Ensuring IHL does what it’s meant to do – protect

If international humanitarian law (IHL) was better respected, there would be less suffering. The rules are comprehensive, but often arms carriers do not abide by them, with disastrous consequences for civilians. Getting to the root of the problem has been a priority for the ICRC.

We undertook a major study of IHL. The results confirmed the law’s relevance, but it also identified some significant weaknesses in the legal protection provided by IHL . We are addressing these weaknesses through our Strengthening IHL initiative, with a view toward enhancing the protection of detainees in non-international armed conflicts and the effectiveness of mechanisms to ensure compliance with IHL.

Some of today’s armed conflicts are characterized by the emergence of new means and methods of warfare. Advanced weapons including drones, robots or cyber-warfare test the current legal framework specifically designed to protect civilians. In addition, the use of certain explosive weapons in densely populated areas and the unregulated access to conventional weapons (such as small arms) in many more conflicts also raise concerns.

In response, we strive to ensure that IHL continues to be relevant to today’s conflicts and protects the most vulnerable. The true test, however, is whether fighters, and those who command them, abide by the rules. We therefore actively seek to achieve better respect for IHL throughout the world by engaging with fighters and those who influence their behaviour.

  • Fighting violations of humanitarian law

    Former ICRC director of operations Pierre Krähenbühl talks about the discussions that took place following 9/11 between the ICRC and various governments, including that of the USA, on how governments could reconcile their security concerns with their legal obligations.
    > Video

  • The Arms Trade Treaty

    The new Arms Trade Treaty sets legally binding rules to regulate international trade in conventional weapons and ammunition.
    > Video

  • Use of armed drones

    The use of armed drones must comply with laws. Interview with Peter Maurer, president of the ICRC.

  • IHL Challenges series

    Serie of audio interviews - Link to the Washington delegation's blog
    > Interviews

  • Cyber warfare

    The potential of computer network attacks is considerable, raising even questions about the definition of “armed conflict” itself.
    Cyber warfare and IHL