International Humanitarian Law in Civil War

Authored by: Emily Hencken Ritter

Routledge Handbook of Civil Wars

Print publication date:  February  2014
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415622585
eBook ISBN: 9780203105962
Adobe ISBN: 9781136255786


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In 1864 Henri Dunant became the father of international humanitarian law (IHL), which governs the treatment of persons who are not, or are no longer, participating in warfare, protecting them from the harmful effects of armed conflict. The Geneva Conventions and related treaties developed over the next century establish rules to protect prisoners of war, medical personnel, the wounded, civilians, and refugees from being targeted in the context of armed conflict, as well as limiting methods and means of warfare such as landmines and cluster munitions so that casualties to these vulnerable parties are minimized. While some forms of international law establish major institutions or include mechanisms of enforcement, the treaties that form the foundation of IHL are more like international human rights treaties (IHRTs): codified standards of acceptable behavior to which states agree to be bound without explicit enforcement mechanisms. Yet unlike IHRTs, violations of IHL in interstate conflict directly impact members of other states, so that states are incentivized to enforce, support, and comply with IHL on a regular basis. In other words, concerns of reciprocity in large part keep states from violating the laws of war.

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