The Principle of Distinction is a fundamental concept in international humanitarian law (IHL) that governs the conduct of parties involved in armed conflicts, specifically international armed conflicts. It requires parties to distinguish between civilians and combatants, as well as between civilian objects and military objectives. This principle is aimed at protecting civilians and civilian objects from the effects of hostilities.
Dual-use objects are items or facilities that can have both civilian and military applications. They can include infrastructure, equipment, technology, or materials that have purposes in both the civilian and military domains. Examples of dual-use objects can range from power plants and telecommunications networks to chemicals and certain types of machinery.
When it comes to dual-use objects, the Principle of Distinction still applies in international armed conflict. Parties to the conflict must take precautions and make efforts to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects when carrying out military operations. They must ensure that attacks are directed only at legitimate military targets while avoiding or minimizing harm to civilian objects and infrastructure.
However, it is important to note that the presence of military objectives within or near civilian areas can pose challenges to the application of the Principle of Distinction. Parties to the conflict are required to exercise proportionality in their military operations, meaning that the expected military advantage gained from an attack must outweigh the expected harm to civilians and civilian objects.
In situations where dual-use objects are being used for military purposes, such as when civilian infrastructure is being utilized for military operations, the Principle of Distinction still applies. Parties to the conflict must make efforts to minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects, even if they are being used for military purposes.
It is worth mentioning that the Principle of Distinction is not absolute, and there can be instances where the distinction between civilians and combatants or civilian objects and military objectives becomes blurred or complex. In such cases, the principles of proportionality and precautions in attack also come into play to ensure that the overall impact on civilians is not excessive compared to the anticipated military advantage.
The protection of civilians and civilian objects during armed conflicts, including the treatment of dual-use objects, is a crucial aspect of IHL and is aimed at minimizing the human suffering caused by warfare.