International Humanitarian Law


International Humanitarian Law (IHL), also known as the law of armed conflict or the law of war, is a set of rules and principles that govern the conduct of armed conflicts. Its purpose is to protect individuals who are not or no longer taking part in hostilities, as well as to regulate the means and methods of warfare. IHL applies to both international armed conflicts (between states) and non-international armed conflicts (within the territory of a state between government forces and non-state armed groups or between such groups).

The primary sources of IHL are the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. These treaties, along with customary international law, establish the legal framework for protecting civilians, prisoners of war, and the sick and wounded during armed conflicts. They also regulate the use of certain weapons and prohibit specific acts, such as torture, indiscriminate attacks, and the targeting of civilians.

Key principles of International Humanitarian Law include:

  1. Distinction: Parties to a conflict must distinguish between civilians and combatants, and between civilian objects and military objectives. Attacks should only be directed at legitimate military targets and not harm civilians or civilian objects unnecessarily.
  2. Proportionality: The anticipated military advantage gained from an attack must outweigh the expected harm to civilians and civilian objects. Disproportionate attacks that cause excessive harm to civilians are prohibited.
  3. Military Necessity: The use of force and choice of weapons must be necessary to achieve a legitimate military objective. Unnecessary or indiscriminate violence is prohibited.
  4. Prohibition of Torture and Cruel Treatment: Torture, cruel treatment, and inhuman or degrading treatment of individuals, including detainees and prisoners of war, are strictly forbidden.
  5. Protection of the Wounded and Sick: Medical personnel, facilities, and transports must be respected and protected. The wounded and sick must receive appropriate medical care regardless of their affiliation.
  6. Protection of Civilians: Civilians must be spared from the effects of hostilities as much as possible. They should not be targeted, and their lives and dignity should be respected.
  7. Prohibition of Indiscriminate Attacks: Attacks that are not directed at specific military objectives or that employ weapons or methods that cannot be directed at a specific target are prohibited.

States, as well as non-state armed groups, are bound by IHL. Violations of IHL can constitute war crimes and may be prosecuted by international or domestic courts. The International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction over the most serious international crimes, including those committed during armed conflicts.

Overall, IHL seeks to mitigate the suffering caused by armed conflicts and promote humanity and respect for the rights of individuals affected by war.

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