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Basics of International Humanitarian Law


Admission requirements

Understanding of basic law or sociological aspects of armed conflicts and justice. Participants should read the recommended literature before class which is provided here in class files.


The course will focus on:

  • the protection of human beings in international and non-international conflicts

  • international terrorism and IHL-rules

  • the criminal prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity

The following questions will be dealt with:

  • What is war and when does it start and end?

  • What is a non international armed conflict?

  • What laws do exist to protect victims of war and restrain methods and means of war?

  • How can the law be understood and identified?

  • Who is benefiting from these laws under what circumstances?

  • What rules do exist for those fighting?

  • Does the so called unlawful combatant exist?

  • What rules do protect civilians against the effect of hostilities?

  • What objects can be lawfully attacked?

  • When and how had international criminal law be developed?

  • What are its main rules and the system to guarantee justice in war?

  • How do the Courts and Tribunals function?

  • Which war crimes cases have been fundamental in the development of specific elements of ICL?

  • What are the main lessons from the ICTY/ICC practice?

Course Plan:
A. The development of IHL since 1864 and its present relevance

  • Definition and elements of IHL

  • Types of treaties, armed conflicts, terrorism and the applicable treaty law

  • The importance of customary law for all types of armed conflicts

  • The ICRC-Customary Law Study

  • Beginning of armed conflicts and end of armed conflicts

  • Non-international Armed Conflicts: Beginning and end

  • Internationalized Armed Conflicts

  • Application of specific rules in Peace Time

  • Principle of distinction: Combatants and Civilians

  • Other principles

  • Combatant status and Authorization to take part in hostilities and requirements according to API and GC III

  • Protected persons under Geneva Convention IV

B. Protection of persons in the power of a party to the armed conflict

  • The different groups of victims: Wounded and sick, POWs, civilians

  • Military, political and humanitarian aspects of protection of victims

  • Common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions as minimum standard

  • The rules of Geneva Convention III for the protection of POWs

  • The rules of Geneva Convention IV for the protection of detained persons

  • The jurisprudence of the ICTY regarding inhuman treatment and torture

  • The rights of detained persons in legal proceedings

C. The protection of the civilian population and civilian objects against attacks and the effects of hostilities

  • Development of the protection of the civilian population and the general protection for civilians according to GC IV

  • Definition of civilian population and protection against direct attacks

  • Definition of military and civilian objects

  • The prohibition of indiscriminate attacks in Art. 51 para.4/5

  • The loss of protection as a result of direct participation in hostilities

  • Criteria for loss of protection: Support functions or/and participation

  • Situations for loss of protection

D. The war on terror and IHL

  • “War on Terror” as armed conflict

  • Combatant status and Authorization to take part in hostilities and requirements according to API and GC III

  • Art. 44 and 5 of GC III

  • Art. 44 – 47 AP I

  • Civilians participating in hostilities

  • The Unlawful Combatants concept and the Israeli Supreme Court decision of December 2006

E. Punishment of crimes of concern to the international community (war crimes and other crimes)

  • The Establishment of Special Courts and Tribunals to punish international crimes

  • From Nuremberg and Tokyo to the ICC: Historical development and differences in the decision making

  • Jurisdiction of the Courts and the question of universal jurisdiction

  • Responsibility: Command Responsibility and Superior orders

  • Jurisdiction and Procedure of the ICC

  • ICC procedures

  • Role and jurisdiction of national courts

  • Classification of international crimes and War Crimes in the Rome statute

  • Selected War Crimes Cases

Course objectives

Objectives of the course
The course has the following objectives: The course will provide the basic knowledge of international humanitarian law (IHL) and fundamental aspects of international criminal law (ICL) in the context of past wars and conflicts. It will refer also to specific conflicts such as the Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sudan and the functioning of international courts such as ICTY, ICC and the Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone.

Achievement levels
The following achievement levels apply with regard to the course:
Participants will understand the system of international humanitarian law, the interpretation of IHL treaties and identification of customary IHL-law and the interdependence between IHL and ICL.


See: “bachelor”:

Mode of instruction


  • Five four-hour classes in five weeks

  • Instructor: Prof. Dr. H. Fischer

Assessment method

Examination form(s)
Written exam (English)

Areas to be tested within the exam
The examination syllabus consists of the required reading (literature) for the course, the course information guide and the subjects taught in the lectures, the seminars and all other instructions which are part of the course.


More information on this course is offered on “Blackboard”:

Reading list

Obligatory course materials

  • Constraints on the waging of war, F. Kalshoven/L. Zegveld

  • Customary Law study

  • BBC discussion on the Lebanon War

  • International Court of Justice: Advisory Opinon “Wall”

  • ICTY: GALIC Judgement

  • International Court of Justice: Advisory Opinon “Nuclear Weapons”

  • Sassoli on terrorism and war

  • British Case against UK-Soldiers – War crimes POWs

  • Israel Supreme Court Decision

Course information guide:


Recommended course materials

Registration Enrollment for this course is possible via uSis.

Contact information

  • Co-ordinator: Mr.dr. E.V. Koppe

  • Work address: Steenschuur 25, room B1.21

  • Contact information: via e-mail

  • Telephone number: 071-527 7578 (secretary)

  • E-mail:


  • Institution: Public Law

  • Division: Public International Law

  • Room number secretariat: B1.21

  • Opening hours: 9.00-17.00 hrs

  • Telephone number secretariat: 071-527 7578

  • E-mail:




Belangstellenden die deze cursus in het kader van contractonderwijs willen volgen (met tentamen), kunnen meer informatie vinden over kosten, inschrijving, voorwaarden, etc. op de website van Juridisch PAO.