Skip to main content

‘Humanitarian Bombardments’ in Jus in Bello?

  • Chapter
From Cold War to Cyber War
  • 2920 Accesses


This short contribution considers the question, to what extent railway lines used for deportation of civilians can be attacked under international law. In jus in bello, the attack is difficult to square with article 52(2) of Additional Protocol I of 1977 to the Geneva Conventions, and related customary international law, which exhaustively describe the main objects attacked by belligerents. The contribution then canvasses some arguments as to how an attack could be rendered compatible with international law, considering in particular other legal sources, external to the law on the conduct of hostilities.

Prof. Dr. Robert Kolb is Professor of International Law at the University of Geneva. I wish to acknowledge the useful support on the subject matter by the papers written in the context of a course I taught at the Geneva Academy of Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, especially the papers of M. Lloydd, B. Charlier, T. Hayes and I. Mallikourtis.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in via an institution to check access.

Access this chapter

Subscribe and save

Springer+ Basic
EUR 32.99 /Month
  • Get 10 units per month
  • Download Article/Chapter or Ebook
  • 1 Unit = 1 Article or 1 Chapter
  • Cancel anytime
Subscribe now

Buy Now

USD 29.95
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
USD 84.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Available as EPUB and PDF
  • Read on any device
  • Instant download
  • Own it forever
Softcover Book
USD 109.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Compact, lightweight edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info
Hardcover Book
USD 109.99
Price excludes VAT (USA)
  • Durable hardcover edition
  • Dispatched in 3 to 5 business days
  • Free shipping worldwide - see info

Tax calculation will be finalised at checkout

Purchases are for personal use only

Institutional subscriptions

Similar content being viewed by others


  1. 1.

    See I. Henderson, The Contemporary Law of Targeting, Leiden/Boston 2009, pp. 41 ff. As to the customary status in particular, see J. M. Henckaerts/L. Doswald-Beck, Customary International Humanitarian Law, Vol. I, Cambridge 2005, pp. 25 ff.

  2. 2.

    See e.g. S. G. Erdheim, Could the Allies have Bombed Auschwitz-Birkenau?, in: Holocaust and Genocide Studies 11 (1997), pp. 129 ff.; R. H. Levy, The Bombing of Auschwitz Revisited, in: Holocaust and Genocide Studies 10 (1996), pp. 267 ff.

  3. 3.

    ICRC (ed.), Commentary on the Additional Protocols of 8 June 1977, Geneva 1987, p. 631.

  4. 4.

    For such an analysis, see e.g. I. Henderson, supra note 1; ICRC (ed.), supra note 3, pp. 629 ff., particularly pp. 635 ff.; and the complementary explanations of the ICRC, in: ICRC, International Humanitarian Law and the Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts, Doc. 03/IC/09, Report by the ICRC to the 28th International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva 2003, p. 11; M. Bothe/K. J. Partsch/W. Solf, New Rules for Victims of Armed Conflicts, The Hague/Boston/London 1982, pp. 318 ff.; for the views of the present author: R. Kolb, Ius in Bello, Le Droit International des Conflits Armés, 2nd ed., Basle/Brussels 2009, pp. 247 ff. See also M. Sassoli/A. Bouvier/A. Quintin, How Does Law Protect in War?, 3rd ed., Vol. I, Geneva 2001, pp. 252–254.

  5. 5.

    The correct argument is that it should not interfere with the law of armed conflict requirements, cf. G. Bartolini, L’operazione ‘Unified Protector’ e la Condotta delle Ostilità in Libia, in: Rivista di Diritto Internazionale 95 (2012), pp. 1012 ff., 1042 ff.

  6. 6.

    ICRC, supra note 4, p. 11. See also discussions on the tendency to enlarge the allowable targets in L. Vierucci, Sulla Nozione di Obiettivo Militare nella Guerra Aerea: Recenti Sviluppi della Giurisprudenza Internazionale, in: Rivista di Diritto Internazionale 89 (2006), pp. 693 ff.

  7. 7. (accessed on 2 October 2014).

  8. 8.

    See N. Ronzitti, Is the Non Liquet of the Final Report by the Committee Established to Review the NATO Bombing Campaign against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia Acceptable?, in: International Review of the Red Cross 82 (2000), pp. 1017 ff.; see also W. J. Fenrick, Targeting and Proportionality during the NATO Bombing Campaign against Yugoslavia, in: European Journal of International Law 12 (2001), p. 496; W. J. Fenrick, Attacking the Enemy Civilian as a Punishable Offense, in: Duke Journal of Comparative and International Law 7 (1997), p. 544. This is also the position of the majority of NATO-invited experts in the context of the Tallinn Manual on Cyber Warfare, M. Schmitt (ed.), Tallinn Manual on the International Law applicable to Cyber Warfare, Cambridge 2013, p. 222. Some authors just quote this passage without taking a personal stance: cf. e.g. E. David, Principes de Droit des Conflits Armés, 4th ed., Brussels 2008, pp. 309–310.

  9. 9.

    Cf. I. Henderson, supra note 1, pp. 106, 137–139; A. Laursen, NATO, the War over Kosovo, and the ICTY Investigation, in: American University International Law Review 17 (2002), pp. 785–786; M. Sassoli/L. Cameron, The Protection of Civilian Objects – Current State of the Law and Issues de Lege Ferenda, in: N. Ronzitti/G. Venturini (eds.), Current Issues in the International Humanitarian Law of Air Warfare, Utrecht 2006, pp. 56–57, note 83; G. Bartolini, supra note 5, pp. 1044–1045, 1048; see also the expert discussion at the University Center for International Humanitarian Law (now Academy), Report on the Expert meeting ‘Targeting Military Objectives’, 12 May 2005.

  10. 10.

    See J. Crawford, The International Law Commission’s Articles on State Responsibility, Cambridge 2002, p. 185.

  11. 11.

    On the whole question, see R. Kolb, La Nécessité Militaire dans le Droit des Conflits Armés – Essai de Clarification Conceptuelle, Colloque de Grenoble de la Société Française de Droit International, Paris 2007, pp. 151 ff.; see also Y. Dinstein, The Conduct of Hostilities under the Law of International Armed Conflict, Cambridge 2001, pp. 16 ff.; J. Gardam, Necessity, Proportionality and the Use of Force by States, Cambridge 2004, p. 59 ff.; G. Venturini, Necessità e Proporzionalità nell’uso della Forza Militare in Diritto Internazionale, Milan 1988, pp. 123 ff.; P. A. Pillitu, Lo Stato di Necessità nel Diritto Internazionale, Perugia 1981, pp. 347 ff.

  12. 12.

    On this concept, see I. Winkelmann, Responsibility to Protect, in: Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, Vol. VIII, Oxford 2012, pp. 965 ff.; see also the contribution of a former UN under-secretary of legal affairs, N. Michel, La Responsabilité de Protéger – Une vue d’ensemble Assortie d’une Perspective Suisse, in: Revue de droit suisse 131 (2012), p. 5 ff.

  13. 13.

    On this principle, see the clear words of M. Sassoli/A. Bouvier/A. Quintin, supra note 4, pp. 117 ff.

  14. 14.

    E. David has argued in this sense already in the first editions of his monograph on IHL, cf. E. David, supra note 8, p. 86 ff.

  15. 15.

    See the precise argument in O. Corten, Le Droit Contre la Guerre, Paris 2008, pp. 295 ff.

  16. 16.

    See e.g. D. Korff, Le Droit à la Vie – une Guide sur la Mise en Oeuvre de L’article 2 de la Convention Européenne des Droits de L’homme, Strasburg 2007; G. Gaggioli, L’influence Mutuelle Entre les Droits de L’homme et le droit International Humanitaire à la Lumière du Droit à la Vie, Geneva 2010.

  17. 17.

    For a thorough analysis of this provision, see A. Frutig, Die Pflicht von Drittsaaten zur Durchsetzung des humanitären Völkerrechts nach Art. 1 der Genfer Konventionen von 1949, Basle 2009.

  18. 18.

    International Court of Justice, Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, ICJ Reports 1996-I, pp. 240, 25.

  19. 19.

    See e.g. G. Distefano, La pratique subséquente des Etats Parties à un Traité, in: AFDI 40 (1994), pp. 41 ff.; R. Y. Jennings/A. Watts (eds.), Oppenheim’s International Law, Vol. I, London 1992, pp. 1264–1265.

  20. 20.

    For a thorough analysis of the law of reprisals in times of armed conflict, see J. Hebenstreit, Repressalien im humanitären Völkerrecht, Baden-Baden 2004.

  21. 21.

    See J. M. Henckaerts/L. Doswald-Beck, supra note 1, pp. 513 ff.

  22. 22.

    See article 51, § 6 of AP I.

  23. 23.

    Article 48 of the Articles of State Responsibility of the ILC (2001).

  24. 24.

    E. G. Trimble, Possible Restatement of the Law Governing the Conduct of War at Sea, in: American Society of International Law (ed.), Proceedings of the ASIL, Washington, D.C. 1930, pp. 119 ff.; see also J. A. Hall, The Law of Naval Warfare, 2nd ed., London 1921.

  25. 25.

    The reason is that ships are considered less safe places than land locations. Moreover, in the past, since the Napoleonic Wars, prisoners transferred on ships disappeared.

  26. 26.

    F. Bugnion, Le Comité International de la Croix-Rouge et la Protection des Victimes de la Guerre, Geneva 1994, p. 754.

  27. 27.

    Sometimes the issue is discussed under the heading of a right to civil resistance: cf. A. Kaufmann, Rechtsphilosophie, 2nd ed., Munich 1997, pp. 207 ff.

  28. 28.

    The present writer has argued on similar lines in R. Kolb, Note on Humanitarian Intervention, in: International Review of the Red Cross 85 (2003), pp. 119 ff., emphasizing clearly that humanitarian intervention without the mandate of the United Nations Security Council resolution is today illegal under positive international law.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Robert Kolb .

Editor information

Editors and Affiliations

Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

Copyright information

© 2016 Springer International Publishing Switzerland

About this chapter

Cite this chapter

Kolb, R. (2016). ‘Humanitarian Bombardments’ in Jus in Bello?. In: Heintze, HJ., Thielbörger, P. (eds) From Cold War to Cyber War. Springer, Cham.

Download citation

Publish with us

Policies and ethics