23. Principle of distinction


Learning outcome

After completing this activity, the student will be familiar with principles of international law mainly implemented in international humanitarian law.


Consider whether Côte d’Ivoire’s Teaching Manual of 2007 does or does not conform with the internationally recognised principle of distinction between civilians and combatants, as described in the question.


The International Committee of Red Cross website includes the IHL customary rules of international law. Please visit the website and read through the rules stated in first part – principle of distinction in international humanitarian law. Focus on Rule 1, related to principle of distinction between civilians and combatants. Afterwards read the national regulation of the principle in legal order of Côte d’Ivoire below and confirm/reveal the conformity with international understanding and explanation of the principle of distinction.

Take quiz

Question 11 pts

Read the national legislation – Côte d’Ivoire’s Teaching Manual of 2007 and consider, whether the text does or does not conform with the internationally recognised principle of distinction between civilians and combatants.

Côte d’Ivoire
Côte d’Ivoire’s Teaching Manual (2007) provides in Book I (Basic instruction):
Lesson 1 Basic notions of IHL

The Law of War is based on three fundamental principles:
- The principle of distinction;
- The principle of limitation;
- The principle of proportionality.
The principle of distinction specifies who and what can be attacked and who and what cannot be attacked.

NB: For the soldier, the principle of distinction is the most important.
The fundamental principles of IHL Just as military operations are based on principles concerning attack, defence, withdrawal, etc., the law of armed conflicts contains a set of well-defined principles. These concrete principles reflect the realities of conflicts. They represent a balance between the principle of humanity and military necessity, and they are valid at all times, in all places, and in all circumstances. It is essential that these rules are known by all combatants. They must permanently be taken into consideration in every activity of assessment, planning, and military training or operation. The following principles can be found throughout the texts of the law of armed conflicts.
II.1. Distinction
At all times, a distinction must be clearly made between combatants and civilians or the civilian population as such.
Chapter 2. Combatants and objectives
In order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects, military leaders must at all times distinguish between civilian populations and combatants, and between civilian objects and military objectives.

The national legal regulation of the principle of distinction in Cote d’Ivore as stated above:

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