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The applicability and relevance of human rights to armed conflict has become one of the most debated issues surrounding the use of violence internationally and domestically. Traditionally, human rights law and the law of armed conflict were seen to be complementary but also largely incompatible. Yet both have been converging with the laws of war being increasingly ‘humanised’ and human rights increasingly ‘militarised.’ What is involved in this cross-fertilisation? Might it have unintended consequences? For example, some human rights activists have supported war ‘in the name of human rights,’ while many human rights NGOs have considered issues relating to the laws of war to be outside their remit. Does this mean human rights support war? When it comes to the regulation of armed conflict, the laws of war are widely held to be the applicable ‘lex specialis’ in armed conflict, as opposed to human rights. What does it mean for the laws of war to displace human rights as the regime of choice to regulate certain types of violence? Is it a triumph of humanitarianism or of violence?
Principal topics include:
- To what extent have human rights featured in justifications of resorting to violence within and across boundaries? What is the relevance of notions such as ‘the responsibility to protect,’ ‘human security,’ ‘the human right to security’ or ‘protection of civilians’ in building a new global regime of violence?
- What is an armed conflict? How does it displace the normal applicability of human rights provisions? How does the changing nature of armed conflicts justify changes in normative emphasis?
- What is the existing jurisprudence on the applicability of human rights to armed conflict, with particular emphasis on relevant case law of the European and Inter-American Courts of Human Rights?
- How and when do human rights apply extra-territorially? The subject will look at issues arising from military attack, occupation, detention, handover of prisoners, rendition, etc.
- How might human rights help address differently issues of (i) gendered violence, (ii) new weapons such as drones, or (iii) targeted assassinations?
- Should non-state actors be recognised as a greater power to engage in violence and if so in exchange for what?
- Which actors are legitimised by the laws of war or human rights and how do modes of intervention in armed conflict differ?
- How might the emphasis on human rights change the focus of accountability?
- Do international organisations engaging in violence have human rights obligations? What military deployments fall short of belligerency?
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have a critical understanding of the legal concepts of international and non-international armed conflict, military occupation and peacekeeping
- Have an advanced understanding of the interplay between the legal regimes applicable to the different states of violence, in particular human rights law and international humanitarian law as well as a sensitivity to the normative choices that underlie the selection of one regime at the expense of another
- Be able to theorise, assess and critically evaluate the application of law to minimise harm to individuals in situations of violence
- Be able to demonstrate a highly developed understanding of the law and critical judgment as a practitioner and advocate in the interstices of the fields of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.
Last updated: 3 November 2022