Operationalizing distinction in South Sudan: Humanitarian decision making about Military Asset Use

Rebecca Sutton

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter focuses on one of the central tenets of International Humanitarian Law (IHL), the principle of distinction. The principle of distinction sets up two entities, the civilian and the combatant, and organizes the relationship between them. The aim of this discussion is to investigate the operational reality of this principle in contemporary armed conflicts. This chapter focuses in particular on the interactions of humanitarian actors (UN and NGOs) and actors belonging to the UN Mission in South Sudan, UNMISS. Understanding the role law plays in the delineation of relationships between these international actors is crucial - particularly in light of the push for coherence and integration in United Nations (UN), European Union (EU), and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) interventions globally. Grounded in the socio-legal tradition and situated as part of the growing trend of empirical approaches to international law, this chapter draws on original fieldwork findings from South Sudan. The discussion illuminates how international humanitarian actors invoke ‘distinction’ in their interactions with others, focusing specifically on the day-to-day operational dilemmas that humanitarian actors face with respect to the use of military assets. Moving away from questions of legal compliance, it will be proposed that international humanitarian actors are producing distinction through their everyday practices and interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCivility, Barbarism and the Evolution of International Humanitarian Law
Subtitle of host publicationWho Do the Laws of War Protect?
EditorsMatt Killingsworth, Tim McCormack
PublisherCambrige University Press
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2019


  • international humanitarian law
  • principle of distinction
  • comprehensive missions
  • peacekeeping
  • humanitarian practice
  • practices of international actors


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