘Legal Dimensions of Contemporary and Future Use of Force’, ‘Weapons Law and the Legal Review of Weapons’, as well as ‘Negotiations Theory and Practice’, among others. He is also responsible for the event series ‘Security and Law: A Reality Check’, a public dialogue that explores how international law matters in security affairs. Tobias Vestner regularly advises governments, international organizations, and private firms on global security and legal issues.