What are the rules of war and why do they matter?

19 October 2016

 

  • The rules of war, or international humanitarian law (as it is known formally) are a set of international rules that set out what can and cannot be done during an armed conflict.

  • The main purpose of international humanitarian law (IHL) is to maintain some humanity in armed conflicts, saving lives and reducing suffering.

  • To do that, IHL regulates how wars are fought, balancing two aspects: weakening the enemy and limiting suffering.

  • The rules of war are universal. The Geneva Conventions (which are the core element of IHL) have been ratified by all 196 states. Very few international treaties have this level of support.

  • Everyone fighting a war needs to respect IHL, both governmental forces and non-State armed groups.

  • If the rules of war are broken, there are consequences. War crimes are documented and investigated by States and international courts. Individuals can be prosecuted for war crimes.

Without the rules of war, we all lose.

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