What is international humanitarian law?
31-07-2004 Legal Fact Sheet
Fact sheet providing a summary description of the sources, content and field of application of international humanitarian law.
International humanitarian law 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 law is contained in agreements between States – treaties or conventions –, in customary rules, which consist of State practise considered by them as legally binding, and in general principles.
International humanitarian law applies to armed conflicts. It does not regulate whether a State may actually use force; this is governed by an important, but distinct, part of international law set out in the United Nations Charter.