Volume 111, Issue 1
  • ISSN: 0002-5275
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1244



One of the basic principles of the Just War Theory is that of non-combatant immunity. Basically, this principle is about protecting the civilian population against the violence of war. Now, despite the fact that this principle is firmly ingrained in our collective moral conscience and in international humanitarian law, the truth is that the civilian population has never been really insulated from the horrors of war. Quite on the contrary. This seems to be especially the case in so-called irregular warfare. In order to avoid military defeat against a stronger opponent, non-state armed movements very often use tactics that entail important risks for the civilian population. These irregular combatants hide and fight, for instance, among the civilian population or they intentionally blur the distinction between combatants and non-combatants. One of those tactics consists in using non-combatants as human shields. It goes without saying that this tactic presents a complex moral challenge for conventional troops. Should these human shields be treated like any other innocent bystanders, or should they be considered as partial combatants? And can the non-combatant immunity principle be of any moral assistance here? It is the objective of this article to shed more light on this issue. The argument will be developed in four stages. First, we will take a closer look at the principle of non-combatant immunity as it is understood within the Just War Theory. In order to see if and to what extent the principle of non-combatant immunity can be of any assistance in confronting human shields, we will conduct a first case-based analysis. Next, we aim to develop a moral continuum of paradigmatic cases of human shields, the purpose of which is to provide an instrument that will help us to formulate more nuanced moral appreciations. Finally, we will briefly look at the practical relevance of the proposed approach.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): human shields; irregular warfare; Just War Theory; non-combatant immunity
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