Expert Briefing: Hostile intent and civilian protection – Lessons from recent conflicts

While some militaries have worked to reduce civilian casualties in armed conflict, greater attention should be paid to determinations of “hostile intent.” Troops have the right to fire in self-defense if someone demonstrates hostile intent, i.e., a “threat of imminent use of force,” but misidentifications of such intent have endangered civilians. Recent US operations, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, show that militaries could improve civilian protection without jeopardizing troops’ lives by clarifying the rule and improving implementation.

Targeted at legal experts and humanitarian practitioners seeking an advanced understanding of rules related to civilian protection in armed conflict, this expert briefing featured a presentation by Bonnie Docherty from Harvard Law School on recent research carried out on the issue of hostile intent. The session aimed to:

  • Summarize existing challenges and risks related to determinations of hostile intent
  • Examine ways to sharpen the rule of hostile intent
  • Identify implementation tools to avoid the inaccurate determinations of hostile intent
  • Discuss lessons learned from recent military operations, notably Afghanistan and Iraq