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Corrective justice for the civilian victims of war: compensation and the right to life

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Abstract

The civilian right to life is a central concept in just war theory and international law. It plays an important role in restraining wars, as it is the basis for the principle of civilian immunity and the jus in bello principle of discrimination; yet, it is generally interpreted as only establishing a first-order duty, according to which belligerents must avoid harming civilians. In this essay, we argue that, in addition to this duty, the right to life also entails a second-order duty to compensate civilians whose right to life has been breached. We propose that states should have to pay compensatory damages to individual civilians harmed by their military actions and we discuss the standards of liability that can be used to determine when payment is owed.

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Notes

  1. Pacifists and contingent pacifists may object to this account of the right to life. They may consider the right not only to be fundamental and universal but also inalienable, such that no person can ever waive or forfeit it. Alternatively, contingent pacifists may argue that the right to life cannot be waived by entire groups of people who participate in wars collectively. Pacifists have raised important objections to just war reasoning about rights, but these objections and just war theorists’ responses are beyond the scope of our paper, as we are interested in showing the implications of just war theory’s foundational assumptions.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the editors of the Journal of International Relations and Development, as well as the anonymous referees, for their helpful comments.

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Correspondence to Marcus Schulzke.

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Schulzke, M., Cortney Carroll, A. Corrective justice for the civilian victims of war: compensation and the right to life. J Int Relat Dev 21, 372–395 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1057/jird.2015.34

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