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Sacrificial Violence and Targeting in International Humanitarian Law

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores the central norms on targeting in contemporary international humanitarian law (IHL), as the ultimate point of a historically grown body of thought on the lawful killing of certain civilians. It introduces a theory explaining how the causation of incidental death of civilians, rather than the wilful death of enemy combatants, plays a pacifying role in the symbolic order of international law to argue that casualties are perceived as being necessary preconditions for peace in an international community. The chapter examines targeting norms as part of a contemporary victimisation ritual, offering the civilian casualty in exchange for divine appeasement of an international community. This approach draws on the work of René Girard, explaining how communal violence is contained through ritual acts of sacrificial killings. The chapter also discusses the projection of Girardian theory on IHL norms.

Keywords: civilian casualty; communal violence; Girardian theory; international community; international humanitarian law (IHL); ritual acts; sacrificial killings



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