International Humanitarian Law

International Humanitarian Law (IHL), also known as the law of armed conflict or the law of war, is a branch of international law that governs the conduct of armed conflict and seeks to protect those who are not or no longer taking part in hostilities, such as civilians and combatants who are hors de combat.

Purpose: The primary purpose of IHL is to limit the effects of armed conflict and protect individuals who are affected by it. It seeks to balance military necessity with the principles of humanity, minimising human suffering and preserving human dignity during times of armed conflict.

Applicability: IHL applies to both international armed conflicts (between states) and non-international armed conflicts (within the territory of a state). It governs the behaviour of parties to the conflict, including states, armed groups, and individuals involved in hostilities.

Fundamental principles: IHL is guided by several fundamental principles, including distinction, proportionality, and military necessity. The principle of distinction requires parties to distinguish between combatants and civilians, and between military objectives and civilian objects. The principle of proportionality prohibits attacks that may cause excessive harm to civilians compared to the anticipated military advantage. The principle of military necessity permits only those acts that are necessary for achieving a legitimate military objective.

Protection of civilians: One of the core principles of IHL is the protection of civilians. It prohibits targeting civilians or causing them harm disproportionate to the military advantage gained. It also establishes rules on the conduct of hostilities to minimise civilian casualties, such as the prohibition of indiscriminate attacks and the requirement to take precautions in the planning and execution of military operations.

Treatment of prisoners of war: IHL provides specific protections for captured combatants who are considered prisoners of war. It sets out rules regarding their humane treatment, fair trial, and release at the end of hostilities. These protections are outlined in the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols.

Prohibition of torture and other inhumane treatment: IHL strictly prohibits torture, cruel treatment, and other forms of inhumane treatment. It also prohibits acts of sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and the use of certain weapons that cause unnecessary harm or have indiscriminate effects.

Red Cross/Red Crescent Movement: The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) play a crucial role in promoting and implementing IHL. They provide humanitarian assistance, facilitate the dissemination of IHL, and monitor compliance with its rules.

Enforcement and accountability: States have the primary responsibility to enforce IHL within their jurisdictions. The International Criminal Court (ICC) and ad hoc international criminal tribunals, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), prosecute individuals for war crimes and other serious violations of IHL.

International Humanitarian Law serves as a critical framework for protecting human rights during armed conflict, ensuring that even in times of war, certain rules and principles must be upheld to minimise human suffering and preserve the dignity of individuals affected by conflict.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
INSEAD
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham
ESSEC Business School

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law

    Terminology

    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory

    Exam-focused

    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.