Humanity in War: Introduction to International Humanitarian Law

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International humanitarian law (IHL) is the law of armed conflict. It seeks to limit the effects of war upon vulnerable persons, such as civilians or wounded soldiers. IHL also aims to limit the methods and means that conflicting parties may use.

This rapid e-course gives an overview of the institutions and mechanisms that serve to uphold IHL. The Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols are the core treaties of IHL and are the most comprehensive guidelines to mitigate the effects of warfare. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has a special role in upholding the Geneva Conventions. The course also examines other mechanisms and special courts that enforce IHL, like the International Criminal Court. Finally, the course looks at the special legal protections afforded to certain groups, including children, refugees and women.

Features of the rapid e-course

The course combines text with rich multimedia, including videos and podcasts. Knowledge checks reinforce the information learned. Assignments engage you to solve specific problems and point you to useful resources.

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Course outline

Introduction to the laws of war
– What is IHL?
– Is there a difference between IHL and international human rights law?
– When does IHL become applicable?
– What does IHL strive to do?

The Geneva Conventions
– What are the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols?
– Who was Henry Dunant, and why is he significant?
– What are the differences between the Geneva Conventions?
– Who is protected by the Geneva Conventions?
– What is the role of the International Committee of the Red Cross in upholding the Geneva Conventions?

Principles and rules on the conduct of hostilities
– What are the central principles that regulate the conduct of war?
– What is the law of The Hague?
– Why are certain weapons and munitions unlawful?
– How does IHL define the legality of the use of weapons by state actors?
– How did the efforts of individuals, NGOs and governments achieve successes in halting the use of landmines?
– How do the rules of war apply in cities?

Enforcement of IHL
– How does a treaty enter into force?
– How might states adopt and implement an IHL treaty?
– Who is bound by IHL?
– What domestic and international mechanisms exist for enforcement?
– How does the ICRC Advisory Service on IHL assist countries in implementing IHL?

IHL and Groups Afforded Special Protections
– How does IHL support the reunification of families?
– What special protections do governments and NGOs offer women in times of war and reconstruction?
– How are crimes of sexual violence being adjudicated in international law?
– What unique vulnerabilities do children have during wartime?
– When does the use of children as soldiers constitute a war crime?

Refugees and internally displaced in times of war
– What is the difference between a refugee and an internally displaced person?
– What are the special protections offered to refugees and IDPs?
– How can upholding IHL prevent displacement?
– What is the role of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees with regards to IHL?

War crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide
– What are war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide?
– How have international tribunals prosecuted perpetrators of crimes of war?
– What is the capacity of the international community to enforce the Genocide Convention?
– What is the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction?

Contemporary issues in IHL
– How has the role of non-state actors increased in recent years?
– What protection does IHL provide in a non-international conflict?
– What are the implications for IHL of the increasing reliance on private military and security companies in armed conflicts?
– What constitutes direct participation in hostilities?

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Format of course

This rapid e-course is “self-paced”: learners can proceed at their own speed. The course can be accessed at any time that is convenient. There is no instructor. Instead, the learner interacts directly with the content. The course can take between 3 and 6 hours to complete. For those wanting more detail, the course also links to relevant supplementary documents and websites. Because the course is self-paced, learners can complete it in a day, or spread their participation over days, weeks, or even months. Successful completion of a final test earns the participant a certificate of completion.

Technical requirements

• Internet access
• Adobe Flash Player (*free* – get the most recent version here)


Tuition for this rapid e-course is € 75. Tuition payments can be made on-line by credit card (American Express, Discover, MasterCard and Visa), PayPal or bank transfer.

How to register

Enroll in the course (page will open in new window)