The Principle of ‘No-adverse Distinction’ in IHL


The principle of “no-adverse distinction” is not a well-established principle in International Humanitarian Law (IHL). However, I believe you might be referring to the principle of non-discrimination or distinction in IHL, which is a fundamental principle governing the conduct of armed conflict.

The principle of non-discrimination, also known as the principle of distinction, is enshrined in various IHL treaties and customary international law. It requires parties to a conflict to distinguish between combatants and military objectives on the one hand, and civilians and civilian objects on the other. This principle serves to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects from the effects of hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.

According to the principle of distinction, parties to a conflict must direct their attacks only against legitimate military targets, such as enemy combatants and military objects, while taking all feasible precautions to avoid or minimize harm to civilians and civilian objects. Indiscriminate attacks that cannot be directed at a specific military objective and attacks that cause excessive harm to civilians or civilian objects are prohibited.

Additionally, the principle of distinction prohibits any adverse distinction or discrimination based on race, religion, nationality, or other similar criteria when it comes to protection and treatment. It requires all parties to the conflict to provide equal protection to all individuals, regardless of their race, religion, nationality, or any other distinguishing factor.

The principle of distinction is codified in several key IHL instruments, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, as well as in customary international law. It is recognized as a fundamental rule that parties to a conflict must adhere to, and violations of this principle can constitute war crimes.

It’s worth noting that while the principle of distinction aims to prevent harm to civilians and civilian objects, it does not mean that civilians are immune from the effects of hostilities. They can still be affected by the conduct of hostilities, but parties to a conflict are obliged to take all feasible precautions to minimize civilian harm and ensure that the principles of distinction and proportionality are respected.

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