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War and 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.

Armed conflict is as old as humankind itself. There have always been customary practices in war, but only in the last 150 years have States made international rules to limit the effects of armed conflict for humanitarian reasons. The Geneva Conventions and the Hague Conventions are the main examples. Usually called international humanitarian law, it is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict. 

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Highlights All War & law

  • New technologies and international humanitarian law

    Technological developments have given rise to new methods and means of warfare, such as cyber attacks, armed drones and robots, raising novel humanitarian and legal challenges. When developing any new weapon, it is important that a State assess whether it complies with international humanitarian law.

  • Law & Policy platform

    Welcome to the ICRC's platform for training, research and debate on humanitarian law and action. Browse through our latest publications, e-learning modules, upcoming events and ongoing debates.

  • Contemporary challenges for international humanitarian law IHL Contemporary challenges for IHL

    Terrorism; Direct participation in hostilities; Security detention; Respect for IHL; Multinational forces; Occupation; Privatization of war.

  • International humanitarian law - Weapons Weapons and international humanitarian law

    International humanitarian law contains basic principles and rules governing the choice of weapons and prohibits or restricts the employment of certain weapons. The ICRC plays a leading role in the promotion and development of law regulating the use of certain weapons.

  • Strengthening international humanitarian law

    The ICRC is currently undertaking a major consultation process on how to strengthen legal protection for victims of armed conflict. This involves two tracks of work, one regarding detention in non-international armed conflict, and the other on strengthening compliance with international humanitarian law generally.

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