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Customary law study enhances legal protection of persons affected by armed conflict

17-03-2005 News Release No. 05/17

Geneva (ICRC) – Following more than eight years of research, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has made public a study of customary international humanitarian law applicable during armed conflict.

ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger today presented the study, published by Cambridge University Press, to State representatives during a meeting at the organization's headquarters in Geneva.

By identifying 161 rules of customary international humanitarian law, the study enhances the legal protection of persons affected by armed conflict. " This is especially the case in non-international armed conflict, for which treaty law is not particularly well developed, " said Mr Kellenberger. " Yet civil wars often result in the worst suffering. The study clearly shows that customary international humanitarian law applicable in non-international armed conflict goes beyond the rules of treaty law. For example, while treaty law covering internal armed conflict does not expressly prohibit attacks on civilian objects, customary international humanitarian law closes this gap. Importantly, all conflict parties – not just States but also rebel groups, for example – are bound by customary international humanitarian law applicable to internal armed conflict. "

In addition to treaty law such as the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, customary international humanitarian law is a major source of rules applicable in times of armed conflict. While treaty law is based on written conventions, customary international humanitarian law derives from the practice of States as expressed, for example, in military manuals, national legislation or official statements. A rule is considered binding customary international humanitarian law if it reflects the widespread, representative and uniform practice of States accepted as law.

In late 1995, the International Conference of the Red Cross and Red Crescent commissioned the ICRC to carry out the study. It was researched by ICRC legal staff and dozens of experts representing different regions and legal systems, including academics and specialists drawn from governments and international organizations. The experts reviewed State practice in 47 countries as well as international sources such as the United Nations, regional organizations and international courts and tribunals.

" The ICRC fully respected the academic freedom of the authors and editors of the study, " said Mr Kellenberger. " It considers the study an accurate reflection of the current state of customary international humanitarian law. The ICRC will make use of it in its work to protect and assist victims of armed conflict worldwide. I also expect scholars and governmental experts to use the study as a basis for discussions on current challenges to international humanitarian law. "

 For more information, please contact:  

 Florian Westphal, ICRC Geneva, tel. ++41 22 730 29 30 / ++41 79 217 32 26  



Cambridge University Press published the study. For more information and order details please go to