An attack of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without discrimination, i.e. an attack which

  1. is not directed at a specific military objective (or person);
  2. employs a method or means of warfare which cannot be directed at a specific military objective (or person); or
  3. employs a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by international humanitarian law.

Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited and include:

  1. an attack by bombardment, by any means or method which treats as a single military objective a number of clearly separated and distinct military objectives located in a city, town, village or other area containing similar concentration of civilians or civilian objects;
  2. an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the tangible and direct military advantage anticipated.



General prohibition

    CIHL, 11

attacks not directed at a specific military objective

    PI, 51/4(a)

    CIHL, 12a

use of weapons which cannot be directed at a specific military objective

    PI, 51/4(b)

    CIHL, 12b

treating different military objectives as a single military objective

    PI, 51/5(a)

    CIHL, 13

principle of proportionality (See also Proportionality)

    PI, 51/5(b)

    CIHL, 14


ICRC, The Challenges of Contemporary Armed Conflicts

ICJ, Nuclear Weapons Advisory Opinion (Para. 43)

Israel, Operation Cast Lead (Part II, paras 120-126, 230-232, 365-392)

Israel, The Targeted Killings Case (Paras 40-46)

Israel, Human Rights Committee’s Report on Beit Hanoun (Para. 34, 38-42)

Israel/Lebanon/Hezbollah, Conflict in 2006 (Part I, Paras. 116-117, 140-148)

South Africa, Sagarius and Others

ICRC, Iran/Iraq Memoranda

Iran/Iraq, UN Security Council Assessing Violations of International Humanitarian Law

United States/United Kingdom, Report on the Conduct of the Persian Gulf War

United States/United Kingdom, Conduct of the 2003 War in Iraq

Iraq, Use of Force by United States Forces in Occupied Iraq

ICTY, The Prosecutor v. Martic (Part B, Paras 303-313, 461-463, 470 and 472; Part C, 248)

ICTY, The Prosecutor v. Kupreskic et al. (Para. 526)

ICTY, The Prosecutor v. Galic (Part A, paras 57-61 and 372-387)

Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, NATO Intervention (Part A., paras 4, 18-19 and Part B., paras 75-78)

Afghanistan, Drug Dealers as Legitimate Targets

Afghanistan, Goatherd Saved from Attack

Afghanistan, Assessment of ISAF Strategy

Civil War in Nepal (Part II.)

ECHR, Isayeva v. Russia

Georgia/Russia, Human Rights Watch’s Report on the Conflict in South Ossetia (Paras 21-22, 28-30, 41-47 & 65-74)

Georgia/Russia, Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on the Conflict in South Ossetia (Paras 66-67 & 71-73)

Iran, Victim of Cyber warfare

The armed conflict in Syria

ICTY, The Prosecutor v. Gotovina and Markač

Autonomous Weapon Systems

Libya, NATO Intervention 2011

ICRC, International Humanitarian Law and the challenges of contemporary armed conflicts in 2015 (paras 245, 255, 256, 261, 291-292)

Israel/Palestine, Operation Protective Edge (Gaza, 13 June - 26 August 2014)

Syria, Report by UN Commission of Inquiry (March 2017)

Syria, the Battle for Aleppo

ICRC, Statement - War in Cities ; What is at Stake?

Eastern Ukraine, OHCHR Report on the Situation: November 2016 - February 2017

Libya, Use of cluster bombs

Kenya, Civilian Carnage


Suggested readings:   BLIX Hans, “Area Bombardment: Rules and Reasons”, in BYIL, Vol. 49, 1978, pp. 31-69.   CASSESE Antonio, “The Prohibition of Indiscriminate Means of Warfare”, in AKKERMAN Robert J. (ed.), Declarations on Principles, A Quest for Universal Peace, Liber Amicorum Discipulorumque Prof. Dr Bert V.A. Röling, Leiden, 1977, pp. 171-194.   DOWNES Alexander B., Targeting Civilians in War, Ithaca, London, Cornell University Press, 2008, 315 pp.   MEYROWITZ Henri, “Le bombardement stratégique d’après le Protocol I aux Conventions de Genève”, in ZaöRV, Vol. 41, 1981, pp. 1-68.   Further readings:   AUBERT Maurice, “The International Committee of the Red Cross and the Problem of Excessively Injurious or Indiscriminate Weapons”, in IRRC, No. 279, November-December 1990, pp. 477-497.   BRETTON Philippe, “La Convention du 10 avril 1981 sur l’interdiction ou la limitation de certaines armes classiques qui peuvent être considérées comme produisant des effets traumatiques excessifs ou comme frappant sans discrimination”, in AFDI, 1981, pp. 127-146.   CARNAHAN Burrus, “‘Linebacker II’ and Protocol I: The Convergence of Law and Professionalism”, in American University Law Review, Vol. 31/4, 1982, pp. 861-870.   PARKS William H., “Conventional Aerial Bombing and the Law of War”, in United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Vol. 108, No. 951, 1982, pp. 98-117.   PARKS William H., “Linebacker and the Law of War”, in Air University Review, January-February 1983, pp. 2-30.