War & Law

International humanitarian law is a set of rules that seek to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects people who are not or are no longer participating in hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare.

IHL treaties

IHL is based on a number of treaties, in particular the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols, and a series of other instruments.

Treaties, States Parties and Commentaries

Customary IHL

Customary international law consists of rules that come from "a general practice accepted as law" and that exist independent of treaty law.

Customary IHL database

Understanding and responding to challenges to IHL brought on by contemporary conflicts.

Direct participation in hostilities


New technologies and IHL

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IHL governs the choice of weapons and prohibits or restricts the use of certain weapons.

Explosive weapons in populated areas

Nuclear weapons

Review of new weapons

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IHL aims to strike a balance between legitimate military objectives and the humanitarian objective of reducing suffering, particularly among civilians.

Methods and means of warfare

Cyber warfare

Cultural property

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The red cross, red crescent and red crystal emblems are a visible manifestation of the protection accorded to military medical services and relief workers in armed conflicts. 

Emblems of humanity

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When violations of IHL occur, States are under obligation to prosecute offenders. Domestic courts therefore play an important role in the enforcement of IHL. In addition to national jurisdictions, violations of IHL can also be prosecuted by various international criminal tribunals.

International Criminal Tribunals

Domestic courts

Other mechanism

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For IHL treaties to be universally accepted, all States must adopt them and then enact legislation and take practical measures in order for the rules to be fully effective. The ICRC’s Advisory Service can help, by providing assistance and documentation.

ICRC national implementation database

National Committees


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IHL and other legal regimes are complementary in armed conflicts.

Human rights

Refugee law

Jus ad bellum

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For IHL to effectively regulate the behaviour of warring parties, there is a need for both adequate rules and actual respect for those rules.

Strengthening IHL protecting detainees

Strengthening compliance with IHL (2012-2015)

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Commentary on the First Geneva Convention
Commentary on the First Geneva Convention

The first in a series of updated Commentaries to the 1949 Geneva Conventions and their 1977 Additional Protocols, published online by the ICRC and in print by Cambridge University Press.

Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention
Commentary on the Second Geneva Convention

Protection considerations in the law of naval warfare: The Second Geneva Convention and the role of the ICRC.

How does law protect in war?
How does law protect in war?

Cases, documents and teaching materials on contemporary practice in international humanitarian law.

International review of the Red Cross
International review of the Red Cross

A quarterly journal published by the ICRC and Cambridge University Press.

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Library and research services
The library and Research Service offers over 140,000
documents on IHL and the ICRC's work

Promoting and implementing IHL is primarily the responsibility of States and the Advisory Service on IHL assist them to fulfil their obligations.

The ICRC emphasize IHL teaching in secondary schools and universities, to reach tomorrow's decision-makers and opinion-leaders.

A wealth of resources connecting international humanitarian law with the policies that guide humanitarian action.