What is humanitarian law


Humanitarian law, 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 and seek to limit the effects of armed conflict on civilians, combatants, and other persons who are not or are no longer taking part in the hostilities. It is a branch of international law that aims to balance the need to achieve military objectives with the imperative to protect human dignity and minimize human suffering during armed conflicts.

The main sources of humanitarian law include international treaties, customary international law, and general principles of law recognized by the international community. The foundational treaties in this field are the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977. These treaties establish the rights and protections afforded to individuals affected by armed conflict, including wounded or sick combatants, prisoners of war, and civilians.

Humanitarian law sets out a range of rules and prohibitions that apply during armed conflicts, including:

  1. Distinction: Parties to a conflict must distinguish between civilians and combatants, and between civilian objects and military targets. Deliberate attacks on civilians or civilian objects are prohibited.
  2. Proportionality: The harm caused to civilians or civilian objects during an attack must not be excessive in relation to the military advantage expected to be gained from the attack.
  3. Military necessity: The use of force must be limited to what is necessary to achieve a legitimate military objective.
  4. Prohibition of torture and cruel treatment: Torture, inhuman treatment, and outrages upon personal dignity are strictly prohibited.
  5. Protection of the wounded, sick, and shipwrecked: Medical personnel, facilities, and transports must be respected and protected.
  6. Protection of prisoners of war: Persons captured or detained during armed conflicts must be treated humanely and accorded certain rights and protections.
  7. Protection of civilians: Civilians must be protected from the effects of hostilities, and their basic needs, such as food, water, and medical care, must be ensured.

Violations of humanitarian law are considered war crimes and can be prosecuted by international and national courts. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is the principal international tribunal responsible for prosecuting individuals accused of serious violations of humanitarian law.

The aim of humanitarian law is to mitigate the suffering and protect the rights of individuals affected by armed conflicts, promoting the principles of humanity, distinction, proportionality, and necessity.

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