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International Humanitarian Law in Urban Warfare

Written by Alec Janssens

Urban environments have increasingly been at the forefront of a number of armed conflicts. This should come as no surprise, since an urban setting has the capability of producing a number of advantages for the defending side by negating any numerical or mechanical advantage the opposing force may have. In addition, cities make it easier for combatants to hide and blend in with the civilian population and conduct irregular military activities. While this might constitute an advantage for the conduct of military operations, it means that civilians could become entrenched in a combat situation. Therefore, it is of paramount importance that all sides of a conflict maintain the utmost regard for international humanitarian law.

In line with the current conflict in Ukraine, this contribution will focus on the scope of international humanitarian law in an international armed conflict, between two or more internationally recognised States. As such, this InfoFlash aims to provide a general overview of three of the main principles which are of special interest in an urban environment: the principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution.