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Public International Law: International Humanitarian Law

This guide will help you find resources for researching public international law.

INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW

The War Report

The War Report is published annually since 2013 by the Geneva Academy of Humanitarian Law and Human Rights. It provides an overview of contemporary trends in current armed conflicts, including key international humanitarian law (IHL) and policy issues that have arisen and require attention. Aimed at students, academics, experts, journalists and diplomats as well as NGOs and international organizations, The War Report also lists current armed conflicts where IHL applies and focuses on selected situations.

Websites & Databases

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC)

  • The Protecting Civilians website provides information on the work of the ICRC in protecting civilians and up to date news on current conflicts and ICRC involvement.
  • The National Implementation Database - this ICRC database includes legislation, case law and commentary concerning the implementation of international humanitarian law at the national level. The database can be browsed by topic or state.

 

The Language of Peace database (created by the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge and the UN Mediation Support Unit). provides access to about 1000 post-World War II peace agreements. Each agreement is categorised according to the issues it addresses, including negotiation agendas, ceasefire monitoring, power-sharing, human rights and guarantee mechanisms. Researchers can locate relevant provisions based on, for example, the 29 thematic issues, conflict type, region, country and keyword. More about the database. Language of Peace complements and builds on the UN Peace Agreements database, which contains the full text agreements.

 

The Rule of Law in Armed Conflict Project (RULAC) (an initiative of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights) comprises two databases:

The old RULAC website, which will remain available, contains a Global Database which aims to report on every concerned State and disputed territory in the world, considering both the legal norms that apply as well as the extent to which they are respected by the relevant actors. You can access the database by individual state or territory. Each state or territory listing provides the following information:

  • INVOLVEMENT IN ARMED CONFLICT  
    • Current conflicts 
    • Peace operations 
    • Non-state actors 
    • Applicable international law 
  •  LEGAL FRAMEWORK 
    • National Legislation 
    •  International
    • International treaties adherence 
    • Regional treaties adherence 
    • UN resolutions and reports 
    • UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review 

The new RULAC website is an online portal that systematically qualifies situations of armed violence using the definition of armed conflict under international humanitarian law. RULAC also identifies the parties to armed conflicts. The scope of RULAC is currently limited to those conflicts that have emerged since 2011 and are still ongoing. The database:

 

United Nations  

  • The Security Council Report is arranged by topic and provides a chronology of events and key UN documents relating to themes such as the Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict, peacemaking, peackeeping and peacebuilding, women, peace and security, children in armed conflict, arms control and disarmament, and piracy.
  • The Prevention of Genocide website contains detailed information about the role of the UN in the prevention of genocide, key UN documents, General Assembly debates, press releases and current news. It also provides key documents on the role of the UN and the Responsibility to Protect (R2P).
  • Refworld's International Humanitarian Law site contains legislation, cases, government and NGO reports, statistics and commentary arranged under topics such as Armed forces, Armed groups, Child soldiers, Combatants, Evacuation, Forced relocation, Humanitarian assistance, International humanitarian law / Geneva Conventions, Mercenaries, Population transfers, Prisoners of war, and Protection of civilian persons in time of war.
  • Refworld also has a special feature on Protection of Civilians in Armed Conflict . This site contains regularly updated policy documents and operational guidance materials on international humanitarian law topics such as civil-military coordination, refugee and IDP security, the civilian character of asylum, mine action, disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, and humanitarian space.

 

The Weapons Law Encylopedia (an initiative of the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights) is an online compilation of information on the regulation of weapons under public international law. It can  be searched or browsed under the following four main headings:

  • Weapons
    • information about the history of weapons, their technical characteristics and intended uses in combat and law enforcement situations, and about the documented humanitarian impact of their use, including in terms of death, injury and material damage.
  • Instruments
    • summaries of the evolution of international regulatory instruments (treaties and other standard-setting instruments) governing the conduct of hostilities or the use of force for law enforcement purposes, and discuss provisions relating to the regulation of weapons (with focus on their use).
  • Cases
    • detailing how judgments, decisions and other documents issued by international or regional judicial or quasi-judicial bodies contribute to international weapons regulation.
  • Glossary
    • aim to present key concepts of weapons law, to clarify the meaning of weapons law related notions under international law, and to explain technical terms used in the Encyclopedia.

 

The Afghanistan Documentation Project (ADP) - hosted by the American University Washington College of Law, The Afghanistan Documentation Project (ADP) was established to collect and create a fully searchable and publicly accessible database of documents regarding human rights and humanitarian law violations committed in Afghanistan since 1971. It provides a central repository of publicly accessible and searchable information about atrocities carried out in Afghanistan since 1978.

The United Nations Security Council

The UN Charter established the six main organs of the United Nations, including the Security Council. The Security Council has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security. It may meet whenever peace is threatened.

International Humanitarian Law: Key Documents and Treaties

The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols prohibit all attacks on civilians and others not taking part in combat, and require that they be protected. The ICRC Geneva Conventions website contains the text of and commentaries on the four Geneva conventions on international humanitarian law and their two additional protocols. 

The international humanitarian law Treaty database,  compiled by the ICRC, includes 100 treaties and other texts which include law protecting the victims of war and law governing the conduct of hostilities, from 1856 to the present. The full text of the treaties can be downloaded or individual articles viewed. The treaties are browsable by subject and date.

The ICRC has produced a Map of State Parties to the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, current as at December 2013.

Customary IHL

Customary IHL is of crucial importance in today’s armed conflicts because it fills gaps left by treaty law.

The ICRC's customary international humanitarian law site includes the customary IHL database which provides:

  1. An analysis of existing customary rules of IHL deemed applicable in international and non-international armed conflict; and
  2. Underlying State practice relating to most aspects of IHL, as expressed in national legislation, military manuals, official statements and caselaw, and the practice of other entities such as international organisations and international courts and tribunals. This part of the database is regularly updated.

New Books on International Humanitarian Law in the Law Library

Recent IHL Articles - Open Access on SSRN

What is International Humanitarian Law?

International humanitarian law (IHL) is 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. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict. International humanitarian law is part of international law, which is the body of rules governing relations between States. 

International humanitarian law does not regulate whether a State may actually use force; this is governed by a distinct part of international law set out in the United Nations Charter.

Source: What is International Humanitarian Law? published by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

International Criminal Jurisdiction - Courts & Cases

A system of international jurisdictions tries individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The system consists of the International Criminal Court, plus ad hoc tribunals set up after specific conflicts.

To find decisions of the ICC and ad hoc tribunals, refer to the Courts and Cases tab on the International Criminal Law page of this Guide.

For a concise summary of all War Crimes under the Rome Statute over which the ICC has jurisdiction, and their source in International Humanitarian Law, see the comparative table produced by the International Committee of the Red Cross. 

Latest Peace & Security News from the UN

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Online Encyclopaedias

Oxford Bibliographies Online - International Law  provides authoritative encyclopedic entries and annotated bibliographies on a range of topics including crimes against humanitymilitary necessitymilitary occupationgenocide and humanitarian intervention.

The Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law  contains comprehensive and authoritative overviews of all aspects of international law. Entries are arranged alphabetically by topic under broad subjects such as international humanitarian law and the use of force, war, peace and neutrality

Handbooks

Online Research Guides

Research Guide to International Weapons Law from Globalex - by Gudrun Monika Zagel 

Current Conflicts

The following free 'debate maps' are provided by Oxford University Press.

Israel-Gaza Wars 2008-2014 - this resource maps scholarly commentary on the international law aspects of the armed conflict(s) between Israel and Gaza since Israel withdrew from the territory. Sources in the map include commentary published in English language law blogs and newspapers, and free content from OUP's online services other free repositories.

A later update of this map will include consideration of a referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

The map links to sources such as the Opinio Juris, EJIL: Talk!, Volokh Conspiracy, and Just Security blog posts, the Goldstone Report, the Palmer Report, the Turkel Commission Report, the “Flotilla Report”, UN documents, Human Rights Watch, and selected articles. 

Ukraine Use of Force - this resource maps scholarly commentary on the legal arguments regarding the public international law (and some domestic constitutional law) aspects of the use of force in Ukraine, published in legal blogs and newspapers, and free content from OUP's online services.

Use of Force against Syria - this resource maps scholarly commentary on the legal arguments regarding the public international law aspects of the use of force against Syria published in English language legal blogs and newspapers, and some very recent journal articles.

Disputes in the South and East China Seas - this resource maps scholarly commentary on the international law aspects of the conflicts in and around the South China and East China Seas, including maritime boundary disputes, the question of sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, China's recent announcement of an Air Defence Identification Zone, and the Philippines/China UNCLOS arbitration. It brings together primary documents with discussions in English-language legal blogs and a selection of journal articles.

IHL Journals