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

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 is Head of Security and Law at the GCSP. He teaches, researches, and organizes dialogue on the intersection between security policy and international law. Before joining the GCSP, he was Research Affiliate and Global Futures Fellow at Georgetown University. Prior to that, he was Policy Advisor at the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs, where he managed political processes with regard to the export of conventional weapons, and participated in the UN negotiations of the Arms Trade Treaty. Previously, while at the Law of Armed Conflict Section at the Swiss Federal Department of Defense, Sports and Civil Protection, he contributed to bilateral negotiations on military cooperation, and trained military officers in international humanitarian law. Tobias Vestner holds a Master of Science in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, a Master of Laws in International and European Law from the University of Geneva, and a Bachelor degree in Swiss law from the University of Lausanne.