Using children as human shield is a war crime

Vårt Land features an interesting article on the ethical dilemmas the coalition forces encounter as they have to respond to dirty tactics by Gadaffi.

The question is: to bomb or not to bomb sites “protected” by human shields.

Cecilie Hellestveit at the International Law and Policy Institute is very clear: (unauthorized translation of excerpts of interview)

It is a war crime to allow children under 15 years old to participate in combat. To allow 10 year old Mahmoud to protect a military goal is a warcrime by the Libyan authorities….

On the other hand, it is not a war crime by UN forces to bomb a goal where human shields are present, even if such human shields are composed of groups of children.

– But the military goals must be very important, so that their “value” is greater than the collateral damages on private property and loss of civilian live can be “offset”.

– Even when you do have International Law on your side, it may not necessarily be a wise thing to proceed to bomb such goals. The mandate from the UNSC is exactly to protect civilian population.

These excellently put points also support views from military strategists in Afghanistan, other conflict zones where combat is played out in urban centers, that while it is difficult to ethically manage asymmetrical challenges, you have an absolute duty to defend yourself, a cornerstone of any country’s military strategy and is certainly a view that our own government espouses.

Israel is unfairly singled out in international fora for defending herself, yet none of the Western forces that now take aim at Gadaffi’s deadly infrastructure have to deal with terror attacks against civil population as a matter of routine.

But whereas Israel readily accepts that ugly basic truth of war that if your enemy is not going to succeed in killing you, then you have to kill him first, and never tries to shy away from taking responsibility also when loss of civilian life is a tragic consequence of hostilities, only the Western powers have tried to hide or downplay losses in civilian population.

Prof. M. McGonagall