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July 28, 2006

Noncombatants in Lebanon and Israel Must Be Protected

NEW YORK – In the face of escalating conflict in Lebanon and Israel, Human Rights First calls upon Hezbollah, and the Israeli government to exercise every precaution to protect civilians caught up in the conflict. “The international law of armed conflict imposes on all parties to the conflict strict requirements to protect noncombatants,” said Maureen Byrnes, Human Rights First Executive Director.
 
Human Rights First is deeply troubled by the suffering of the civilian population throughout the region and by the continuing threats to civilians in Lebanon and Israel. The current upsurge in violence in the region is contributing to a mounting humanitarian crisis. Reports indicate that the overwhelming majority of those killed in the escalating violence have been noncombatants.

 Human Rights First urges all parties to the conflict to meet their obligations in international law to protect the civilian population. We urge all parties to cooperate with and support efforts by international humanitarian agencies, including the United Nations and the Red Cross to provide necessary services to the civilian population affected by the conflict. Specifically, all parties should respect the humanitarian corridors established to deliver necessary assistance to civilians in Lebanon. Human Rights First urges all governments to contribute to the special humanitarian appeal for Lebanon launched by the United Nations on July 24 to supply food, healthcare, logistics and water and sanitation to the victims of the conflict.

Human Rights First calls on Hezbollah to cease immediately the indiscriminate bombardment of civilian population centers in Israel with rockets. Armed groups like Hezbollah are also bound by the rules of international humanitarian law and they must not target civilians or civilian infrastructure.

Human Rights First also calls on the government of Israel to respect the principle of proportionality in its military operations so as to prevent unnecessary suffering among civilian populations in Lebanon.  The principle of proportionality in international humanitarian law provides that attacks are prohibited if they cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, or damage to civilian objects that is excessive in relation to the anticipated concrete and direct military advantage of the attack. This creates a permanent obligation for military commanders to consider the civilian harm that will result from an attack and refrain from attacking if that harm is disproportionate to the anticipated military advantage.