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Is international humanitarian law still relevant in today’s conflicts?

15-11-2002 FAQ

Yes. Humanitarian law has ample provision for dealing with modern warfare; the challenge is to have those provisions respected and put into practice by all. The question is not “does the law work?” but “do we want it to work?”.

Respect for the law is not a way of " getting the bad guys off the hook " ; it's an acknowledgement of every individual's rights - even those who strike at the heart of universally-held values. The laws of war do not put obstacles in the way of fighting crime and terror - they identify serious crimes and demand punishment for them. 

 Humanitarian law:  

  • protects, in armed conflict, all who do not, or who no longer, take part in hostilities: civilians, wounded and sick soldiers, prisoners of war

  • strives to prevent parties to an armed conflict from resorting to criminal methods and indiscriminate or disproportionate use of force

  • forms part of the international legal framework that aims to uphold human dignity and protect people from arbitrary treatment

 More on this:  

statement by ICRC President J. Kellenberger (September 2002), and International Review of the Red Cross (June 2002) -  


The answers to FAQs on this site are intended as brief, informative summaries of what are often complex matters, and the terminology used has no legal significance.