Frequently Asked Questions on International Humanitarian, Human Rights and Refugee Law in the context of armed conflict

31-03-2004 FAQ

The United Nations' Inter-Agency Standing Committee, a coordination group for humanitarian agencies, has produced a basic fact-file on legal aspects of aid work during conflicts. Two dozen concise questions and answers explain essentials such as who is protected, under which branch of law, what type of acts are forbidden, and what constitutes a war crime.

This document has been prepared by the IASC Task Force (until 2003, known as the IASC Reference Group) on Humanitarian Action and Human Rights as a complement to Growing the Sheltering Tree, a collection of field practices in promoting and protecting rights by humanitarian actors issued by the Task Force in September 2002.

The text seeks to respond to questions commonly asked by humanitarian workers on the legal framework that serves as a basis for assistance and protection activities in situations of armed conflict. It sets out the relevant international instruments and offers examples of their provisions and application by responding to the following questions:

  1. What is the international legal framework applicable in armed conflicts?

  2. What are the sources of international law?

  3. What is “protection”?

  4. Does international law provide specific protection for women or children?

  5. What is international humanitarian law?

  6. What instruments make up international humanitarian law?

  7. What is the difference between the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols in terms of application?

  8. What are the basic rules of international humanitarian law?

  9. What kinds of acts are prohibited in armed conflicts?

  10. What is international human rights law?

  11. What is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?

  12. What are the major international human rights instruments?

  13. Is human rights law also applicable in armed conflicts?

  14. What kin ds of human rights are commonly violated in an armed conflict?

  15. What is international refugee law?

  16. What are the instruments of international refugee law?

  17. Who is a " refugee " ?

  18. How is refugee status determined when thousands of civilians are fleeing an armed conflict?

  19. Are internally displaced persons protected by international law?

  20. Do non-state actors have obligations under international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law?

  21. What are the rules on humanitarian assistance in armed conflict?

  22. What is the protection under international law of humanitarian and other personnel?

  23. How do the three bodies of law apply in practice?

  24. How are the three bodies of law implemented?...nationally? ...internationally? ...regionally?

  25. What are " war crimes " and " crimes against humanity " ?

  26. How do war crimes and crimes against humanity differ from " genocide " ?

  27. How are individuals held accountable for crimes under international law?

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 Note: This publication can be ordered through the Inter-Agency Standing Committee