AbstractsLaw & Legal Studies


Human shields have long been used as a defensive tactic in asymmetrical warfare. A particularly contentious issue regards which protections voluntary human shields are entitled to under international humanitarian law (IHL). Given this gap in IHL, this thesis investigates whether HRL can add any clarity to voluntary human shields’ protection quandary. Specifically it addresses if, or to what extent, human rights law (particularly the right to life) can better regulate the circumstances in which voluntary human shields may, either directly or indirectly, lose their civilian protection against attack. The context in which this takes place is non-international armed conflicts. In answering this main research question, the thesis also touches on what it means to be a voluntary human shield, and investigates factors that influence individuals’ decisions to shield. Given the complexities behind individuals’ motivations to shield, the thesis proposes to do away with the voluntary-involuntary dichotomy used for shields when determining their loss of civilian protection. It concludes that IHL is the lex specialis to voluntary shields’ loss of civilian protection. Shields amounting to physical obstacles can be directly targeted, whereas shields as legal obstacles can only indirectly be attacked under the IHL proportionality assessment.