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International Humanitarian Law Guide

This research guide provides a general introduction to researching international humanitarian law.

What is in this guide?

International Humanitarian Law - A Research Guide

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"Political World Map" by Ionut Cojocaru - Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

Overview of Research Guide Contents

International Humanitarian Law, also known as the Law of War or the Law of Armed Conflict is generally defined as “a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.” See International Committee of the Red Cross, What is International Humanitarian Law (July 2004), available as a PDF here.

The law of warfare existed historically as a set of practices developed over hundreds of years, but in the mid-19th century states began to codify the law into treaties. The most significant early efforts were the First Hague Conference in 1899 and the Second Hague Conference in 1907, which resulted in the Hague Conventions, which governed the conduct of warfare. These have been supplemented by additional agreements in the years since.

In 1949, during the aftermath of World War II, the Geneva Conventions established rules providing specific protections for those not taking part in the hostilities, such as civilians, aid workers, wounded soldiers, and prisoners of war.

International Humanitarian Law is a subset of Public International Law and consists largely of treaties, decisions from international tribunals, and additional resources produced by NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and INGOS (international non-governmental organizations). 

This guide outlines the important content areas for researching in International Humanitarian Law and is divided into the following sections: