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International Humanitarian Law


Admission requirements

Required course(s):

Public international law

Recommended course(s):



International Humanitarian Law (“IHL”) (also known as “The Law of Armed Conflict” or “The Law of War” or “Jus in Bello”) regulates the conduct of soldiers and their commanders during wartime. IHL attempts to balance the principle of “Military Necessity,” i.e. the requirement that soldiers do their jobs so that armies can win battles and wars, and the principle of “humanity,” which attempts to reduce the suffering caused by war.

Thus, IHL sets legal standards that attempt to regulate hostilities and protect innocent persons “amid the ambiguity and brutality of combat.” For example, no moral person would accept the mistreatment or execution of prisoners, deliberate attacks on civilians, or the destruction of civilian property. Much of warfare, however, is gray, rather than black-and-white. Difficult decisions must be made about the amount of acceptable “collateral damage” to civilians under IHL. What kinds of precautions must soldiers take before launching an attack that may injure civilians? If a civilian briefly picks up a weapon, can he or she be a lawful target? Are commanders always responsible for war crimes committed by their subordinates? How do law, policy and military imperatives combine to produce the difficult decisions that soldiers and commanders must make in the battlespace?

This course will use realistic examples to assist readers to understand not only how law is supposed to regulate armed conflict, but also how the law is applied during the chaos and stress of combat. Thus, the course combines theory and practice to illuminate issues and challenges that are alive today in places as diverse as Iraq, Syria, Gaza, Yemen and Mali.

Course Objectives


  • Conduct research on issues and cases in the area of IHL

  • Apply IHL to complex contemporary scenarios and challenges

  • Write a qualitative legal paper on issues or cases necessitating the reviewing and application of IHL

  • Orally defend legal arguments relating to IHL issues by way of a moot court exercise


  • Understand and interpret the law and principles that govern the conduct of war (IHL)

  • Identify the current challenges faced by IHL .

  • Critically reflect on the successes and failures in current (and past) efforts to Improve adherence to IHL principles in national and/or international context.


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2021-2022 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction

This course combines lectures with class discussions and reflections on current armed conflicts. Interactive seminars--and their preparation--will provide you with the opportunity for thoughtful participation in class discussions.

This course really focuses on application of the relevant rules to real-life examples. This is also further reflected in the different assignments.

First, in the newspaper exercise you will have to identify a piece of news relevant for IHL application and apply the rules to the situation dealt with in the chosen newspaper exercise.

Second, the moot court exercise will further allow you to refine your oral legal argumentation and pleading skills.

Finally, through a final exam, your capacity to apply the principles and rules of IHL to real or fictitious cases will be further challenged and assessed.

Assessment Method

  • In-class participation – 10%

  • Analysis of a newspaper article 31%

  • Moot court exercise – 19%

  • Final exam – 40% – Week 8

Reading list

In order to allow for the use of up-to-date sources and a focus on current affairs, no fixed textbook will be used for this course. The link to the required readings will be provided for on brightspace.


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,