International Humanitarian Law and Influence Operations : The Protection of Civilians from Unlawful Communication Influence Activities during Armed Conflict

University dissertation from Uppsala : Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis

Abstract: Contemporary armed conflicts are not only fought with physical means and methods. Increasingly, in order to achieve military and political objectives, parties to armed conflicts use communication activities to influence individuals. Armed groups such as ISIS use online propaganda to instil terror and recruit new fighters to their cause. In Syria and other conflict zones, medical personnel, aid workers and journalists are subjected to verbal threats and other types of intimidation. In the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, politicians are publicly discredited by having their pictures displayed on electronic billboards and being labelled as war criminals, while civilians are misled by false messages into assisting the opposing party with identifying targets for artillery fire.At the same time, communication is also used to increase the security for civilians in armed conflict. For example, parties to armed conflicts have an obligation to issue warnings before launching attacks on military objectives that may affect the civilian population. Thus, although communication activities can be used to increase security for civilians in armed conflict, they may also cause physical and mental harm to civilians.This prompts a question of law: Where does the boundary lie between prohibited and lawful use of communication activities as a means of influencing civilians in armed conflict? The purpose of this thesis is to answer this question. It sets out to examine what protection international humanitarian law provides civilians in armed conflict in relation to communication influence activities.In the thesis, it is suggested that international humanitarian law contains a substantial—albeit fragmented—body of principles and provisions protecting civilians from harmful communication influence activities. It is further suggested that, in order to correctly define this protection, the material, personal, geographical and temporal scope of application of international humanitarian law must be properly taken into consideration.

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