Building respect for IHL through national courts

21 December 2015 Sharon Weill

Respect for international humanitarian law (IHL) comes in many forms, one of which is through the practice of domestic courts in addressing IHL-related cases. This article takes a closer look at the structural conditions necessary for the effective enforcement of IHL by domestic courts, elaborates on the spectrum of options that are available to national judges when faced with IHL-related cases, and describes the functional roles of courts in adopting a particular posture. It is demonstrated that even if the structural conditions are fulfilled, this will not necessarily result in the normative application of the law. It appears that national judges are in the process of defining their own roles as independent organs for overseeing the State's acts during armed conflicts. In that regard, the article outlines a few suggestions for future research on the choices courts make and the conditions necessary for them to effectively handle IHL-related cases.

Keywords: domestic courts, IHL, national judges, enforcement, independence, impartiality, rule of law, application, interpretation.

About the author

Sharon Weill
Lecturer in international law applicable during armed conflicts at Sciences Po, Paris, and the Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action

Sharon Weill is a lecturer in international law applicable during armed conflicts at Sciences Po, Paris, and the Geneva Centre for Education and Research in Humanitarian Action, a joint centre of the University of Geneva and the Graduate Institute for International and Development Studies. She holds a PhD from the University of Geneva (2012). She is currently a visiting scholar at the Centre for the Study of Law and Society, University of California, Berkeley where she conducts her research on military justice (2015–2016) with the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation. She can be reached at: sharon.weill@graduateinstitute.ch.