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The implementation of the legal rules governing the conduct of military hostilities is literally a matter of life and death. This subject combines current international practice in the relevant law with acknowledged research and practical expertise. This subject briefly introduces the historical development of international humanitarian law and raises a series of questions around the effective implementation of the law.
- What is an armed conflict and how do we determine the legal character of a conflict?
- How do combatants distinguish between civilians and enemy combatants and how can protection for civilians in armed conflict—particularly women and children—be improved?
- Who can lawfully be targeted and killed and who can be detained?
- Which weapons are prohibited and which are permitted?
Principal topics include:
- The historical development of international humanitarian law and its rationale in a broader context
- The Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Additional Protocols of 1977 and developments in customary international law
- The unique role of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in armed conflict
- The relationship of international humanitarian law to other related areas of international law, such as arms control and disarmament, human rights, peacekeeping and international criminal law
- Implementation of the law through case studies
- Current issues for development of the law, such as emerging technologies, child soldiers, the protection of women in armed conflict and the law of occupation and terrorism.
Intended learning outcomes
A student who has successfully completed this subject will:
- Have an advanced and integrated understanding of the international legal principles regulating the conduct of armed conflict and their impact on military strategy
- Be able to critically examine, analyse, interpret and assess the effectiveness of the rules of international humanitarian law, and where relevant, other areas of international and domestic law, in relation to the conduct of hostilities and military operations where the use of force is envisaged
- Be an engaged participant in debate regarding emerging and contemporary issues in the field such as military necessity, the application of human rights law, the law of occupation, the protection of victims of armed conflict and the means and methods of warfare
- Have a sophisticated capacity to analyse the principal institutional structures for the implementation of international humanitarian law and the general legal framework that governs the use of force by military forces
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to generate critical and creative ideas relating to existing approaches to the effectiveness of international humanitarian law, and the key issues for further development of the law and current initiatives for change
- Have the cognitive and technical skills to independently examine, research and analyse existing and emerging issues in applying international humanitarian law in military operations, and appreciate the existence of critiques of the efficacy of the legal principles
- Have the communication skills to clearly articulate and convey complex information regarding the application of international humanitarian law in international and non-international armed conflicts to relevant specialist and non-specialist audiences
- Be able to demonstrate autonomy, expert judgement and responsibility as a practitioner and learner in the field of international humanitarian law.
Last updated: 3 November 2022