On the relationship between human rights law protection and international humanitarian law

31-12-2004 Article, International Review of the Red Cross, No. 856, by Hans-Joachim Heintze


Hans-Joachim Heintze
Senior Researcher at the Institute for International Law of Peace and Armed Conflict, Ruhr University, Bochum, Germany. I am indebted to Dr Noelle Quénivet for her invaluable advice and assistance in writing this article. 

It is well known that the implementation mechanisms of international humanitarian law are less intrusive and thus less effective than those of human rights law. However, there is an overlap regarding the scope of both bodies of law. In this view, the article describes the areas of overlap and analyses the legal consequences with regard to the implementation mechanisms. The cumulative application of human rights law and international humanitarian law inevitably raises the question of the reciprocal relationship. The International Court of Justice answered this question by recognising the primacy of international humanitarian law over human rights law in armed conflicts, thereby describing the former as lex specialis. The examination of the decisions of the Inter-American Commission/Court of Human Rights and the European Court of Human Rights shows a tendency towards the application of international humanitarian law b y these human rights bodies. Although the practice of human rights bodies is limited, it provides a welcome addition to the admittedly narrow array of international means to enforce compliance with international humanitarian law by parties to armed conflicts. This clearly demonstrates the practical and useful outcome of the convergence of human rights and international humanitarian law.


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