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International Humanitarian Law




Admission Requirements

Similarly-tagged 100- and 200-level courses.


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, Ukraine, Colombia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Course Objectives

This course will provide students with a solid understanding of the theory and practice of IHL. Students will understand and interpret the law and foundational principles that govern the conduct of war. Students will also develop the ability to identify and think critically about ethical, political and military issues that influence the application of IHL during wartime.

After completion of this course you will be able to:

  • research and analyse specific cases which require the review and application of IHL;

  • discuss compliance with IHL in the broader context of modern armed conflict and critically evaluate the actions or omissions of particular actors;

  • identify and examine successes and failures in current (or past) efforts to improve adherence to IHL principles in national and/or international contexts; and

  • investigate, articulate and contextualise options available to secure greater compliance with IHL obligations by states and non-state actors (e.g., in terms of prevention, punishment and/or reparations for violations of IHL).

Mode of Instruction

This course combines class discussions with lectures and “moot court” debates based on hypothetical scenarios as well as the decisions of the International Court of Justice, the ad-hoc International Criminal Tribunals and the permanent International Criminal Court. Accordingly, two weekly interactive seminars – and their preparation – will provide you with the opportunity for thoughtful participation in class discussions and mock courtroom debates, based on the careful analysis of required readings and group work. Written work (two 1000 word essays due at the end of week 3 and week 6, respectively, and a 3000 word final essay due at the end of week 8) will give you the opportunity to demonstrate your critical appreciation and effective application of the principles and rules of IHL, as well as your ability to conduct research by applying your improved skills and knowledge to this interdisciplinary field. To that effect, your oral debate and written essays will address complex IHL challenges, past, present or in the future.


Assessment: In-class participation
Percentage: 10%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1-7

Assessment: Two Individual Assignments (maximum 1000 words)
Percentage: 40% (20% per essay)
Deadline: Weeks 3 and Week 6

Assessment: Two Moot Courts
Percentage: 20% (10% per moot court)
Deadline: Weeks 4 and Week 7

Assessment: Final research essay (3000 words)
Percentage: 30%
Deadline: Week 8


The Law of Armed Conflict: An Operational Approach, Geoffrey Corn, et. al. eds. Wolters Kluwer, 2012.

Additional required reading material will be made available on Blackboard.

Recommended Readings:
The course will also draw on resources readily available on the internet (e.g., Judgments and Decisions of the European Court of Human Rights, official documents and videos via the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and other international institutions, academic journals via the Digital Library, podcasts, youtube material, etc).

Contact Information

Weekly Overview

Week 1: Foundations of International Humanitarian Law
1.1 The Use of Force and Sources of International Humanitarian Law
1.2 International and Non-International Armed Conflicts and IHL

Week 2: Basic Principles and Participants of International Humanitarian Law
2.1 Basic Principles of International Humanitarian Law
2.2 Combatants, Civilians and Civilians-Directly-Participating-in-Hostilities

Week 3: Targeting and Attacks
3.1 The Targeting Process, Military Necessity and Humanity
3.2 Means and Methods of Warfare

Week 4: Persons Who are Hors de Combat
4.1 Protection of the Wounded and Sick and Detention of Prisoners of War and Civilians
4.2 First Moot Court

Week 5: Occupation and the End of Hostilities
5.1 The Law of Occupation and Transition to Post-Conflict
5.2 Naval Warfare and the Law of Neutrality

Week 6: War Crimes and Superior Responsibility
6.1 War Crimes
6.2 Superior (Command) Responsibility

Week 7
7.1 Compliance and Enforcement Mechanisms of IHL
7.2 Second Moot Court

Preparation for first session

The final syllabus will contain required reading for the first session.