International Humanitarian Law

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SUSAN SOUX April 2003

International Humanitarian Law ?
the RULES which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict, protect people who are not, or are no longer taking part in the hostilities, and to restrict the methods and means of warfare employed

IHL ‘the law of armed conflicts’
or or

‘law of war’
• Geneva • Hague

‘the law of Geneva is designed to safeguard military personnel who are no longer taking part in the fighting and people not actively involved in hostilities’

• Hors de combat • Civilians • Medical/religious personnel

The Hague
‘the law of The Hague establishes the rights and obligations of belligerents in the conduct of military operations, and limits the means of harming the enemy’

International humanitarian law prohibits all means and methods of warfare which: • fail to discriminate

• cause superfluous injury or unnecessary

• cause severe or long-term damage to the


Other agreements prohibit the use of certain weapons and military tactics and protect certain categories of people and goods. 

the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, plus its two protocols;    the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention; the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention and its four protocols; the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention;

the 1997 Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines;

 the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

Many provisions of international humanitarian law are now accepted as customary law – that is, as general rules by which all States are bound.


• 1859 – Battle of Solferino • 1863 – ICRC • Geneva Conventions - 1864 • Hague laws – 1899/1907 • 1949 –Geneva conventions • 1977 – Additional Protocols

Geneva Conventions 1949
Convention (I) for the Amelioration of the Condition of the Wounded and Sick in Armed Forces in the Field. Geneva, 12 August 1949. Convention (II) for the Amelioration of the Condition of Wounded, Sick and Shipwrecked Members of Armed Forces at Sea. Geneva, 12 August 1949. Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949. Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War. Geneva, 12 August 1949.

Iraq ratified Geneva Conventions 1956 US ratified in 1955

Additional Protocols 1977
• Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I), 8 June 1977. • Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II), 8 June 1977.

Neither Iraq nor the US have ratified the Protocols

International Human Rights Law
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights –1948 • International Covenant on Social,Economic and cultural Right • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights …other conventions/covenants…

• Convention on the Status of Refugees – 1951 • Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement

- 1998

International Tribunals
• • • • • Nuremburg ICTY - Hague ICTR - Rwanda Sierra Leone International Criminal Court (Rome – 1998/2002)

… Universal Jurisdiction …
‘Genocide’ ‘War Crimes’ ‘Crimes Against Humanity’

Current Issues
• Allegations of indiscriminate bombing • Targeting under IHL • Ensuring Humanitarian Access • Status of Combatants, Civilians and Civilians Taking Up Arms • Suicide Attacks - ‘Perfidy’ • Occupying Forces

International Red Cross
Protectors of the Geneva Conventions
‘impartial, neutral and independent from any political objective’ • • • • • ‘Right to be present’ when conflict breaks out Protect the lives and dignity of victims of war Monitors...
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