Putting Belligerents in Context:
The Cases of Namibia
Efforts to limit war are as old as war itself. Historical records of early battles indicate that warriors have always been concerned about moral considerations, especially in terms of protecting noncombatants. With the onset of modern warfare, formal rules emerged—commonly referred to as the laws of war or international humanitarian law—seeking to impose restrictions on the methods of warfare. One of the central tenets of this body of rules is the distinction between combatants and noncombatants. The latter, by definition outside the conflict, are not supposed to be the target of attack. The reality of war, however, is that noncombatants routinely endure severe hardships or are systematically targeted by belligerents. Such violations of the laws of war are usually condemned by the international community. Nevertheless, few attempts have been made to provide a clearer understanding of why violations of the laws of war take place.
In this chapter I seek to fill that gap, using the examples of the war of liberation in Namibia (1960–1989) and the ongoing conflict in Angola. In protracted conflicts such as these, the distinction between combatant and noncombatant may become blurred. I examine the issue of compliance with this basic rule from the perspective of the belligerents and the context within which they operate. Such understanding is the first step toward prevention.
Namibia (formerly South West Africa) has a violent history, one of exploitation, gross human rights violations, and genocide. The period of German colonial rule (from the late 1800s to 1915) was the most brutal; in 1904 the colo