Laws Governing Air Warfare

Laws Governing Air Warfare

Although States have not adopted a specific regulation of modern air warfare, it is evident that the general principles of international humanitarian law apply. Aerial bombardment, for instance, must be conducted according to these principles:

i) it must distinguish between military targets and civilians and

ii) it must be proportionate.

The law regarding aerial warfare can be derived from the following conventions:

  • The Brussels Conference of 1874: According to this, bombarding of undefended towns or villages and of buildings devoted to religion, arts, sciences and hospitals, was prohibited.
  • The Hague Regulations: The First Hague Conference of 1899 prescribed more definite rules with regard to aerial warfare. According to these regulations, non-combatant civilian population could not be bombarded. Destroying or damaging private property was prohibited. Aerial bombardment was legitimate only when directed at a military objective. Discharge of projectiles and explosives from balloons was forbidden for a period of 5 years. A neutral power was bound to see that no fight in the air took place between belligerents over the neutral territory. Pakistan has also signed and ratified the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict 1954.
  • Institute of International Law at Madrid 1911: Adopted the principle that “aerial war is allowed provided that it does not present for the person or property of the peaceable population, greater dangers than land or sea warfare”.
  • Washington Conference on the Limitation of Armaments 1922: During the First World War, the distinction between combatants and non-combatants had almost disappeared and by the end of the war bombardment of open towns outside the region of military objectives had become a common feature. Accordingly in 1922 a resolution for the appointment of commission of jurists to consider the problem of aerial warfare was passed; and the Committee on Aircraft in 1923 enunciated provisions of the proposed Code of Air Warfare Rules. Although the draft Code was not ratified but its various provisions serve as a guide for the use of aircraft in land and naval warfare, including the clause that a belligerent state is liable to pay compensation for injuries to persons or to property caused by the violation of the Code, by any of its officers or forces.
  • Geneva Gas Protocol 1925: Prohibited the use of poisonous gases and bacteriological methods in warfare. In this regard Pakistan has also signed the Biological Weapons Convention 1972, the Chemical Weapons Convention 1993 and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons 1980.
  • Disarmament Conference 1932: A resolution was adopted which absolutely prohibited air attack against civilian population. Accordingly, Pakistan has also signed and ratified the Fourth Geneva Convention for the Protection of Civilian Persons in the Time of War 1949.

More details on the laws on aerial warfare can be found in the Manual on International Law Applicable to Air and Missile Warfare:

Anoosha Shaigan

Author: Anoosha Shaigan

The writer is a human rights and technology lawyer with an LLM degree in Tech, Media & Telecom Law from Queen Mary UK. She is a High Court Advocate and certified Legislative Drafter, working on legal and political reforms in human rights, international law, gender justice and legal innovation for over 12 years. She serves as the VP and Editor of Courting The Law, Pakistan’s first legal news and analysis portal with various initiatives that leverage technology to improve access to justice. She also serves as VC of the Legal Informatics Committee at Lahore High Court Bar Association, Asia’s oldest and biggest bar. She has worked with various government ministries and international organizations and was also elected on the Governance and Accountability Council of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers Community. She has authored the Legislative Brief on Right To Information law for Parliament and has also been nominated as a Young Political Leader by the US Department of State, having served as the Honorary Deputy Secretary of State in Indiana during the US Presidential Election in 2016.