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The Crime of Indiscriminate Attack and Unlawful Conventional Weapons: The Legacy of the icty Jurisprudence

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The prohibition of indiscriminate attacks, which encompasses either ‘indiscriminate attacks’ stricto sensu and the so-called ‘disproportionate attacks’, is at the heart of the law governing the conduct of hostilities, as it aims to implement two cardinal principles of international humanitarian law (ihl), distinction and proportionality. This contribution examines the jurisprudence of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (icty) establishing the individual criminal responsibility for indiscriminate attack. The author considers the possible rationale to illustrate why the icty has never adjudicated neither indiscriminate attacks nor disproportionate attacks per se, as separate, autonomous offences under customary international law. It is submitted that a possible reason to explain the prudency of the icty judges when dealing with the crime of indiscriminate attack is that from an international criminal law perspective it is more than a challenge to apply these ihl principles of distinction and proportionality. The author contends that the icty jurisprudence that practically examined the principle of prohibiting indiscriminate attacks by means of unlawful conventional weapons confirm such difficulties. In particular, because the icty failed to fully clarify to what extent an attack by means of indiscriminate and/or inaccurate weapons violating fundamental principles of the conduct of hostilities, such as distinction and proportionality, may amount to the crime of indiscriminate attack.

Affiliations: 1: Adjunct Professor of International Law, Faculty of Political, Economic and Social Sciences, University of Milan,


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