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Targeting State and Political Leadership in Armed Conflicts

Updated: May 12, 2020

Author: Dr. Agnieszka Jachec-Neale


Despite repeated attacks on various figures of authority and political leaders such as Saddam Hussein, the scholarly debates in the law of armed conflict have not given much attention to an analysis of if, and if so, when, state and political leadership may be subject to lawful attack, or the question of when physical objects associated with exercising of the official functions contributing to the prosecution of military operations can satisfy the criteria of the definition of military objectives. Whilst examining various positions of leadership, such as Prime Ministers and political party figures, it is argued that there is a relationship between the character and the scope of the activity of such individuals, which may impact a legal assessment of the objects used or intended to be used in the furtherance of such functions. The existence of such relationships is best demonstrated by the example of individuals vested with the Commander-in-Chief functions. This Article demonstrates, contrary to previous assertions in the literature, that their status will be based either on their membership in armed forces or on their conduct constituting direct participation in hostilities. The result of such assessment could result in opposing outcomes of legal evaluation of the infrastructure associated with activity of such individuals, with possibly far-reaching consequences of incorrect application of the principle of distinction in armed conflict.


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