Professor Michael Newton on civilians, hostages and artillery fire
This opinion focuses on the intentional use of artillery fire directed to respond to LTTE artillery fire emanating from within civilian areas. The LTTE refused to permit some 330,000 fellow Tamils to flee towards safer areas away from the zone of conflict, and used them as human shields to deter offensive operations by the Sri Lanka Army. The Government of Sri Lanka declared a no fire zone (NFZ) in order to protect the civilians. Aside from refusing to agree to the creation of such a safe zone, which itself constitutes prima facie evidence of its intent to use civilians as an extension of its military campaign, the LTTE embedded its heavy artillery within the NFZ and intentionally shelled Sri Lankan positions from the midst of the civilian population.
The use of the civilian population in that manner is roughly comparable to the war crime of perfidy because the LTTE sought to use the government's compliance with the laws and customs of warfare in order to gain an unwarranted military advantage. Civilians who would otherwise have spread out and sought shelter in other regions were prevented from doing so in order to dissuade the government from attacking lawful targets. Intentional efforts to use the presence of such civilians to shield military operations constitute a war crime in its own right. This opinion therefore also addresses the law regarding the use of force against military targets when one party to the conflict has attempted to ‘insulate’ those targets through manipulation of the laws and customs of warfare.