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The Fog of Protection: Contested Meanings and Deliberate Civilian Deaths in Armed Conflict

Jose-Thota, Betcy (2011) The Fog of Protection: Contested Meanings and Deliberate Civilian Deaths in Armed Conflict. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Why do belligerents intentionally kill legally protected civilians during armed conflict? Such acts not only violate the human security of people protected by the civilian immunity norm but may also be war crimes. The violation of this pillar of international humanitarian law (IHL), the body of law tasked with regulating armed conflict, has been the subject of significant research and policy deliberation. Many of the useful analyses produced by these efforts operate from common assumptions. One is that a monolithic understanding of the distinction principle, the obligation for belligerents to distinguish between permissible and impermissible targets and a core component of the civilian immunity norm, exists among those who monitor and disseminate IHL. Another assumption among scholars and practitioners concerned with deliberate civilian targeting is that a shared understanding of who is protected during armed conflict exists between those who monitor IHL and those who must abide by it. Through the analysis of interviews conducted with IHL experts and belligerents who fought in a variety of conflicts on the African continent, this study reveals that neither of these assumptions is warranted. It finds that not only is there a lack of consensus among belligerents as to whom they can permissibly target during armed conflict, but that there is still debate among IHL experts as to whom the law protects. Furthermore, this study finds that shared understandings of who is protected during armed conflict do not exist between experts and belligerents, so that belligerents claiming to abide by their particular interpretation of the distinction principle ostensibly target civilians deemed protected by IHL experts. Thus this study offers new avenues for understanding violations of the civilian immunity norm and possibly reducing their occurrence.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairPicard, Louispicard@pitt.eduPICARD
Committee MemberCarpenter,
Committee MemberNelson, Paulpjnelson@pitt.eduPJNELSON
Committee MemberSeybolt, Taylorseybolt@pitt.eduSEYBOLT
Committee MemberPaust,
Date: 28 June 2011
Date Type: Completion
Defense Date: 27 August 2010
Approval Date: 28 June 2011
Submission Date: 1 March 2011
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Graduate School of Public and International Affairs > Public and International Affairs
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Africa; civilians; conflict; international humanitarian law; norms
Other ID:, etd-03012011-153827
Date Deposited: 10 Nov 2011 19:31
Last Modified: 15 Nov 2016 13:36


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