When does IHL apply?


International Humanitarian Law (IHL), also known as the law of armed conflict or the law of war, applies in situations of armed conflict. Its purpose is to protect individuals who are not or no longer participating in the hostilities, as well as to regulate the conduct of those who are engaged in armed conflict.

IHL applies in the following circumstances:

  1. International Armed Conflicts: IHL applies to conflicts between two or more states, regardless of whether a formal declaration of war has been made. It covers all aspects of armed conflict, including the conduct of hostilities, the treatment of prisoners of war, and the protection of civilians.
  2. Non-International Armed Conflicts: IHL also applies to conflicts within the boundaries of a single state. It encompasses conflicts between the government and organized armed groups or between such groups themselves. The key criterion is the intensity of the conflict, which must reach a certain level to be considered a non-international armed conflict. IHL provides protections for individuals affected by the conflict, including combatants and civilians.
  3. Occupation: IHL applies to situations where one state exercises effective control over the territory of another state, either by military occupation or other means. The occupying power is bound by the provisions of IHL in its administration of the occupied territory and the treatment of the civilian population.

It’s important to note that IHL does not apply in situations of internal disturbances and tensions, such as riots, isolated acts of violence, or minor armed confrontations that do not reach the threshold of an armed conflict.

IHL is primarily governed by the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, as well as customary international law. These legal instruments establish the rights and obligations of parties to an armed conflict and aim to minimize the suffering and protect the dignity of individuals affected by armed conflict.

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