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International Humanitarian Law

International humanitarian law (IHL), also referred to as the laws of armed conflict, is the law that regulates the conduct of war (jus in bello).[1][2] It is a branch of international law that seeks to limit the effects of armed conflict by protecting persons who are not participating in hostilities and by restricting and regulating the means and methods of warfare available to combatants.

International humanitarian law

International humanitarian law is inspired by considerations of humanity and the mitigation of human suffering. It comprises a set of rules, which is established by treaty or custom and that seeks to protect persons and property/objects that are or may be affected by armed conflict, and it limits the rights of parties to a conflict to use methods and means of warfare of their choice.[3] Sources of international law include international agreements (the Geneva Conventions), customary international law, general principles of nations, and case law.[2][4] It defines the conduct and responsibilities of belligerent nations, neutral nations, and individuals engaged in warfare, in relation to each other and to protected persons, usually meaning non-combatants. It is designed to balance humanitarian concerns and military necessity, and subjects warfare to the rule of law by limiting its destructive effect and alleviating human suffering.[3]

Serious violations of international humanitarian law are called war crimes. International humanitarian law, jus in bello, regulates the conduct of forces when engaged in war or armed conflict. It is distinct from jus ad bellum which regulates the conduct of engaging in war or armed conflict and includes the crime of aggression. Together the jus in bello and jus ad bellum comprise the two strands of the laws of war governing all aspects of international armed conflicts. The law is mandatory for nations bound by the appropriate treaties. There are also other customary unwritten rules of war, many of which were explored at the Nuremberg trials. IHL operates on a strict division between rules applicable in international armed conflict and internal armed conflict.[5]

International humanitarian law is traditionally seen as distinct from international human rights law (which governs the conduct of a state towards its people), although the two branches of law are complementary and in some ways overlap.[6][7][8]

The two streams take their names from a number of international conferences which drew up treaties relating to war and conflict, in particular the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, and the Geneva Conventions, the first of which was drawn up in 1863. Both deal with jus in bello, which deals with the question of whether certain practices are acceptable during armed conflict.[10]

Systematic attempts to limit the savagery of warfare only began to develop in the 19th century. Such concerns were able to build on the changing view of warfare by states influenced by the Age of Enlightenment. The purpose of warfare was to overcome the enemy state, which could be done by disabling the enemy combatants. Thus, "the distinction between combatants and civilians, the requirement that wounded and captured enemy combatants must be treated humanely, and that quarter must be given, some of the pillars of modern humanitarian law, all follow from this principle".[13]

Fritz Munch sums up historical military practice before 1800: "The essential points seem to be these: In battle and in towns taken by force, combatants and non-combatants were killed and property was destroyed or looted."[14] In the 17th century, the Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius, widely regarded as the founder or father of public international law, wrote that "wars, for the attainment of their objects, it cannot be denied, must employ force and terror as their most proper agents".[15]

Even in the midst of the carnage of history, however, there have been frequent expressions and invocation of humanitarian norms for the protection of the victims of armed conflicts: the wounded, the sick and the shipwrecked. These date back to ancient times.[16]

The Law of Geneva is directly inspired by the principle of humanity. It relates to those who are not participating in the conflict, as well as to military personnel hors de combat. It provides the legal basis for protection and humanitarian assistance carried out by impartial humanitarian organizations such as the ICRC.[25] This focus can be found in the Geneva Conventions.

The Geneva Conventions are the result of a process that developed in a number of stages between 1864 and 1949. It focused on the protection of civilians and those who can no longer fight in an armed conflict. As a result of World War II, all four conventions were revised, based on previous revisions and on some of the 1907 Hague Conventions, and readopted by the international community in 1949. Later conferences have added provisions prohibiting certain methods of warfare and addressing issues of civil wars.

The Geneva Conventions of 1949 may be seen, therefore, as the result of a process which began in 1864. Today they have "achieved universal participation with 194 parties". This means that they apply to almost any international armed conflict.[29] The Additional Protocols, however, have yet to achieve near-universal acceptance, since the United States and several other significant military powers (like Iran, Israel, India and Pakistan) are currently not parties to them.[30]

With the adoption of the 1977 Additional Protocols to the Geneva Conventions, the two strains of law began to converge, although provisions focusing on humanity could already be found in the Hague law (i.e. the protection of certain prisoners of war and civilians in occupied territories). The 1977 Additional Protocols, relating to the protection of victims in both international and internal conflict, not only incorporated aspects of both the Law of The Hague and the Law of Geneva, but also important human rights provisions.[31]

International humanitarian law now includes several treaties that outlaw specific weapons. These conventions were created largely because these weapons cause deaths and injuries long after conflicts have ended. Unexploded land mines have caused up to 7,000 deaths a year; unexploded bombs, particularly from cluster bombs that scatter many small "bomblets", have also killed many. An estimated 98% of the victims are civilian; farmers tilling their fields and children who find these explosives have been common victims. For these reasons, the following conventions have been adopted:

The ICRC is the only institution explicitly named under international humanitarian law as a controlling authority. The legal mandate of the ICRC stems from the four Geneva Conventions of 1949, as well as from its own Statutes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is an impartial, neutral, and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance.

The Fourth Geneva Convention focuses on the civilian population. The two additional protocols adopted in 1977 extend and strengthen civilian protection in international (AP I) and non-international (AP II) armed conflict: for example, by introducing the prohibition of direct attacks against civilians. A "civilian" is defined as "any person not belonging to the armed forces", including non-nationals and refugees.[36] However, it is accepted that operations may cause civilian casualties. Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor of the international criminal court, wrote in 2006: "International humanitarian law and the Rome statute permit belligerents to carry out proportionate attacks against military objectives, even when it is known that some civilian deaths or injuries will occur. A crime occurs if there is an intentional attack directed against civilians (principle of distinction) ... or an attack is launched on a military objective in the knowledge that the incidental civilian injuries would be clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage (principle of proportionality)."[37]

The principle of distinction protects civilian population and civilian objects from the effects of military operations. It requires parties to an armed conflict to distinguish at all times, and under all circumstances, between combatants and military objectives on the one hand, and civilians and civilian objects on the other; and only to target the former. It also provides that civilians lose such protection should they take a direct part in hostilities.[39] The principle of distinction has also been found by the ICRC to be reflected in state practice; it is therefore an established norm of customary international law in both international and non-international armed conflicts.[40]

Necessity and proportionality are established principles in humanitarian law. Under IHL, a belligerent may apply only the amount and kind of force necessary to defeat the enemy. Further, attacks on military objects must not cause loss of civilian life considered excessive in relation to the direct military advantage anticipated.[41] Every feasible precaution must be taken by commanders to avoid civilian casualties.[42] The principle of proportionality has also been found by the ICRC to form part of customary international law in international and non-international armed conflicts.[43]

The principle of humane treatment requires that civilians be treated humanely at all times.[44] Common Article 3 of the GCs prohibits violence to life and person (including cruel treatment and torture), the taking of hostages, humiliating and degrading treatment, and execution without regular trial against non-combatants, including persons hors de combat (wounded, sick and shipwrecked). Civilians are entitled to respect for their physical and mental integrity, their honour, family rights, religious convictions and practices, and their manners and customs.[45] This principle of humane treatment has been affirmed by the ICRC as a norm of customary international law, applicable in both international and non-international armed conflicts.[43] 041b061a72

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