Accountability for human rights violations is crucial to deterrence, in order to ensure that they are not repeated. Therefore, international law requires that states effectively investigate suspected breaches of human rights and prosecute those responsible. The law also requires that victims be compensated for the injuries they suffered through violation of their rights.
The major goal of international humanitarian law (IHL) is to reduce the number of civilians harmed in hostilities. Toward this end, IHL specifies clear rules on when, and against whom, force may be used. Under the “principle of distinction,” the sides engaged in hostilities must distinguish between combatants and civilians during combat. Attacks intentionally directed against civilians and civilian objects are prohibited. The “principle of proportionality” dictates that, in attacking a legitimate military object, the anticipated military advantage from the attack must be greater than the anticipated injury to civilians resulting from the attack. Accordingly, the state mounting the attack must take all possible precautions to reduce harm to civilians. Injury to civilians is never considered an integral part of hostilities and is always an undesirable outcome although it is legally permitted under certain circumstances.