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International Humanitarian Law

IHL Explanation

IHL explanation

International Humanitarian Law is the body of rules that attempts to limit the inhumane effects of armed conflicts. It does that by protecting those who are not or no longer participating in hostilities and restraining the means and methods of warfare.

A short visual explanation of IHL provided by the ICRC can be found below:

Sources of IHL

Sources of IHL

As a part of Public international law, IHL rules can be found in agreements and customary law. The basis of IHL is contained in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977 and the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907. The former treaties elucidate important principles of IHL and focus on rights and protection of those affected by armed conflicts, such as civilians, prisoners of war, and wounded and sick combatants. The latter focus on means and methods of warfare, that is, they aim to prohibit certain types of weapons and military tactics.

Here you can find the original text of those conventions.

International Committee of the Red Cross

International Committee of the Red Cross

Together with the National Societies and the International Federation, the ICRC is part of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement. It has the humanitarian mission to protect lives and dignity exclusively during war and internal violence. The Committee takes the leading role in conflict situations and promotes an essential work by protecting and assisting victims and fostering respect for IHL. Important roles include reuniting families separated by conflict, dialoguing with parties involved in the armed conflict, carrying out visits to detention centers and assessing the conditions of the detainees.

To find out more, visit here.

The ICRC is also responsible for the Customary IHL Database, which is the base for part of our work.


To find out more about this study, visit here.