Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law

First Page



The targeting of persons engages the most fundamental of all the norms in the law of war: the principle of distinction. Indeed, scholar Gary Solis calls it the "most significant battlefield concept a combatant must observe."' The rule itself is simple and direct: in its study of customary international humanitarian law, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) explains, "The parties to the conflict must at all times distinguish between civilians and combatants. Attacks may only be directed against combatants. Attacks must not be directed against civilians." Unlike some provisions of the law of war, the principle of distinction applies to both international armed conflicts, that is, traditional conflicts between nation-states, as well as non-international armed conflicts (NIACs) involving nonstate actors who are part of armed groups.