Thursday, January 31, 2008




"In the end, it is likely that whether biology becomes an offensive military technology in the coming decades will depend to a significant degree on whether scientists become actively involved in legal discussions, and on the advice they give to policy makers. It is to be hoped that scientists will join the arms control, diplomatic, and humanitarian law communities to explore mechanisms to protect humanity from the fearsome potential of abuse of the technologies they are developing, while preserving the beneficial applications."

Mark Wheelis and Malcolm Dando
Neurobiology: A case study of the imminent militarization of biology
International REVIEW of the Red Cross, September 2005.

International humanitarian law is a set of rules which seek, for humanitarian reasons, to limit the effects of armed conflict. It protects persons who are not or are no longer participating in the hostilities and restricts the means and methods of warfare. International humanitarian law is also known as the law of war or the law of armed conflict.

International humanitarian law is part of international law, which is the body of rules governing relations between States. International law is contained in agreements between States – treaties or conventions –, in customary rules, which consist of State practise considered by them as legally binding, and in general principles.

A major part of international humanitarian law is contained in the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Nearly every State in the world has agreed to be bound by them. The Conventions have been developed and supplemented by two further agreements: the Additional Protocols of 1977 relating to the protection of victims of armed conflicts.

Other agreements prohibit the use of certain weapons and military tactics and protect certain categories of people and goods. These agreements include: the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict, plus its two protocols; the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention; the 1980 Conventional Weapons Convention and its five protocols; the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention; the 1997 Ottawa Convention on anti-personnel mines; the 2000 Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict.

International humanitarian law distinguishes between international and non-international armed conflict. International armed conflicts are those in which at least two States are involved. They are subject to a wide range of rules, including those set out in the four Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I. Non-international armed conflicts are those restricted to the territory of a single State, involving either regular armed forces fighting groups of armed dissidents, or armed groups fighting each other. A more limited range of rules apply to internal armed conflicts and are laid down in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions as well as in Additional Protocol II.

International humanitarian law covers two areas: the protection of those who are not, or no longer, taking part in fighting and restrictions on the means of warfare – in particular weapons – and the methods of warfare, such as military tactics.

International humanitarian law protects those who do not take part in the fighting, such as civilians and medical and religious military personnel. It also protects those who have ceased to take part, such as wounded, shipwrecked and sick combatants, and prisoners of war.

International humanitarian law prohibits all means and methods of warfare which: fail to discriminate between those taking part in the fighting and those, such as civilians, who are not, the purpose being to protect the civilian population, individual civilians and civilian property; cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering; cause severe or long-term damage to the environment.

Sadly, there are countless examples of violation of international humanitarian law. Increasingly, the victims of war are civilians. Violations of international humanitarian law are not abstract concepts in Colombia, but the grim material of everyday life. Few seriously question that Colombia’s war satisfies the conditions for the application of the laws of war. In interviews with Human Rights Watch, all of the parties to the conflict agreed in principle that the laws of war should be observed in Colombia. Yet the distance between words and deeds is vast. All parties actively manipulate the concept of international humanitarian law for perceived political and tactical gain. There is also deep disagreement about the terms used in the laws of war to identify non-combatants and military targets.

Measures must be taken to ensure respect for international humanitarian law. States have an obligation to teach its rules to their armed forces and the general public. They must prevent violations or punish them if these nevertheless occur. Whether as individuals or through governments and various organizations, we can all make an important contribution to compliance with international humanitarian law.



1. IHL in brief

2. Sources of IHL

2.1 Introduction
2.2 Customary laws
2.3 Treaties
2.4 General principles
2.5 The Martens clause
2.6 Other sources
2.7 Hierarchy

3. Protected persons and properties

3.1 Civilians in the power of the enemy
3.2 Prisoners of war
3.3 Wounded, sick and shipwrecked
3.4 Medical and religious personnel
3.5 Humanitarian workers
3.6 Cultural property
3.7 Civil defense

4. Conduct of hostilities

4.1 Methods and means of warfare
4.2 Air warfare
4.3 Naval warfare
4.4 Environment
4.5 Information warfare

5. Emblem

5.1 The emblems
5.2 History of the emblems
5.3 Unity and plurality of the emblems
5.4 Use and protection of the emblems
5.5 Misuse of the emblems
5.6 Repression of misuse

6. Women in war

6.1 Women and wars
6.2 Women and armed conflicts
6.3 Instruments of enhanced protection
6.4 Efficacy of the IHL to protect women

7. Children in war

7.1 Children and war
7.2 Children and armed conflicts
7.3 Instruments of enhanced protection
7.4 Efficacy of the IHL to protect children

8. Refugees and Internally Displaced People

8.1 War and displacement
8.2 Refugees
8.3 Convention protecting refugees
8.4 Internally displaced persons
8.5 Legal protection of Internally Displaced People
8.6 IHL, Human Rights and Refugee Law.

9. Missing persons

10. Weapons of Mass Destruction

10.1 Chemical weapons
10.2 Biological weapons
10.3 Nuclear weapons
10.4 Neurobiology and the militarization of Biology

11. Conventional weapons and new weapons

11.1 Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons
11.2 Protocol I on Non Detectable Fragments
11.3 Protocol II on Mines, booby-traps and others
11.4 Protocol II amended in 1996
11.5 Protocol III on Incendiary weapons
11.6 Protocol IV on Blinding lasers weapons
11.7 Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War
11.8 New weapons

12. National implementation

12.1 Treaties and States parties
12.2 Bodies involved
12.3 Topics
12.4 Database
12.5 Publications

13. Reaffirmation and development

13.1 The main currents: The Hague, Geneva, New York
13.2 The law before the Protocols of 1977
13.3 The Protocols of 1977
13.4 Post 1977 developments: Substantive Law
13.5 Post 1977 developments: Enforcement

14. International criminal jurisdiction

14.1 Ad hoc tribunals
14.2 International Criminal Court

15. Other issues

15.1 Terrorism
15.2 Occupied territories
15.3 Private military
15.4 Respect for IHL
15.5 Multinational forces
15.6 Economic sanctions
15.7 Media
15.8 Internal violence

16. IHL in non-Christian major religious traditions

16.1 Islam and IHL
16.2 Hinduism and IHL
16.3 Judaism and IHL

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